You have wondered, perhaps, while watching footage of the Paris fashion shows, just where in God's name the designers got the inspiration for their ill-conceived Halloween costumes. Director Douglas Keeve's new documentary Unzipped gives us the answer: Nanook of the North.
The subject of the film, renowned New York fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, is watching Robert Flaherty's classic documentary of 1922 when the designer muse takes possession of him. Eskimo chic, he decides, will be the theme of his next show. The film goes on to depict Mizrahi's immersion in the design of the new line and preparation for its debut show.
Unzipped is a mixed bag. The artiness of Keeve's approach prevents the film from quite capturing the rising tension and exhilaration of the approaching show. Some notable models, including Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Kate Moss, appear in the film, but their use in the marketing is a smarmy tease, as is the title--the film isn't sexy, and isn't intended to be. But this brief and fast-moving film is nonetheless very funny, mainly because of the wacky, endearing presence of Mizrahi himself.
He's a pure TV baby, speaking of the influence of Mary Tyler Moore on our culture in tones of reverence normally reserved for Eleanor Roosevelt or Mother Teresa (the humor rises from that, in context, he's not really overstating). At one point, he remarks that he'd never need to go to Australia to do a down-under-themed line, he'd only have to watch the Flintstones episodes in which they go to Australia.
But there's strange sincerity to Mizrahi's oddball visions, and he pursues them with remarkable assurance. He's not a clown, though he often seems to be making clowns of the other swanky types with whom he associates. He's a fine mimic, recounting his conversations with, say, Eartha Kitt, with the precision and verve of a stand-up comedian.
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On the downside, Keeve has rendered Unzipped in an overthought color scheme--grainy black and white for the bulk of the film, with abrupt eruptions of color when we at last see Mizrahi's designs take shape. This idea makes a certain degree of sense on paper, but, in practice, it serves to stifle the film visually. Trying to capture Mizrahi's spirit in black and white is like trying to draw the rain forest in charcoal.