For the up-and-coming designers hoping to make a name for themselves on runways or in haute-couture rags, the world of fashion—a glamorous, reportedly $32 billion industry in New York City alone—is anything but ab-fab. In this jaunty, engaging documentary, director Doug Keeve tracks three ambitious finalists competing with seven others for the inaugural Council of Fashion Designers Award, which comes with a $200,000 check and a two-year mentorship program. Under scrutiny in their bid for fame are Russian expat Alexandre Plokhov of Cloak, young wonder boys Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCullough of Proenza Schouler, and Doo Ri Chung, a chipper Korean immigrant who operates out of the basement of her parents' dry-cleaning business in New Jersey.
Not nearly as bitchy or celeb-studded as Unzipped, Keeve's 1995 doc about designer Isaac Mizrahi, Seamless is a fun, remarkably unpretentious behind-the-scenes peek at the grunt work and dedication that goes into creating glitzy, high-end designer fashion. What's surprising is not how long the hours are, or how unnerving it is to anticipate a studio visit from Vogue's legendary harridan-in-chief Anna Wintour or Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker, but how unprofitable such ventures can be. Of all the subjects, Hernandez and McCullough are the closest to rock stars—Barneys bought their entire collection before they'd graduated college—but Doo Ri and Plokhov are equally worthy in the eyes of a jury looking to hitch its rep to the Next Big Thing. And the process of becoming a winner is anything but seamless. (Opens Fri; Cinema Village.)