Frédéric Tcheng conversation, part 2

On the origins of Dior And I.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Raf Simons' first House of Dior haute couture collection: "It was beautiful and very very moving."
Raf Simons' first House of Dior haute couture collection: "It was beautiful and very very moving."

In part 2 of our conversation, Frédéric Tcheng reveals the role David Fincher, Todd Haynes, Jean-Luc Godard, Claire Denis and Olivier Assayas played in the making of Dior And I. Jeff Koons' Flower Puppy inside out, Alice In Wonderland, Gertrude Stein, and glimpses of Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Lawrence and Sharon Stone at Raf Simons' first House of Dior haute couture collection pop up and a quote from Jean Renoir frames it all.

In part 1 of our conversation, the director spoke about developing musical themes for Christian Dior and Simons with Ha-yang Kim and the genesis of the project through House of Dior's Olivier Bialobos and Omar Berrada's introduction of Marina Warner's book Phantasmagoria.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Did Raf say 'yes' right away to have you follow him with cameras?

Frédéric Tcheng: No, he said "I'm very reluctant to do this but I'll give it a try for one week." Of course, he was very stressed out. He is meeting like 100 new people already and the camera crew is there to document that. That was not an easy situation for him. So he argued with me a lot and he asked me a lot of questions to test me a little bit. He asked me what my favorite films were.

Frédéric Tcheng, director of Dior and I with Uncle Boonmee and Holy Motors.
Frédéric Tcheng, director of Dior and I with Uncle Boonmee and Holy Motors. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Good question - what did you say?

FT: He likes asking about favourite things. He asked me "What's your favourite juice? What's your favourite cake?"

AKT: I want your answer to the film question!

FT: I said that I loved David Fincher and Todd Haynes. And for French directors, I said, of course I love Godard, who is kind of my god, but I also love Claire Denis and Olivier Assayas. Raf loves David Fincher, too. I think he didn't know who Claire Denis was. Maybe her films, but not her name. Anyway, we started on this dialogue. He gave me all the arguments not to make this film. He said, "I'm guarding my privacy very dearly because I don't want people look at me in a different way, like suddenly I'm a star because I work at Dior. To me that's unnatural." He was afraid of the exposure. I told him my way of working was going to be as in-intrusive as possible.

AKT: You talk about Olivier Assayas as a favorite. His films are what they are about, such as work. The sense of real in the school, one gets, for example, in Something In The Air. Your film is about the work itself at Christian Dior, not the hidden scandals or gossip. Is that why he said okay to the film?

FT: Raf has principles and he can be very determined but I also find him a very endearing person. Very sweet. By the end of the week, I was packing up the camera and leaving the building and I ran into him. "Why are you leaving?" he said "Are you coming to the archives tomorrow?" I didn't know about it and suddenly he was offering a scene. He could see that I wasn't going to expose some dirty secrets or anything. So I stayed on and he rarely intervened. Sometimes he would say "oh, it's weird to have that boom above my head." The only advice that he gave me really was that the told me "Fred, please don't make me into a caricature. Because I see so many documentaries where the film latches on to a little detail just to make that person look more like a character, more extreme. Please don't do that."

Raf Simons on being filmed: "I'm very reluctant to do this but I'll give it a try for one week."
Raf Simons on being filmed: "I'm very reluctant to do this but I'll give it a try for one week."

When he saw the film, he was very moved and he told me he recognised himself. So I'm happy about that. I tried to be true to the subject. Not only him, but Dior and the seamstresses - that's something that's pretty important to me. Even if there are uncomfortable parts for them in the film, at least they recognise that I didn't lie about what they did or who they are.

AKT: There is a beautiful scene in your film when a trip by one of the premières [one of Dior's two head seamstresses] to New York for a fitting of a private client brings everything to a standstill. This is a very telling moment, that exposes not an individual person but it exposes a whole industry. You question, who is really pulling the strings here?

FT: What I love about the scene is that it reminds me of what Jean Renoir used to say. He said: "What's terrible in this world is that everyone has his reason." Raf has a collection to make, the director of couture, she has clients to satisfy. Everyone has good reasons for doing what they are doing. It's just that their agendas are different or their priorities. This scene was a turning point for Raf to really take control of the house and take control of the process of couture. And I think he did that very calmly, very matter-of-factly.

