When Unzipped, Douglas Keeve’s documentary about designer Isaac Mizrahi, came out in 1995, audiences had never been given such a personalized peek into the world of fashion. Before films like The Devil Wears Prada, documentaries like The September Issue, and a slew of reality TV shows like Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model, designers were seen as aloof and unknowable, the industry a walled garden. Sure, many designers displayed themselves as the personifications of their lines, allowing their likenesses to grace magazine articles and ads, but no one had opened themselves up to the cameras the way Mizrahi did.
The film, which follows the creation of his fall 1994 collection, is bursting with Mizrahi’s talk, from his style maxims (“It’s really impossible to be chic without the right dogs”), to his reciting campy quotes from old movies, to his moaning about the stresses of staging a runway show. Most upsetting is the discovery that Jean-Paul Gaultier had also mined Inuit culture (what Mizrahi problematically calls ‘Eskimo-chic’) for his collection and, as his assistant reminds him, “they show before us!” Canadian supermodel Shalom Harlow informs Mizrahi that ‘eskimo’ is a slur meaning ‘raw fish eater,’ to which Mizrahi shoots back, “If there’s a word for gefilte fish eater, that’d be me!”