A Behind-the-Seams Look at the World of High Fashion

 
 

Isaac Mizrahi can make things out of tulle or nubuck, but his most fabulous creation is the one he has made of flesh and blood. It is Mr. Mizrahi’s hilarious, happily Napoleonic personality that makes such a treat of Unzipped, Douglas Keeve‘s crafty valentine to the fashion world in general and this irrepressible designer in particular.

And intimacy with his subject — as both a fashion photographer and Mr. Mizrahi’s former lover — only heightens Mr. Keeve’s acuity rather than compromising his perspective. Of course in terms of objectivity, it helps that Unzipped has nothing to do with state secrets and everything to do with fake fur.

A smart, spiky documentary with just the right running time (76 minutes), Unzipped appreciates not only the loony excess that makes fashion such a high-stakes adventure, but also the monomania of Mr. Mizrahi’s creative process. Who else watches The Call of the Wild (William A. Wellman, 1935) and obsesses about the lip-liner on Loretta Young? As Mr. Mizrahi explains to the camera, if you’re going to freeze on the tundra, you might as well do it with your makeup un smudged.

A little while later, he is skillfully trying out the same anecdote on Polly Allen Mellen, a fashion arbiter who is enough to out-doyenne any and all of the characters in Robert Altman‘s Ready-to-Wear. (Comparisons between the two films are invidious but unavoidable. For electricity and fun, not to mention fashion sense, this one comes out miles ahead.) Ms. Mellen listens to Mr. Mizrahi in ways that make it clear his charm is working, and that charm counts for everything in this universe. For her part, Ms. Mellen advises him to “Be careful of makeup; be careful!” She sounds solemn enough to be warning Caesar about the ides of March.

Unzipped is filled with such telling moments and lively walk-ons, not only by power-brokers and Mr. Mizrahi’s business associates, but also by the celebrities who give the designer’s world its spark. It’s no small measure of Mr. Mizrahi’s talents as a born entertainer that he can chitchat easily with gorgeous, scene-stealing supermodels (Cindy Crawford talks about her pores, Naomi Campbell about her navel ring, Kate Moss about appearing in her underwear, etc.) and leave no doubt about who is the star of this show.

Unzipped is neatly structured to follow Mr. Mizrahi through the creation of a single collection, which begins in disaster. When first seen, he is crushed by reviews of his last designs (“Certainly his sense of how a modern woman dresses after 8 P.M. failed him”) and is about to start again at square one. The film understands that this process can look silly while being deadly serious. And it enjoys watching while a man who loves his work and lives vividly in his imagination — a fun place to be — tries out ideas. He’s not even really kidding when he daydreams about a fake-fur jumpsuit, perfect for dog-walking, that could work in one of two environments: Alaska or the Upper East Side.

Mr. Mizrahi is seen auditioning models, talking fabrics, working on sketches and gossiping madly about everyone he meets. (He does a dandy impersonation of Eartha Kitt, whose real presence is smoothly intercut with the Mizrahi version.) Throughout all of this, it’s also clear that he is driven rather than frivolous, controlling his employees and the camera crew with equal precision. When one scene finds him ambushed by upsetting news — Jean-Paul Gaultier has done a Nanook look before the completion of the Mizrahi version — he simply puts his face in his hands and refuses to move. That’s not as good as yelling “Cut!,” but it’s the next best thing.

The candor of Unzipped may be as contrived as the pouf skirts, but that doesn’t lessen its appeal. After all, in what other culture can you overhear people saying “punk and Hasidic” and have the slightest idea what they mean? (They mean a fashion gaffe by Jean-Paul Gaultier.) Even the film’s carefully controlled scenes can be revealing, as in its glimpses of Sarah Mizrahi, who beams at her boy and says “My Isaac made this” with motherly pride. She is all maternal encouragement until, when teased by Isaac, she insists: “That’s not funny at all. I have a very good eye.”

(Only Mary Tyler Moore in her Mary Richards days seems to rival Isaac’s mother as a feminine influence on him. Whatever that means, this film knows enough to leave it unexplained.)

Edited to capture the mounting drama of staging a collection, and filmed by Ellen Kuras in a fluent variety of camera styles (grainy black and white to accentuate the workaday fashion world, exuberant color for the finished clothes), Unzipped builds its tension until it reaches the big day. It looks on as Mr. Mizrahi changes from life of the party into drill sergeant, frantically finishing the clothes and insisting on a see-through ballet scrim to partly shield the models who are backstage. That idea itself becomes a theatrical triumph.

Then the crowd gathers and the show begins. It is alluringly “insane with color” (as Women’s Wear Daily will later gush), and yes, it is exciting enough to make sense of this whole enterprise. You may recall that Ready-to-Wear tried to lend thrills and meaning to this crowning moment by sending models down the runway stark naked. But Unzipped doesn’t have to be that unzipped. It knows why clothes work better.

