Dior And I


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Dior And I
"Frédéric Tcheng's documentary about a house and its ghosts in past and present is all you could desire from a fashion film."

Fragrant flowers of a long-gone boyhood, contemporary art and movie history set the tapestry of inspiration in Dior And I (Dior Et Moi), while the shadows of forces pulling the business strings are never quite forgotten. Reflective, intelligent, and beautifully poetic, Frédéric Tcheng's documentary about a house and its ghosts in past and present is all you could desire from a fashion film.

Tcheng, co-producer and co-editor of the fashion documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor and co-­director of Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, brings his bewitchingly evocative Dior And I to the Tribeca Film Festival where it had its world premiere. The haute couture ateliers of the House of Dior in Paris are haunted by the spirit of the founder, Christian Dior, who, in 1947, revolutionized the world of fashion with the "New Look".

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After the war, so Dior explained in his memoir, quoted in voiceover, women had enough of looking like soldiers with broad shoulders and boxy jackets, they longed to look like flowers, with "tiny waists above skirts that blossomed like corollas." 55 years later, portraits of the founder and his work still dominate the Paris ateliers. Enter Raf Simons, the Belgian designer, often mis-labeled "minimalist" who came from furniture design, to menswear, to Jil Sander.

Simons' initial eight weeks as creative director at the helm of Dior under pressure to produce his first ever haute couture collection in less time than ever are documented.

Tcheng suggests in mood and tone, rather than words, that Simons faces the challenges of Hitchcock's new Mrs. de Winter to Dior's Rebecca. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” Joan Fontaine's voice beckons in the 1940 film. Poet Omar Berrada, Tcheng told me last week, not only gives his voice to Christian Dior in this film, but also suggested he look into the connection of hauntings and cinema as a trope for the documentary.

New Look footage in black and white, Wallis Simpson, Christian Dior himself and quotes from his memoir in which he calls his designer persona "my Siamese twin", give way to the present House of Dior where the spirit of its founder looms large. With portraits in every corridor and the name embroidered on every white lab coat worn by the seamstresses, Raf Simons takes on the challenge head-on.

"Facing a legacy so gigantic and sublime," Simons, famous for menswear in the Nineties, juxtaposes something "more dynamic" with the inheritance of grace. "The past is not romantic for me - it's the future that's romantic for me," he explains.

Tcheng comprehensively shadows the teams of the haute couture ateliers at work - the premieres Florence and Monique, the seamstresses, and the modelist "with fairy hands" who always gets to do the "big dresses". We learn about the choosing of the sketches, a sorting hat of sorts, Haribo candy addictions and how the "girls" still feel Dior's presence in the halls, who died in 1957, long before most of them were born.

John Galliano hovers over the film as an absence. Tcheng is not interested in gossip or scandal. Raf Simons' debut collection turns out to be a time-traveling wonder, the clothes as fresh as the flowers he used as padding for the walls and as steeped in history that you could easily imagine Marlene Dietrich or Barbara Stanwyck or Gene Tierney wearing the clothes.

Christian Dior was born in 1905 in Granville, a small town on the coast of Normandy where the pink villa of his childhood vacations has been turned into a Dior museum, housing the design archives. In his autobiography, he speaks about the enchanting garden and his mother's love of flowers. Tcheng accompanied Simons for his first visit to the villa on a beautiful sunny day and we overhear the designer say that he had started and had to stop reading the memoir because it was too intimidating.

We follow Simons to look at art at the Centre Pompidou, clearly something he cares a lot about. Not surprisingly, in his office, the camera lingers for a moment on a stack of art books - one on Gerhard Richter in prominent position. It is the "quality of brushstroke" in Sterling Ruby's paintings, though, that Simons wants to capture.

The brushstrokes turn into magical fabric, the "negative" of Jeff 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.

Reviewed on: 18 Apr 2014
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Dior And I packshot
A look inside the House of Dior as Raf Simons prepares his collection.
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Director: Frédéric Tcheng

Starring: Raf Simons

Year: 2014

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: US

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