Dior & I could be renamed “Dior & Co.” or “Dior & Us”. The documentary film goes behind the scenes at the French fashion house as the new creative director for Dior Haute Couture, Raf Simons prepares his debut collection. After John Galliano was unceremoniously fired amid controversy (he’d made anti-Semitic comments at a Parisian café), the new designer was given just five weeks to create a collection that would normally take around five months to prepare. Luckily, Simons had a small army of dedicated, charming and funny assistants, designers and ateliers (seamstresses) who put in the hard yards.
The film’s title is actually taken from Christian Dior’s own autobiography where he examined himself as both a man and a style icon in detail. Passages from his memoir appear hear in voiceovers. Archive footage and photographs are also worked in seamlessly, meaning the film’s namesake is never too far away.
Dior passed away suddenly in 1957 but his legacy has endured. There are workers at Dior who still believe his ghost haunts the organisation. There is also one scene in this film where Simons visits the founder’s childhood home and reveals that he had started reading Dior’s biography. But he had to stop reading it because he felt intimidated. He needn’t have worried, because the final, 54-piece collection would ultimately be respectful to the past but with enough modern twists and ideas to maintain its current relevance.
Dior & I marks the directorial debut of Frédéric Tcheng who is no stranger to fashion documentaries. The director had previously produced and edited Valentino: The Last Emperor and wrote and co-directed, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. But if there’s any documentary that Dior & I closely resembles then it is The September Issue and not just because Vogue’s Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington make cameos. Like the latter, Dior & I gives us a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the fashion world and shows just how much painstaking work, thought, analysis, creativity and effort goes into haute couture.
Simons’ collection ultimately has pieces that use A and H lines and borrow from Dior’s famous, 1950s silhouettes. The pieces are feminine, romantic and youthful and a big part of this is thanks to the ateliers/craftspeople at Dior. Simons used an unconventional method in designing. He didn’t draw sketches and instead gave his employees 10-12 concepts and had them draw up some 150-200 ideas that were eventually whittled down. The film looks at the whole process from concept to catwalk and focuses heavily on the easy-going, Florence and the anxiety-ridden, Monique who head up two teams of ateliers as wells as Simons’ affable, long-time assistant and collaborator, Pieter Mulier.
At the outset of the film it was difficult to know whether Simons would be able to rise to the challenge of creative director and Dior & I captures this tension beautifully. Simons had the added time pressure and was an unexpected choice at Dior as he had come from ready-to-wear fashion and had built a reputation as a minimalist who helped revive the skinny, black suit for men. But the pressure and stresses captured in this film pay-off with a momentous and gorgeous show at the climax, as walls of a townhouse are decorated with flowers (just like Jeff Koon’s puppy sculpture which sits outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain) and lots of exquisite outfits are shown.
Tcheng’s documentary is ultimately a respectful homage to the Dior name and the colourful employees that work there. The film is as crisp and clean as the immaculate outfits that were shown and the film is full of care and pride for the creative process. The audience will get the sense that this collection was a labour of love by Raf Simons and his merry workers and the same can also be said for this subtle, clever and artistic documentary.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Dior & I made its Australian premiere this weekend as part of the Sydney Film Festival.