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Retro Couture Recalls Miami's History as a Fashion Capital

Miami is known for many things: beaches, babes, and booze. But fashion? Not so much. One local filmmaker aims to change that.

Retro Couture, a documentary short by Christopher Rapalo, unveils Miami's tangled history as one of the nation's leading clothing-manufacturing meccas and follows its journey to reviving its name in the industry. Debuting at the fourth-annual Miami Fashion Film Festival, Rapalo's film was named an official selection and is also in the running for this year's best documentary.

"I wanted to capture this small and important section of our city," Rapalo says. "There's a history of clothing and fashion in Miami. It's time to make it known."

Rapalo, a Miami native with a passion for filmmaking, photography, and fashion, detailed Miami's lengthy history of fashion through vintage footage, thanks to the Wolfson Archives. His film also features the stories of five local pioneers in the business. Most of Miami's industry was housed in Wynwood, giving the neighborhood a reputation as a fashion district long before an arts destination.

"I was amazed at how interesting Miami used to be in terms of manufacturing," Rapalo says. "We used to produce so many clothes and really be considered a fashion capital.

"The 'Made in Miami' label was huge," he adds. "There was a time when Lilly Pulitzer manufactured every dress here."

From shops such as C. Madeleine's to local influencers like Keni Valenti, Simonett Pereira, Allison Sagehorn, and Lauren Arkin, the film's subjects all share a love of one thing: vintage styles.

"I wanted to get their thoughts on the industry as a whole and Miami's role in it," he says. "Because they all were inspired by vintage pieces, it made sense to bring the story together through past archive footage and the future of the industry."

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Retro Couture is Rapalo's first documentary and marks the first time the Miami Fashion Film Festival has touched on the city's historic clothing-centered past. This year, Retro Couture is also the only local submission screening at the festival.

"This film is about bringing Miami's past in fashion to the forefront and why it isn't the same anymore," he says.

"I hope it serves as a call to action. It's time we acknowledge what used to be, how we can bring it back, and pay tribute to it."

Retro Couture
The film will screen as part of  the Miami Fashion Film Festival's Documentary Shorts program Thursday, September 22, at the Wolfsonian. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the screening begins at 7. Tickets cost $12. The film will also show at Miami Dade College in October. Visit miafff.com.

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