In 1956, French designer Christian Dior wrote a memoir detailing his life and the first ten years of his iconic fashion house. The luxury brand lost its founder just a year later when Dior passed away at the age of 52. Subsequently, the House Of Dior has had six creative directors, including the legendary Yves Saint Laurent. Dior and I chronicles the beleaguered process of latest leader, Belgian designer Raf Simons, as he struggles to both prove himself in the long shadow of everything to come before, and debut his first Dior collection.
When Simons was selected to take over in 2012, he was a relative unknown. A former menswear designer for Jil Sander, he favors a minimalist approach to clothing, making him far from the most obvious choice for the role of visionary behind the historically lavish fashion house. Director Fr?d?ric Tcheng—who, in previously working on Valentino: The Last Emperor and co-directing Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, has seemingly emerged fully formed as the ideal person to capture the mood and character of this designer at a pivotal point in his career—used a small crew to follow Simons for his first three months on the job, intimately embedded with a stranger, an amateur in the world of Haute Couture.
After Dior’s previous creative director, John Galliano, was fired over an anti-Semitic rant (caught on camera of course), Simons came on board with a mere eight weeks to oversee his first couture collection. The film’s focus is within the whirlwind of this short period of time, as Simons takes risks with bold, custom-made fabrics based on abstract art and heavily intricate concepts, depending desperately on a team of experienced seamstresses overseen by Florence Chehet and Monique Bailly, two women who have spent decades making Dior’s collections come to life. Predictably, conflict is frequent, buttressed by many, many hours of overtime work and their resentment toward an outsider who came to them only with the experience of designing ready-to-wear collections. Like in any industry, superstition and tradition abide: Some workers (some more bitterly than others) believe Dior’s ghost still checks in on their work—that he is always at the heart of the company, no matter who is in charge.
Dior and I expertly observes all aspects of Simons’ stressful transition, especially in the minutiae of being both an artist and a manager. Throughout the film, Simons is never far from his right-hand man, Pieter Mulier, and at times the pair slip into “good cop/bad cop” roles when dealing with the staff. This makes sense, because it allows Simons to remain somewhat insulated from any internal criticism as he continues to tweak the collection under duress, though his staff can’t help but have to compensate for the difficulty that insulation places on their own roles.
Yet, Tcheng infuses this rapid tale of the modern fashion process—accompanied by a pulsating electronic soundtrack from artists like The Knife, The xx and Aphex Twin—with voiceover narration reading passages from Dior’s memoir. In this deft blending of past, present and future, Tcheng affirms that Mr. Simons has the utmost concern for protecting the legacy he’s inherited. Having shot over 250 hours of footage, Simons edited down his story to a succinct 89 minutes to emphasize the intensity of his behind-the-scenes look: This is what it takes to pull off a big reveal, to survive in an environment subconsciously bent on proving him wrong.
The audience is treated in much the same way as those in the crowd during the film’s fashion show: up until the finale, we see only sketches and glimpses of designs constructed out of white tulle instead of their final fabrics. And so Dior and I climaxes in an elaborate runaway show, hosted respectfully—and perhaps too obviously, given the nature of Simons’ critics’ fears—inside Dior’s own childhood home. Wisely avoiding celebrity interviews in lieu of the people who actually worked on the collection—honing in on Simons as the embodiment of Dior’s legacy in the modern fashion world, as opposed to filling out the fashion house’s importance with talking heads testimonials from people you probably would only believe based on their star power—it’s still hard to miss all of the famous folks lined up in the audience. Isabelle Huppert, Sharon Stone, Harvey Weinstein, Jennifer Lawrence and Marion Cotillard are dotted along the front rows, mixed in with fashion journalists and buyers from around the globe.
Juxtaposed with the process-heavy action of the film, the final moments of Dior and I feel comparatively, wonderfully staged. Which is pretty much the point. As a reward for all the hard work, we’re treated to a show overflowing with tearful rooftop outbursts, more flowers than you’ve ever seen in your life and a suitably impressed Anna Wintour, EIC at American Vogue. “I guess you didn’t have any budget issues,” she coyly says to Simons as he gives her a private tour. It’s the ultimate testament to Simons’ success: That in the end he was able to hide all of his growing pains.
Director: Fr?d?ric Tcheng
Writer: Fr?d?ric Tcheng
Starring: Raf Simons, Pieter Mulier, Florence Chehet, Monique Bailly, Anna Wintour
Release Date: April 10, 2015 (limited)
Matt is an Austin resident who is a rabid collector of physical media, especially Criterion Collection Blu-rays. He’s also the former music director and on-air host of indie rock Internet radio pioneer, WOXY.com. You should probably follow him on Twitter.