At the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival there was but one film that was in the minds of Fashion enthusiasts and that was the premiere of the documentary Dior and I.
Filmmaker Frédéric Tcheng’s solo directorial debut follows up his work on brilliant fashion films, including Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel and Valentino: The Last Emperor, with another masterful and exclusive exploration of a very private fashion institution and the change of reins of such legendary house.
Dior and I is a fashion documentary that provides both a sense of history and a feel for the energy of a work behind the scenes as the Dior team and it’s newly appointed Artistic director Raf Simons prepare to present their 2012 Spring/Summer Couture collection.
We meet Raf Simons a “minimalist” who has no experience in couture and in fact is more trained in the arts of ready-to-wear and mens-wear. We see him just as he is quickly introduced to the designers and seamstresses who will be working closely with him in the clock ticking mood like of eight weeks before his first Dior couture collection premieres. Eights weeks it’s a frighteningly time line for someone that not only has the pressure of filling the seat of previews talented predecessors like John Galliano and Yves Saint Laurent, but to amount to that as we learn in the film Simmons doesn't sketch, doesn’t speak French and communicates his ideas with sheaves of photos and by manipulating fabric on live models.
While it’s quite interesting to watch Simons work, is observing the team spirit of pros who pull all-night stitching sessions, not surprising improvisations and other adventures that is perhaps the most joyful part of the film.
Tcheng pays a colorful homage to the seamstresses of the atelier who for the most part are tucked away in light-filled area on the top floor of the historic building, many of them have worked here for more than 40 years. Among them are Florence Chehet, a cheery woman, who heads the dress side (atelier flou) of the upstairs workshops; tightly wound Monique Bailly leads those making suiting (atelier tailleur). Both women seem more at ease with Simons' "right hand" Pieter Mulier who does speak french than they do with the man himself.
The film is partially based on Christian Dior's eponymous self memoir in which he speaks of himself and his company as "Siamese twins" who are sometimes at odds, the doc offers attractive interludes where a narrator (Omar Berrada, Voice of Christian Dior) reads excerpts while we see nighttime images of the company's offices and vintage fashion clips. Ha-Yang Kim's modern music score gives these scenes the feel of an old-fashioned Euro art film.
On the day of the collection's debut, we learn how uneasy Simons is at playing the role of public ambassador. He lurks as much as possible out of sight in a grand house he has transformed spectacularly by covering its walls in flowers and tears up at the thought of speaking to the crowd. For a flash, the weight of the role he has inherited comes alive for viewer and subject alike. We also see glimpses of Sharon Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, Anna Wintour and Diane Von Furstanverg who travel to Paris just for the show.
Although some may be critical of the talent of Raf Simons in comparison to John Galliano (who is not mentioned in the film). In a more creatively revealing story lines of the film, that criticism fades away as we watch Simons bring his passion for art into his work. Discovering a mid-century weaving technique called imprimé chaîne, in which the thread is printed before it’s woven, Simons has the idea to recreate the paintings of abstract American painter Sterling Ruby on fabric. The Spring/Summer 2012 Couture collection went on to change the course of history while at the same time channeling the past.
The world that Christian Dior created lives on in the ateliers (workrooms), where a hard-working group of dedicated seamstresses still hand-sew clothing in the great tradition of haute couture. Dior is one of the last houses that still keep such ateliers in-house.
The house of Dior is a storied world where managers, artists, and workers collaborate on a daily basis to create a vision and Tcheng projects the film to be an ensemble piece. Through immersing the viewer in the world of Dior and revealing the extraordinary effort required to produce a collection created by a dedicated group of collaborators, he succeeds by making the film ultimately reveal a cross section of Parisian life, in the tradition of great French social realists.
Dior and I the documentary is a must see as in it’s unique way can be enjoy just as much now as it could be in the far future.