The Neon Demon (2016)
You may need a strong stomach to sit through some of the more grisly moments of Nicolas Winding Refn’s psychological horror The Neon Demon, but you’ll get your reward through plenty of eye-popping fashion, too. Elle Fanning’s young modeling ingenue soon gets swept up in the scene’s darker underbelly, resulting in demonic possessions, serial killer photographers, and a particularly horrifying final sequence involving an exorcism, necrophilia, and a lot (a lot) of blood. While its sideways swipes at the darker corners of the fashion industry may be a little heavy-handed, The Neon Demon makes for a bracing and gloriously gory guilty pleasure.
Phantom Thread (2017)
Few films capture the obsessive, exacting nature of haute couture as deftly as Paul Thomas Anderson’s claustrophobic and brilliantly eerie Phantom Thread, which charts the relationship between the high society designer Reginald Woodcock—loosely based on Charles James—and a young woman he meets at a seaside café who becomes his muse. Daniel Day-Lewis’s Oscar-nominated performance is more than matched by his co-stars Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville, bringing this dark fairy tale to vivid, believable life. Phantom Thread’s window into the world of post-war fashion is an intoxicating, beautifully woven fairy tale—but one that ultimately feels closer to a nightmare.
While Disney’s fantastical take on the world of fashion may be a little far-fetched, it gets more right than it does wrong. It tells the origin story of 101 Dalmatians’ infamously stylish villain Cruella DeVil, here played in her youth by Emma Stone. Her beginnings as a renegade fashion designer—when she pushes back against the florals and frivolity of 1960s London style and introduces something darker and more dangerous to the mix—has plenty of parallels in real-world figures such as Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano. The costumes may be ahistorical (albeit intentionally so), but the tale of egos and excess in fashion is undoubtedly timeless.