“Fashion is a dream-maker, a myth-creator; an illusion, a spell,” starts the first episode in a new fashion documentary series from Fremantle, “…driven by greed and envy.” Starring Anna Wintour, Bernard Arnault and wall-to-wall 90s supermodels, the series charts a golden period in fashion history: the 1990s-2010s. Packed with fashion drama, the four-part series explores how luxury tycoons Bernard Arnault (LVMH Group) and François Pinault (Kering) built their rival empires in Paris, while US Vogue Creative Director Anna Wintour shaped contemporary fashion behind the scenes. The series premiered at the ASVOFF fashion film festival in Paris earlier this month, and is expected to be sold to networks and streaming services soon.
The series begins in the 1980s, when many of the iconic fashion houses in Paris had fallen into decline. Bernard Arnault, then a young and ambitious entrepreneur, seized the opportunity to buy ailing fashion house Dior in the 1980s. In doing so, he laid the foundations for what would become the most powerful luxury behemoth of them all: LVMH Group.
The Dior purchase was swiftly followed by the famously acrimonious acquisition of Louis Vuitton, and the sidelining of the Vuitton family which earned Arnault the moniker the ‘Wolf in Cashmere’ for his ruthless, US-style approach to business in the then much less dynamic French luxury market. It also set a precedent for buying designers’ names, which would see a rash of designers stripped of their own houses in the 1990s.
Meanwhile his ally, Anna Wintour, then Editor-in-Chief of US Vogue, was reinvigorating the fashion industry by throwing her weight behind the dynamic young designers that would eventually helm household names. Fresh out of London’s Central Saint Martins, we meet John Galliano, the picture of youthful joy and exuberant creativity, weaving fashion dreams that are so beguiling that supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Linda Evangelista walked for him for free, at the height of their fame. “You wanted to step into John’s light,” says creative consultant Amanda Harlech, “the rest was darkness.”
With Anna’s support, Galliano was able to bring the baroque drama of his fashion to its rightful place: couture, when he was appointed creative director of Givenchy in 1995. Just a year later, he was moved to Dior, opening up the creative directorship at Givenchy, which was filled by another Central Saint Martins graduate, Alexander Lee McQueen, also supernaturally talented. The pair went head-to-head with their debut collections for Spring/Summer 1997 and although the collection was dubbed “a disaster” by the label’s founder Hubert de Givenchy, McQueen went on to have stellar success under his own name.
Episode two introduces Tom Ford, who revitalized the house of Gucci in Milan, and in doing so, entered the fray of family rivalry and mafia intrigue. He also made handbags sexy, a business model that Arnault took note of back in Paris, bringing the New York fashion scene’s enfant terrible – and Ford contemporary – Marc Jacobs, to design at Louis Vuitton. Arnault also had his eye on Gucci but a hostile takeover was thwarted at the final hour by the man who would become his rival: François Pinault, who went on to buy Saint Laurent and build Kering.
The Arnault-Pinault rivalry is detailed in future episodes, as the pair compete by buying up Europe’s fashion houses and developing them with ever-more glamorous power plays, extravagant flagship stores, artist collaborations and celebrity endorsement, all the while ensuring that each brand is accessible to everyone, even if only via a lipstick. No stranger to the world of celebrity, is Anna Wintour, who makes stars out of the new fashion players and reaps the advertising-dollar rewards of their success.
The designers’ stories are tinged with sadness. They are each known to have battled drink and drugs and the series also explores the pressures loaded onto designers to drive the fashion machine forwards. Says Dana Thomas, a fashion specialist and author of the book from which the series is derived: “it’s all about making noise. The noise will sell everything else,” and within such a high-stakes and aggressive business model, the designer is king. Trouble comes, often in the form of addiction and mental health issues, when they begin to believe their own mythology.
What has emerged from this golden era of creativity, is a megalith of an industry, the second-worst pollutant on the planet and the epitome of 21st century globalization. A subversive quartet of designers changed the face of the fashion industry in the 2000s and it was off the back of their talent, that Arnault and his rival, François Pinault grew their businesses. In identifying and supporting them, Anna Wintour was able to extend her influence across both sides of the Atlantic, and the designers themselves were able to live out their dreams in the world’s capital of fashion, but at what cost?
From the team behind the recent feature documentary McQueen, Kingdom of Dreams is an emotionally charged romp through the fashion business, coming soon to a screen near you.