'Dior and I': Let’s Go to the Movies


Frédéric Tcheng’s terrific documentary, 'Dior and I,' tracks the eight-week lead up to Raf Simon’s debut collection for Dior in 2012. By way of confession, I have no particular interest in haute couture, nor have I ever hungered after a frock I saw paraded on a runway. But I am a huge fan of fashion documentaries, an interest that goes back twenty years to 'Unzipped,’ a glimpse at the 1994 fall collection—the Eskimo look was much in vogue—by the designer Isaac Mizrahi.  The film was hilarious, a revelation; I was hooked. After that came 'The September Issue' (2009) a documentary about the editor-in-chief of  Vogue magazine, Anna Wintour, and her team of editors who rule the world of high fashion.  All  of which meant I could hardly wait to see ‘Dior and I,' which opened the Tribeca Film Festival April 17th.

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Meet the Film's Director

Before writing and directing ‘Dior and I’ (‘Dior et moi’ in French), Frédéric Tcheng had co-produced ‘Valentino: The Last Emperor’ (2008) and co-directed ‘Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011). Both of which I adored. When Tcheng heard that Raf Simons, the creative designer at the minimalist firm of Jil Sander, was being considered for the position of creative director at Dior, he sensed a tale worth telling.

The artist Sterling Ruby (left) and the fashion designer Raf Simons at Hauser & Wirth Gallery in New York.

Meet the New Creative Director at Dior

After all, ready-to-wear and haute couture are worlds apart. Could Raf Simons move from the demands of one to those of the other?  Could the gifted seamstresses, many of whom have spent decades at the House of Dior, overcome their concerns about the new director's ambitions? And how would Raf, who speaks haltingly in French, convey his ideas  to those who are responsible for implementing them?

Where do creative ideas comes from?

In 'Dior and I' the creative process unfolds before our eyes. We are there at the beginning when Raf finds inspiration in the bleached canvas images of Sterling Ruby, an LA artist.  And we are there, again, as he ruminates with his right-hand man, Pieter Mulier, about wanting to use a fabric in his debut collection that would have the same 'Ruby' effect.

A 2014 diptych by Ruby, titled ‘‘SP275 (1)’’ and ‘‘SP275 (2)’’; for his first Dior couture show, in 2012, Simons developed fabrics based on Ruby’s paintings.

The Clock Ticks Down

Immediately, there are problems. The manufacturers say that to create such a fabric, they would first need to fashion a special thread, and there’s not time enough to do that. What to do? Listening in on the give and take, the viewer feels the pressure mounting, the days flying by and the clock ticking down.

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).

Meet the Supporting Cast

The stars of the film are the seamstresses who work in the atelier. We meet the two premières when Raf meets them for the first time: the apprehensive Florence Chehet (in black, center) in charge of suits and the affable Monique Bally, likewise in black, in charge of dresses.

As the women try to accommodate the needs of their clients as well as the demands of readying a new collection, the pressure mounts.  One of the premières sums it up for us: Some have alcohol; I have candy. Which is not a bad solution, as researchers have found that sugar, like alcohol, reduces our stress levels.

But when Madame Bally jets to New York to alter a dress for a client and her absence causes a delay in the presentation of dresses, an exchange takes place that made me feel like a fly-on-the-wall.


Meet the Master

It was not the ‘downstairs’ world of affluent clients, celebrities, super-models and buyers that interested me, but the ‘upstairs’ world of cutters and seamstresses, many of whom still feel the presence in the workshop of the legendary Christian Dior.

Without giving anything away, a wonderful moment comes as the two premières, completely unrecognized by those around them, climb the steps to see the collection they've put together stitch-by-stitch on the runway. A number of the dresses from this collection were included in a 2013 show 'The Spirit of Christian Dior' at Shanghai’s Museum of Contemporary Art:

A Penny for Your thoughts

Before you dash off to see the film, how do you feel about haute couture?  Is it chic or superficial? Is custom-made a relic of days gone by or a portent of more to come? There's been quite a buzz the last few years about hand-made-- be it artisanal breads and cheeses or hand-carved ducks and hand-crafted dry flies.

Coincidentally, last Monday was the annual ball last Monday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with 500 of the world's most beautiful people turning out to support the newly named Anna Wintour Costume Center. Did you see the gowns? Any comments?

‘Dior and I’ is a beautifully photographed engaging film, a well-spent 90 minutes. If not at your local theater, it should be available within months on Netflix Then you, too, will be able to peek behind the seams.

So, let's go to the movies!  But before you do, I hope you will take a moment to share 'Dior and I' with friends and family. Remember...sharing is caring.  Happy Mother's Day to all you beautiful mothers out there.  À la semaine prochaine...see you next week.