Dior and I – a film by Frédéric Tcheng
Dior and I is a feature -length documentary that takes the viewer behind the scenes of the
creation of designer Raf Simons’ first haute couture collection for the legendary Christian
Dior fashion house in the spring of 2012. Granted unprecedented access, the film
documents the eight stressful weeks that Simons had to complete his debut collection.
Revealing the inner workings of the design house, from the creative processes of its artistic
director to the tireless seamstresses of the atelier, the film explores the personal bonds that
form between the collaborators, their work, and the legacy of Christian Dior.
In 2012, when the French fashion house announced that Raf Simons would fill the vacant
seat of artistic director, many commentators were surprised. Simons, a Belgian native
whose previous credits included a namesake menswear line and who had been perceived
by many as a “minimalist,” had always kept a low public profile and, most importantly, had
never before worked in haute couture. To create his first collection for Dior, he had only
eight weeks, as opposed to the usual five or six months.
Sixty -five years prior, in 1947, designer Christian Dior exploded onto the fashion scene at
the age of forty – four, with his “New Look” collection, a sensational homage to femininity
after five years of wartime. He instantly became a household name and an arbiter of style.
Yet he was a very private man, who preferred the company of his friends to the noise of the
social scene. In his 1956 memoirs, written one year before his sudden death from a heart
attack, he addresses his public persona: “this Siamese twin who precedes me everywhere
since I’ve become Christian Dior. He and I have score to settle.”
Today the world that Christian Dior created lives on in the ateliers (workrooms), where a hard-working group of dedicated seamstresses still hand-sew clothing in the great tradition of haute couture. Dior is one of the last houses that still keep such ateliers in- house: atelier tailleur (for suiting) and atelier flou (for dresses). As Raf Simons discovers when he first visits the light-filled rooms tucked away on the top floor of the historic building, many seamstresses have worked here for more than 40 years. The film closely follows Florence Chehet, the dynamic and upbeat première for the atelier flou, and Monique Bailly, the anxious and quick- witted première for the atelier tailleur. “For me, they are the two most important people in the house,” says Pieter Mulier, Raf Simons’ right hand at Dior and longtime collaborator. “Because they have everything in their hands.”
In one of the more creatively revealing storylines of the film, we watch Simons bring his passion for art into his work. Discovering a mid – century weaving technique called imprimé chaîne, in which the thread is printed before it’s woven, Simons has the idea to recreate the paintings of abstract American painter Sterling Ruby on cloth. However, the fabric suppliers have never taken on a print of this scale, and given the time constraints, the dresses are a significant challenge for even these, the most experienced of craftsmen.
Although Christian Dior only helmed his house for ten years, his impact on the fashion world was considerable. Dior and I follows Raf Simons as he explores Dior’s archives for inspiration. “I find it quite challenging to work with a legacy that is so gigantic and so sublime,” says Simons as a model puts on the iconic Bar jacket from 1947. With a tight waist, large shoulders and emphasized hips, the silhouette was such a departure from the boxy wartime outfits that Harper’s Bazaar dubbed it the “New Look” and it instantly became the style reference for the following decade.
Dior and I is therefore also the intimate story of a dauphin confronting the towering shadow of his predecessor. In one of the most personal moments, Raf Simons visits Christian Dior’s childhood home in Granville, Normandy. He reveals that he started reading Dior’s memoirs but couldn’t get through them because of the uncanny parallels between Dior’s experience and his own. “I had to stop. It was weird,” says Simons. “I thought I’d better not [continue reading], until the first show is done.” With an empathetic sensibility and a thoughtful patience, the film explores the challenges of finding one’s own voice while under enormous pressure