AKT: The flight to the pink villa where Christian Dior was born and grew up, was that a trip made especially for your film?

FT: No, actually. Well, we always wanted to go and we kept on asking, when is Raf going? It's sort of a pilgrimage, the new designer has to go to the house where Dior was born because it's part of the history. Also they have a museum there where you can see a lot of Christian Dior's design and an archive. Also Raf was supposed to shoot portraits over there. And we could come. It was a beautiful day, we really lucked out because it looks like the French Riviera even though it's in Normandy where it's usually raining. Raf talks about reading the autobiography, which he had talked about to me in private, off camera. He wouldn't say it on camera because he doesn't re-enact things. I didn't ask him to but I knew that line was very important for the film because it confirmed all my instincts about the parallels between the two, the ghost of Dior haunting the house, and haunting this new collection.

At work in Dior And I: "Everyone has good reasons for doing what they are doing."
At work in Dior And I: "Everyone has good reasons for doing what they are doing."

AKT: You have the voiceover quote Dior in this scene about his favorite colours, the pink of the house and the grey of the gravel.

FT: I was so happy. Raf was with his very good friend Olivier Rizzo who is a stylist and they started in fashion together. Raf was very relaxed and he was talking to his friend, so I got this candid moment of him just whispering those words. I was so happy when he said it because I knew that was something I really wanted for the film.

AKT: I love how he describes the decor for the show itself as the Jeff Koons' Flower Puppy inside out. I remember at the end of Mademoiselle C, Fabien Constant's documentary about Carine Roitfeld, there are some shots of the flower rooms and the collection. We see glimpses of Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Lawrence and Sharon Stone and those fantastic flower walls everywhere. How did it smell?

Brushstrokes by artist Sterling Ruby turn into fabric, the "negative" of Koons' Flower Puppy transforms the way of presenting the collection, and questions of control behind the scenes make Dior And I into a delicate and poignant fashion thriller.

FT: You could smell it from across the street. It was incredible. A total sensory experience.

AKT: And you couldn't believe your luck, I suppose, to capture it on film?

Tcheng suggests in mood and tone, rather than words, the challenges Simons faces.

FT: It was beautiful and very, very moving. You can picture it in your head but when you're actually in those rooms it really feels like Alice In Wonderland. It feels like you're in a different world. It was beautiful to see early in the morning when nobody was there. And you know what happened? They bought so many flowers - we filmed the whole process and in the end we didn't include it in the film, we didn't have enough time - you know, they crashed the European flower market. For a whole week you couldn't find any orchids in Europe. They purchased everything. The rates for flowers were just like... (he makes a gesture to the roof).

Raf Simons' Dior on the runway: "It was incredible. A total sensory experience."
Raf Simons' Dior on the runway: "It was incredible. A total sensory experience."

AKT: Anna Wintour was right when she said "I guess they didn't have any budget issues"?

FT: That's it. I don't know how much it cost. I never got a final answer but I'm sure it wasn't really the cheapest show… What I wanted to convey eventually was that everybody puts so much of themselves into the work. That's why when I was looking for a title, initially it was called 'My Dior'. There is this little video in the window of the store that says 'my Dior is my Dior is my Dior'.

AKT: The Gertrude Stein of advertisement slogans?

FT: That reminded me of Gertrude Stein and I thought it was interesting the idea of trying to appropriate Dior for oneself. Then we found out it was not possible for copyright reasons because it's a line of jewelry. So I had to find a new title and then I just called it Dior And I. For several reasons: First, it's a nod to Christian Dior And I, which is the title of Dior's autobiography. I chopped off the Christian, so that way Dior becomes not only the person but also the company Dior. And the I is not only Raf Simons but also Florence and Monique, the premières, it's also Bernard Arnault and it's also me. Everyone has a special relationship with Dior.

Tribeca Film Festival public screenings: Thursday, April 17, 6:30pm – SVA Theater 1; April 19, 3:00pm – Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea 7; April 22, 9:00pm – Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea 7; April 25, 9:00pm – AMC Loews Village 7 – 1

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