dior and i explores christian and raf and the beauty of couture
In cinemas Friday, Dior and I is the documentary that follows Raf Simons through his first eight weeks at Christian Dior and the creation of his first-ever haute couture collection.
Footage or it didn't happen. It's the mantra of a 21st century fashion industry where seasons and collections are over so fast, you need a documentary to remember them. Dior and I is the latest addition to a genre of pristinely produced fashion documentaries for the cinema that includes Lagerfeld Confidential and Valentino: The Last Emperor. It follows Raf Simons from his first day at the Christian Dior ateliers in April 2012 and over the mere eight weeks he was given to design his first haute couture collection for the maison - his first ever. But unlike those other fashion documentaries, Dior and I isn't a slightly sensational glimpse into the fascinating world of an eccentric designer. It is above all a portrait of the House of Dior and the people, who've worked there for decades, and of a much younger and far less theatrical designer and his coming-of-age as a couturier.
"The time seems ripe for a confrontation with this Siamese twin, who precedes me everywhere since I've become Christian Dior," a deep voice recites as the film opens. The words are from Christian Dior et moi, the memoirs of the master himself, a book that captivated and terrified Raf Simons when he first started reading it upon his Dior appointment. "He speaks a lot about his daily activities and his thoughts around his own persona and his thoughts about his job and fashion, life… and I really, really connected," Simons told i-D in an interview in late 2012. "I don't know if it's something every designer would feel if they read that book or if it's just me, because I'm now there and I feel like I can relate, but what I know is that when I started reading it - which was when I'd just entered - I stopped after 15 days because I couldn't deal with it. I put it aside and thought, 'I just have to get through this first show before I can read it.'" He wasn't imagining it. As the film progresses, the similarities between Simons and Dior become blatant, and not just in terms of their mutual destinies.
Dior writes about his quiet disposition - "I hate noise, worldly agitation, and any too sudden changes" - while Simons battles with the immense responsibility put on his shoulders. "It's not so much for me about the attention it gets, but the beautiful thing is that it reaches out to so many people, and that's very fascinating to me," he said in 2012. "I mean, how is it possible that I started such a small thing in Antwerp and suddenly I'm in this position where so many people are looking and watching and following? I think I see my position also as someone who has to serve [Dior] in a modest way, almost." And so, we witness Simons going through the motions: transforming John Galliano's Dior ateliers into his own (white, bright, modern), designing his haute couture collection (Dior New Look meets Simons techno via Sterling Ruby) and getting to know the charismatic premiers, the heart of the haute couture studio.
The clash between the virgin couturier and the old system makes for excellent drama. Simons gets frustrated when a premier can't attend his fitting because she's stuck in New York, fitting a client for a dress from the last couture collection - designed by Bill Gaytten, who, along with John Galliano, isn't mentioned in the documentary. Later, Simons has the white toile of a bar jacket sprayed black because it's quicker than making a black toile. And this modern couturier drinks Coke Zero during fittings, and - on more old school form - casually smokes cigarettes around the toiles. Not one for self-glorification, he tries to get out of the media responsibilities that come with the mega-brand territory, he sends his team flowers, he cries at least twice, and none of it feels fake or scripted in the slightest. This is the fashion documentary about the other, more modern side of fashion; glamour intact, bitchiness abandoned.
Created by Dogwoof - the production company behind Bill Cunningham New York and The Queen of Versailles - with Frédéric Tcheng at the directing wheel, Dior and I is shot and art directed completely within the aesthetic frames of Raf Simons' Dior: that neon-lit, crisp, immaculate, optical white modernity, the delicate pastels, the dramatic hits of techno. It's quiet and flawless, and very Dior. But more than the beauty of Simons' haute couture - shot just as ravishingly - the film is about emotion, and the many roles played by a world-famous designer. There's no footage from Simons' home - the closest you get to his private life is his weekly chauffeur-driven transit between Paris and Antwerp - and he doesn't speak to the camera. Yet, between his cautious arrival at the Dior ateliers and his performance anxiety on a rooftop just before the haute couture show, it's the most honest of all its fellow fashion documentaries, and one that will keep Simons' first collection in the history books for decades to come.
Dior and I premieres in select cinemas on Friday 27 March.
Text Anders Christian Madsen