Dior and I
Directed by Frederic Tcheng
Opens Friday, May 1 at the Kendall Square Cinema
Christian Dior was a renowned French fashion designer who founded one of the world’s top fashion houses (named after himself). Dior and I follows the newly appointed creative director Raf Simons as he works under the pressures of the fashion industry and keeping up with Dior’s legacy. Everyone is familiar with image of models strutting down runways, wearing the latest designer fashions; this film offers a rare and up-close look at the work preceding the exhibition. We witness the stages of production: sketching, prototypes, modeling, right up to the big reveal on the catwalk.
The film begins with a very brief overview of Dior’s history. The man, Christian Dior, was reserved, prefered privacy, and small social gatherings. In the limelight, Christian Dior was “a thousand workers,” an icon, and an instigator of “bloodless revolutions.” When we get our first glimpse into the Dior fashion house, we see workers wearing white jackets with “Dior” embroidered above the breast pocket where one might expect to discover the worker’s name — a thousand workers indeed.
As the film progresses, it seems that it can’t be stated enough that Dior was a fashion revolutionary and that his fashion house is a place of high standards and innovation. The workers constantly praise him and his brand, and Simons is clearly aware that he has big shoes to fill. I must have spotted at least a dozen portraits of Christian Dior throughout the headquarters. The seamstresses joke that at night, they sense Mr. Dior’s ghostly presence in the studio, presumably checking on their work. The man is clearly a legend, but for those of us who are uninitiated into the fashion world, it isn’t exactly clear why. The film reveals that Dior pushed for more feminine clothing for women after WWII, but perhaps it takes more knowledge of fashion history than the average viewer possesses to appreciate what his contributions encompass.
Director Frederic Tcheng juxtaposes modern day Dior with classical Dior — fashion, workers, and even the studio space. In fact, the integration of modern and classic is a theme throughout, and I found to be the most interesting aspect of the film. Raf Simons has a vision that mixes new-age elements with traditional ideas of fashion. In particular, Simons wants to create high-fashion pieces for women that are elegant and comfortable; he doesn’t “want a man to have to support her,” he notes as he studies a model wearing a prototype of new high heels. The workers joke several times about Simons’ insistence on including pockets on women’s clothing — a principle I wish the entire fashion industry would adopt.
When I first saw the term “fashion documentary” in the description of this film, I have to admit, I wasn’t sure if I’d like it in the slightest. Overall, Dior and I is a fairly well-made documentary; it drew intriguing parallels between the modern and the traditional, and the commentary from the workers made me want to know more about the people behind the scenes in the fashion industry. I wish the film had provided a bit more context regarding fashion, and because it didn’t, I don’t think I appreciated the film as much as I could have. The documentary will be enjoyed most by a fashion-inclined audience, but the film can be an interesting watch for the average viewer too — if you’re able to stick with the film despite feeling out of your depth.