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The One (Who Had Broken Down the Barriers)

 
 

The One music video was directed by Australian film director Russell Mulcahy (Melbourne, 23 June 1953).  Mulcahy’s work is recognizable by the use of fast cuts, tracking shots and use of glowing lights as well as being one of the most prominent music video directors of the 1980s. He has also worked in television since the early 1990s, and is currently working as a director on episodes of MTV’s Teen Wolf. In 1986, Mulcahy became well known after directing the cult classic film Highlander, starring Christopher Lambert and featuring music from Queen. Mulcahy is gay and lives with his partner in Sydney.

 
 

 
 

Russell Mulcahy’s career began as a film editor for Australia’s Seven Network. After relocating to the UK around 1976, Mulcahy made successful music videos for several noted British pop acts—his early UK credits included XTC’s Making Plans for Nigel (1979), The Vapors’ hit Turning Japanese and his landmark video for The BugglesVideo Killed the Radio Star (1979) which became the first music video played on MTV in 1981.

By the mid-1980s Mulcahy was directing videos for some of the most successful pop-rock acts of the period including The Human League, The Tubes, Elton John, Ultravox, most of the major hits of Duran Duran (Rio, Hungry Like a Wolf), Spandau Ballet (True), Kim Carnes (BetteDavis Eyes, Voyeur), Bonnie Tyler (Total Eclipse of the Heart), Rod Stewart, Billy Joel, The Motels, Supertramp and The Rolling Stones (One Hit (To the Body), Going to a Go Go).

Breaking Down the Barriers was the first video he directed for Elton John. Later came I’m Still Standing, I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues, Sad Songs (Say So Much, Simply Life, etc. 

The set production and costumes for The One music video were designed by Gianni Versace.

Livin’ on the Edge of Riots

Livin’ on the Edge, written by Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and Mark Hudson, was released in 1993 as the first single from the band’s commercially successful Aerosmith‘s album Get a Grip. According to the band’s autobiography Walk This Way,this single was inspired by the Los Angeles riots of 1992.

The song is one of Aerosmith’s most successful attempts at tackling social issues. It reflects on the sorry state of the world (“There’s something wrong with the world today”), religion (“We’re seeing things in a different way and God knows it ain’t his”), racism (“If you can judge a wise man by the color of his skin”), among other things. However, the lyrics in the song also suggest that the world is still worth living in (“We could tell ’em no, or we could let it go, but I would rather be a-hangin’ on”). The lyrics also contain a reference to the Yardbirds song, Mister You’re a Better Man Than I (Aerosmith had previously recorded a version of a song popularized by the Yardbirds, “Train Kept A-Rollin’“).

 
 

 
 

The music video for Livin’ on the Edge is notable for a number of things, including depicting vandalism, theft (notably grand theft auto), joyriding, airbag crashing, unprotected sex, and violence among school-aged youth, cross-dressing teachers, a naked Steven Tyler holding a zipper by his crotch with half his body painted black (to give the effect he pulled down a zipper, unzipping his body) and lead guitarist Joe Perry playing a lead guitar solo in front of an oncoming train. Directed by Marty Callner, the video was praised for its groundbreaking theatrical scenes and special effects. The video featured acting by Edward Furlong.

The Aerosmith Chick

 
 

After seeing her in The Crush (Alan Shapiro, 1993), Marty Callner decided Alicia Silverstone would be perfect for a role in a music video he was directing for the band Aerosmith, called Cryin’; she was subsequently cast in two more videos, Amazing and Crazy. These were hugely successful for both the band and Silverstone, making her a household name (and also gaining her the nickname, “the Aerosmith chick”). After seeing Silverstone in the three videos, filmmaker Amy Heckerling decided to cast her inClueless

 
 

 
 

 
 

This music video features the first appearance of Alicia Silverstone in the band’s videos, as well as the band performing in the Central Congregational Church in Fall River, Massachusetts. The song flashes back and forth between the band and Alicia Silverstone, who plays a teen who has a falling out with her boyfriend (played by Stephen Dorff) after catching him cheating. She feigns an attempt to kiss him, but instead leans away annoying him. She then punches him and shoves him out of the car leaving him in the dust. She begins a phase of rebellion and individuality and gets a navel piercing, which has largely been credited as introducing navel piercing to mainstream culture. After having her purse stolen by another young man (played by then-unknown Josh Holloway of Lost), she chases him down and knocks him to the ground. The video then cuts to her standing on the edge of an overpass bridge, contemplating jumping…

 
 

 
 

 
 

This was the second appearance of Alicia Silverstone in the band’s videos. Paired with her was Jason London, star of Dazed and Confused(Richard Linklater, 1993), a film which was released in the same year as Get a Grip and which memorably made numerous references to Aerosmith. The characters are featured in the music video as two cyberspace kids who escape to a world of virtual reality together, both not realizing the other is also doing virtual reality. The head-mounted display in the video worn by Jason London was manufactured by Liquid Image Corporation. The founders of Liquid Image Corporation, David Collette and Tony Havelka, were contacted by the video production crew and asked to provide a head-mounted display system for the VR sequence.

