Review: ‘Dior and I,’ a Documentary That Peers Into a Storied Fashion House
Dior and I
By A. O. SCOTTAPRIL 9, 2015 / http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/10/movies/review-dior-and-i-a-documentary-that-peers-into-a-storied-fashion-house.html?_r=0
An elegant and captivating piece of corporate promotion in the guise of a documentary, Frédéric Tcheng’s “Dior and I” unfolds like an episode of “Project Runway” with better clothes and bigger budgets, or perhaps a Christopher Guest movie without a sense of humor. There are some amusing moments, to be sure, and some touching ones as well, but the film is less interested in ideas or emotions than in illusions. It produces an aura of suspense without a sense of real risk, and offers devotees of fashion an appealing, shallow fantasy of inside knowledge.
The designer with members of his couture team, referred to as the “petites mains,” and the premières who head the ateliers, Florence Chehet (right, in black) and Monique Bailly (left, in black).Inside Raf Simons’s HouseAPRIL 9, 2015
Early and late, Mr. Tcheng summons the specter of Christian Dior, who appears in archival footage accompanied by passages from his memoir (read by the poet Omar Berrada) that reflect on his double identity as an ordinary provincial Frenchman and as the name above the door of a storied Paris fashion house. Dior, whose 1947 New Look created some of the most enduring iconography of modern femininity, is invoked as a friendly ghost haunting the workshops and showrooms of his maison de couture, and as a benevolent patriarch devoted, above all, to the elegance of women. In 2012, when most of the film takes place, Dior’s legacy has been placed in the hands of Raf Simons, a Belgian designer recently hired from Jil Sander.
Mr. Simons, Dior’s new artistic director, arrives in an atmosphere of nervous expectation, with just eight weeks to produce a couture collection to be shown at Paris Fashion Week. Best known for his men’s wear, he has a reputation as a minimalist — a characterization he disputes — that potentially makes him an odd fit with the company’s tradition of tasteful luxury. Introducing Mr. Simons to the white-coated staff of the workshops where the clothes will be made, his boss notes with evident mixed feelings that the house is “modernizing.” Mr. Simons, who favors dark sweaters and open-necked shirts over silk ties and elegantly cut suits, also prefers to be addressed by his first name.
“Dior and I” is itself a sign of the times, in which transparency is the new mystique. An audience that once might have savored the mysteries of craft now feasts on the spectacle of process. We demand to see how the sausages — or in this case the dresses, but also the dances, the plays and the movies themselves — are made.
A documentary style has arisen to answer this hunger that splits the difference between cinéma vérité and reality television, engendering films that often feel like CliffsNotes versions of Frederick Wiseman’s dense, slow moving institutional studies. Like “Ballet 422,” Jody Lee Lipes’s recent film about the choreographer Justin Peck, “Dior and I” generates momentum and interest by showing deadline-driven creative work. In both cases, there is a counterpoint of individual vision and collaborative labor. Mr. Simons, assisted by his longtime collaborator Pieter Mulier, delves into contemporary art and Dior’s history in search of inspiration.
Shy, morose and unable to speak French, Mr. Simons sometimes has trouble communicating with the women who run the workshops, who view him with skepticism. The two premières, Florence Chehet and Monique Bailly, who preside over teams of white-coated cutters and seamstresses (one for dresses, the other for suits), are by far the most fascinating figures in “Dior and I.” They are a study in temperamental contrasts — Ms. Chehet warm and bubbly, Ms. Bailly anxious and astringent — and also exemplars of loyal service and artisanal pride.
Ultimately, though, they are treated with condescension, by the attention-seeking, hype-driven industry that employs them and by a film that uncritically embraces the values of that industry. Access to an institution like the house of Dior is a rare and precious thing, and Mr. Tcheng has paid for it with a flattering portrait dressed up to look like cleareyed scrutiny. The emperor’s clothes are beautiful, as you always knew they would be.
Dior and I
Opens on Friday
Written and directed by Frédéric Tcheng; director of photography, Gilles Piquard; edited by Julio C. Perez IV and Mr. Tcheng; music by Ha-Yang Kim; produced by Mr. Tcheng and Guillaume de Roquemaurel; released by the Orchard. In French, English and Flemish, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes. This film is not rated.
‘Dior and I’ Review: Sartorial Sprint
A documentary tracks the new artistic director of the House of Dior as he creates his debut collection in only eight weeks.
By JOE MORGENSTERN
Updated April 17, 2015 2:15 p.m. ET / http://www.wsj.com/articles/dior-and-i-review-sartorial-sprint-1429210425
Screenwriters often heighten the drama of fiction films by equipping their plots with ticking clocks—only so many minutes, hours or days to do such and such before all hell breaks loose. In the fine documentary feature “Dior and I,” a countdown clock is set for eight weeks at the beginning of 2012. That was the startlingly short stretch of time allotted to Raf Simons, the House of Dior’s new artistic director, for the creation of his debut collection, after which, it was hoped, his vision of fashion heaven would open its floral gates. Frédéric Tcheng’s film tracks the collection’s genesis and development with unconcealed admiration—this is hardly the anatomy of a flop—but with a reporter’s sharp eye for detail, and a playwright’s appreciation for suspense. The drama of getting new dresses on the runway turns out to be transfixing, while the hero redefines the notion of intense.
As well he might. Mr. Simons, a Belgian designer previously noted for a minimalist menswear line, had no way of knowing if the Dior atelier could do his bidding under such pressure, notwithstanding the superlative skills of its seamstresses. And they had no way of knowing if their new leader would make demands they couldn’t meet. (He did, but they met them all the same.) “Dior and I,” which uses a cleverly truncated origin story to invoke the House of Dior’s founder, Christian Dior, is a fascinating procedural with a fitting climax. Stunning models wearing Mr. Simon’s gorgeous clothes slouch their stuff during an opulent show in a Parisian mansion whose walls and doors have been covered with tens of thousands of fresh flowers. Busby Berkeley couldn’t have done better.