NEW YORK — Stephen Burrows is having a moment in the spotlight.
The designer, who will receive a Board of Director's Special Tribute from the Council of Fashion Designers of America on June 5, is the subject of a documentary called "Stephen Burrows' World," which premiered at the Fashion Institute of Technology last Wednesday.
The documentary, made by Jenny Granville of London, centers on the designer's last three years, when he was trying to resurrect his career. It includes coverage of his relaunched fashion line at Henri Bendel, where he had once opened a now-defunct in-store boutique, and extensive interviews with the designer, his friends, his muses and other designers and executives, including Michael Kors, Anna Sui, Joan Kaner (who was an executive at Bendel's when the store put the designer on the map in the late Seventies) and Andrew Bolton, associate curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute. It also takes a brief look at Burrows' childhood and his rise to fashion fame in the Studio 54 era, when the likes of Liza Minnelli and Cher embraced his colorful, disco-ready fluid jersey dresses.
"I am not in love with the camera, so it was a little disconcerting, but since the purpose of the film was educational, I was fine," Burrows said.
Granville, who taught filmmaking at Ohio University's School of Film at the time, was introduced to the designer by a friend who was helping out with the show. Granville initially had intended to make this a documentary about Burrows' successful comeback, but said the film evolved into "a portrait of someone who was an artist and who remained faithful to his work. It was far more about someone who survived for so long because he remained true to what he believed in. The success we captured was no longer measured by volume of sales, but in the fact he was still working and doing new things."
The screening, held at FIT's Haft Auditorium, was presented by Martell Cognac with the support of the CFDA.
The movie highlights the challenging path from rags to riches, even for an established name like Burrows'. Granville recalled how prior to one of the fashion shows she documented, Burrows found himself out of cash and uncertain if he could pull off a show at all. "I was shooting and thinking, 'Yes I got a story,' which of course is awful," Granville said. "I got in a taxi with John Miller [Burrows' business partner] and I asked him how he felt about it, like reporters would after disasters. He said, 'I think we will be saved,' then asked me to switch off the camera. He then told me a very famous model had actually come up with the money they needed in order to allow him to put the show on."Granville, who declined to disclose the name of the model, added that the movie was not intended as a promotional tool for Burrows, but as a document of his career.
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