The film Dior and I premiered last year at the Tribeca Film Festival and huzzah! it is now available for the everyday fashiony folk to soak up on Netflix.
“People are utterly fascinated by what would happen at this house,” says Cathy Horyn, fashion critic at the New York Times and there’s no argument from the viewer. At the end of ‘Dior and I’ we capitulate in the film’s friendly, easy style, to the gravitas of this brand.
The name Christian Dior has taken center stage since he opened his first atelier in Paris.
A year later in 1947, his ‘New Look’ indelibly altered women’s fashion. Dior is a house with so much “fashion DNA” that it instantly conjours up the exclusive world of cigarette-slim models, impeccibly glamorous magazine covers and the starbursts of endless flashbulbs on mirrored runways.
But what makes film fashionista Frederic Tcheng’s docco unusual is its timing.
In choosing to centre his documentary around the arrival of Raf Simons to the House of Dior as Creative Director – the Belgian fashion designer broke into the fashion world in only 1995 – he takes us on a journey through a radical change in the house.
Throughout the film you sense that risk but also how enervating and modernising Simons’ process and ideas are.
It’s a new appointment and it isn’t going to be easy. Upon realising he has a mere 8 weeks to generate an entire collection Simons leans back in the lift and says: “Oh Fuck! Stress.”
He is told that managing the ‘human element’ is crucial and the reason for that unfolds.
Florence is introduced to him as the Premiere for dresses and for suiting the Premiere is Monique.
These are two ladies you could pass in the street and not think ‘couture’ but they are the highest and “most important people in the whole company…because they manage very large teams and insanely large collections.”
Monique is so important that she is sent to New York with a salesperson at the drop of a hat because a client is unhappy with the fit of a garment. Simons reluctantly accedes to this fact of life in the midst of the 8 weeks he requires her to complete his collection.
Simons doesn’t sketch. His ideas are prepared visually in ‘files’ of concepts, others sketch those ideas, stylists translate them onto computers, he chooses 3 or 4 and when the decision is made, the seamstresses and cutters get to work interpreting these sketches into the 3D outfits.
When the sketches arrive Monique lays the designs on the table, the white coats gather round and as she talks through the designs, and people volunteer to make them.
Dior aficionados will know that they are wearing the same white coats that hark back to what the mild mannered man wore in the same atelier in the original days.
Making the designs into garments is a surprisingly democratic process when you consider that the sketches are just that. Sketches. Unlike paper patterns home dressmakers are familiar with, these designs do not come with instructions.
Once you compare the start of this construction process with the finished garment, your respect for the skill of the workers in the ateiliers triples.
When you watch the team bring in reinforcements to unpick cloth with thousands of tiny glistening hand sewn beads without a swear word or moaning – just a short nap in the small hours and then back to it – it will triple again.
Monique and Florence are rightly revered for their talent.
Simons knows about Dior, of course but he finds the future more romantic than the past.
As an hommage to the great man, his first collection is inspired by Dior’s designs, particularly the silhouette of the New Look collection and his exquisite textiles.
Fashion lovers will enjoy these segments – they are delicious glimpses into the past. Gloved hands gently touch the archived textiles and clothing designs. They are kept rolled up in a way that makes you wonder if they understand how priceless they are to us as viewers but the gentle way they handle them tells all.
“Juxtaposing something of that time with something of this time, is very dynamic,” says Simons.
And Tcheng uses this historical reference too. He includes clips from a documentary made with Dior before his death in 1957. A whimsical and entirely French retrospective it weaves through the film drawing the viewer in like a fairy tale, grounding us in a sense of the past.
‘Dior and I’ reminds us of how the glossy spreads of haute couture we flick through is the end result of intricate, expert craftsmanship, design work and, let’s not forget, the clarity that comes with razor sharp business sense.
Tcheng illuminates the rarified, closeted world to show us again why it has so much fascination – because of the secrets it holds and the talents it represents.
© Carrie Henderson 2015