 
 

 
 

 
 

It featured the third appearance of Alicia Silverstone in the band’s videos, as well as the career debut of Steven’s then-teenaged daughter Liv Tyler. The decision to cast Liv in the video for Crazy was based on the video’s creators having seen her in a Pantene commercial, with absolutely no knowledge her father was in the band. The video was very film-like and depicted the two as schoolgirls who skip class and run away, driving off in a blue Ford Mustang convertible. The two use their good looks to take advantage of a service station clerk, and needing money, enter an amateur pole-dancing competition. The video is noteworthy for its very risque and suggestive sexual scenes, some of which seem to suggest lesbianism in the characters.

Get a Grip and Draw the Line on a Milk Cow

Get a Grip (1993). Art direction: Michael Golob. Cover design: Hugh Syme. Photography: Edward Colver, William Hames. An animal rights group objected to the cover of a cow’s pierced udder, but it was confirmed by Aerosmith to have been computer-generated.

 
 

Alternative design cover

 
 

Get a Grip is the 11th studio album by American rock band Aerosmith. It was the band’s last studio album to be released by Geffen before they returned to Columbia Records. Get a Grip became Aerosmith’s best-selling studio album worldwide, achieving sales of over 20 million copies, and is tied with Pump for their second best-selling album in the United States, selling over 7 million copies as of 1995. This also made it their third consecutive album with US sales of at least five million. Two songs from the album won Grammy Awards for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, in 1993 and 1994. The album was voted Album of the Year by Metal Edge readers in the magazine’s 1993 Readers’ Choice Awards, while Livin’ on the Edge was voted Best Video.

Get a Grip featured guests including Don Henley (a founding member of The Eagles), who sang backup on Amazing, and Lenny Kravitz, who offered backup vocals and collaboration to Line Up.

Mark Coleman, for his Rolling Stone magazine review of Get a Grip, said he liked the title track and he compared the album’s introduction, titled Intro, to Steven Tyler and Joe Perry‘s collaboration with Run–D.M.C. on Walk This Way, but feels that most of the album lacks “adventure” and is too “somber”. In his interview he compared Livin’ on the Edge to a Bon Jovi song and feels that a problem with the album comes from the outside songwriters/collaborators.

Regarding songs that reflect on the band’s history with drug abuse such as Get a Grip and Amazing, Steven Tyler declared: “We were saying you can point it back to some of those old beliefs about the crossroads and signing up with the devil, that you can look at the drugs as that: It can be fun in the beginning but then it comes time to pay your debt, and if you’re not sharp enough to see that it’s taking you down, then it really will get you.”

 
 

Image from Rush’s Counterparts (1993) album design, also by Hugh Syme

 
 

Seeing is believe. Another computer-generated ilustration by Hugh Syme for an ad campaign, made almost fifteen years after Get a Grip was released.  

 
 

 
 

Milk Cow Blues is a blues song written and originally recorded by Kokomo Arnold. Elvis Presley, accompanied by Scotty Moore on guitar and Bill Black on bass, recorded a rockabilly version retitled Milk Cow Blues Boogie at Sun Records in November or December 1954.

Like Father… (Musicians)

Frank and Nancy Sinatra

 
 

Sting, Coco Summers and Trudie Styler

 
 

Eric Clapton and his late son Conor

 
 

John Lennon and Julian

 
 

John and his Beautiful Boy, Sean Lennon

 
 

Paul Mc Cartney, Linda Eastman and their daughters

 
 

Paul, Linda and James

 
 

Ringo Starr, former Beatles drummer is pictured with his first wife, Maureen Starkey (died 12/1994) and their new born baby Zak at Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital, 1965

 
 

Lee Starkey, Barbara Bach, Ringo Starr and Francesca Gregorini walk together hand in hand on Starr and Bach’s wedding day, London, England in 1981

 
 

George and Dhani Harrison by Terry O’Neill, 1987

 
 

Pete Townshend holding his newborn daughter Emma

 
 

Roger Daltrey, lead singer of British rock group The Who, at home with his wife Heather and two children, Rosie-Lee and Willow.Image by Leonard de Raemy. September 1975, UK

 
 

Keith Richards, Anita Pallenberg and children

 
 

Mick Jagger, Bianca and Jade

 
 

Mick, Jerry Hall and sons in Jamaica

 
 

Liv and Steven Tyler

 
 

Priscilla, Lisa Marie and Elvis Presley

 
 

David Bowie and Zowie

 
 

Bowie and Alex

 
 

Chris Martin, Gwyneth Paltrow and Apple

 
 

Kurt Cobain, Frances Bean and Courtney Love. Photo Credit: Luis Guzmán, 1992

 
 

Kurt Cobain and Frances Bean

 
 

Elton John and his adopted child Zachary

 
 

Bob  and Jakob Dylan photographed by Eliott Landy, 1968