As film cameras and smartphones increasingly venture into formerly off-limits spaces – the couture atelier, backstage at runway shows – there is now an insatiable appetite for documentaries that bring the once-elusive mysteries of the fashion world into daylight. ACMI has been showing mini-festivals in association with Melbourne Spring Fashion Week since 2007. This year curator James Nolen has chosen the theme of Fashion Mavericks to celebrate the designers whose work challenges the conventions of mainstream fashion.

Here’s a rundown of this year’s offering.

Couture: New Queens of Haute
Jean Marc Manivet’s documentary features two couturiers – French designer Iris van Herpen and Dutchwoman Delphine Manivet – whose designs, at least on the surface, appear to be very different. Van Herpen, a protégé of Alexander McQueen and a favourite of Bjork, is fired by a dark vision, creating gothic masterpieces from unusual materials such as latex and silicone. Manivet, on the other hand, works with the more traditional lace and embroidery. What both share, according to James Nolen, is a contemporary take on couture. “Manivet has brought in a team of young artisans to ensure the beautiful craft aspect of couture does not die out,” he says. “Everything is handmade in small-scale productions in Paris to the highest standard; even the buttons are made in-house.”

Jean Paul Gaultier At Work
Loic Prigent has made a name as the master documentarian of the fashion industry with his behind-the-scenes series The Day Before and the feature film Marc Jacobs & Louis Vuitton. Here, he follows Jean Paul Gaultier – fashion’s original enfant terrible – as he recreates 12 of his archival pieces assisted by head seamstress Mireille Simon. “Gaultier is basically reconstructing these pieces in front of us, revealing where the ideas came from, who he worked with,” Nolen says. “Prigent includes beautiful archival footage of runway shows from different eras. But it’s not one of those boring chronological films; it jumps about wonderfully in a sort of scatterbrained way. It’s a really hands-on exploration of what makes Gaultier Gaultier.’’

Fresh Dressed
Hip-hop and rap culture has had a huge impact on mainstream fashion since it emerged from the streets of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Sacha Jenkins’ film explores the history of hip-hop style from its subcultural beginnings to contemporary high-fashion designer collaborations (think Sean Coombes and Kanye West). “Hip-hop culture emerged from something really terrible – gang warfare and poverty and violence – and turned it into something creative and artistic with a really strong aesthetic style,” Nolen says. “Initially, outside that subculture, there was a bit of derision about that early hip-hop style, the big gold chains, the huge baggy clothes. They might not have appealed to a general audience, but that look certainly appealed to a global youth audience because it spoke of resistance and rebellion, and you can still see that influence today.”

Fashion House Marga Weimans
Although well known in her home country, Dutch designer Marga Weimans is less well known outside the Netherlands. Maria Visser’s film traces Weiman’s journey through several collections as she straddles the worlds of fashion and fine art. “She’s from the former Dutch colony of Suriname, and is very much of the Viktor & Rolf school,’’ Nolen says. “Her work really tests the boundaries of fashion; it’s not necessarily commercial, but more the sort of thing you might see in a gallery context. She’s on the cusp of asking, ‘Should I go more commercial, or stay on an artistic path?’, so it’s fascinating to watch, because it’s a question many experimental designers face. I think she is on the cusp of being really well known in the way that Viktor & Rolf and Martin Margiela are known.’’

The ‘’Who Made My Clothes’’? campaign and Fashion Revolution movements of recent years have drawn attention to the provenance of the clothing we wear every day. Were their makers paid a living wage? Was their production harmful to the environment? Were animals killed to create them? More and more people are becoming interesting in tracing the production process of the clothes they wear from beginning to end. Jennifer Sharpe explores this new groundswell of interest in ethical, sustainable fashion. “This isn’t a preachy film,” Nolen says. “It’s more pragmatic, giving us some ideas about how we can make the mainstream fashion industry more aware of these issues. There is a story behind every T-shirt we wear that involves human beings, and sometimes we forget that. We should be able to know where the cotton was sourced, who milled it, who cut the fabric, who sewed it together.”

Fashion Mavericks on Film is at ACMI from August 28 to September 13. Screening times online.