Documentary ‘Dior and I’ is a perfect romp for film fashionistas

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“My Dior is my Dior is my Dior.” These words taglined a 2012 campaign for luxury fashion house Christian Dior, featuring model Raquel Zimmermann and filmed by Steven Meisel. The ad suggests the evolving nature of the Dior brand and its power to manifest a woman’s many personas. The words also seem to suggest Dior’s creative director Raf Simons’ near magical ability to adapt in fashion.

Simons is the subject of the new documentary “Dior and I”which follows the making of his first couture collection for the fashion giant — and his first couture collection ever. With only six weeks to design a collection, build the garments and find a venue for the show, director Frederic Tcheng captures the emotion and whimsy of piecing together a couture collection from start to finish. Tcheng is a fashion film veteran whose roster of documentaries includes “Valentino: The Last Emperor” and “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” (now on Netflix, for those fashionphiles wishing to watch).

The film opens in the Dior atelier, the creative space where the design and garment construction take place. It’s here where the atelier workers — the sewers and premieres, who manage the sewers — construct dresses by hand to be selected (or rejected) for a walk down the runway. Each piece created by these workers — some of whom have worked for Dior for 20 or more years — is sketched by another house worker based on Simons’ idea for the collection.

Other key players in Dior’s fashion house are introduced, starting with Simons’ “right-hand man” Pieter Mulier, who became Dior’s studio director in 2012. He admits that taking on Dior’s established aesthetic could be creatively limiting.

The film is a fabulous, linear look at the creative process and how rocky the road to a full-fledged collection can be. It also takes an emotional toll on those involved — tears are shed, there is some questioning of values and some seriously stressed-out designers.

If you’ve ever seen footage of Dior’s Fall 2012 Couture collection, you know it’s a breathtaking show. If you haven’t, go watch it now. Right now. “Dior and I” is a harmonious companion to his prominent collection, offering what those not so familiar with fashion are wondering: How did they get all those flowers on the wall? How did he find the print for that dress? How long did that really take to make? Spoiler: a hella long time.

Simons started as a furniture designer before releasing his first menswear collection in 1995 under his own name. His work is frequently referred to as minimalist (a term he does not use to describe his work, according to the film), which started talk that Simons wasn’t fit for the venerated House of Christian Dior. But Simons underestimated brilliance as a designer is revealed subtly through small doses of model fittings, trips to the Dior archives and his interactions with the atelier workers.

The film is cut with footage of Christian Dior working at the atelier, overlayed with sections of his memoirs. Tcheng takes time to honor Dior, and the audience can sense the director’s loyalty to him throughout the film. Simons and Dior are placed side by side, one complementing the other, representing the new and the old fusing into a collection that is as dazzling and mesmerizing as this documentary.

“Dior and I” leaves you with the sense that you were part of the process somehow — that you are privy to information others will never know. Even fashion know-it-alls will take delight in the creative detail and experience surprise at the atelier’s design methods.

“I think of my work as ephemeral architecture, dedicated to the beauty of the female body.” Dior said that, many years ago, but the line could easily hold Simons’ byline. No matter how Simons molds and sculpts couture, Dior’s essence continues to breath life into the fabled and fantastic house.

“Dior and I” will open April 24 at the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley.

 

Contact Elizabeth Moss at [email protected].