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Dior and I stands as the latest in a long line of fashion documentaries chronicling the creation of a collection, from Unzipped to Eleven Minutes (we might as well accept this a documentary subgenre now). In the new film, director Frédéric Tcheng traces the voyage that Raf Simons, the current creative director of the House of Dior, embarks upon when designing his first haute couture collection there. Though the subject matter is a bit more elevated, Dior and I lacks the personality and intimacy that have made other films of its ilk effective. For lovers of fashion, it’s always nice to get a behind-the-scenes look at the sewing, beading, pleating, tucking, etc., but from a narrative point of view, Tcheng’s film falls flat.
Unlike the director’s previous fashion output, especially Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel (made with the aid of two other directors, one of whom was Vreeland’s granddaughter-in-law), the documentary lacks a fully realized emotionality. Simons’s mini breakdowns over the eight weeks he has to helm his first collection for Dior feel stunted and hollow; the gravitas isn’t adequately explored, so his short bursts of tears and tantrums don’t hold up as helpful characterization. Meanwhile, the high points of drama — like spraying a white jacket black in haste or creating a new hand-beaded dress the night before the show — feel like the stuff of a manufactured reality TV show.
The audience gets glimpses of true personality through the peppered presence of two premieres (head seamstresses) in the atelier: Florence and Monique. One jovial, one severe, they’re a duo whose similarities and differences play well off one another and those around them. Watching them work in their surgical white coats, butting heads with Simons over the realities of a couture house (a dress is late because a high-profile client in New York requested a fitting) and succumbing to candy addictions to relieve stress, are precious gems beaded into the larger fabric of the film. Even their respective positions are rife with serendipity: Florence, head of dresses, has a flowing and loose personality, and Monique, head of suiting, is more tightly wound and structured. It goes to show that while Simons’s journey is novel and flashy, the true intrigue and substance lie within the seams of the film. Perhaps unintentionally, this demonstrates that even though the name on a clothing label may be the leader, fashion is a complicated communal effort.
In an attempt to expand on the main story of Raf Simons, the film includes the spectre of Dior reading passages from his memoir (voiced by Omar Berrada); the first of these reflects on the schism the founder felt within himself, as both a normal Frenchmen and the name above the door. These moments are meant to highlight a link between past and present but are used sparsely, to the film’s detriment: a clear bond between the two artistic directors of the house is never well established, and it becomes clear that the focus here is not in fact Christian Dior or the titular “I,” but the clothes.
Which is fine, in a sense, but even the clothes have much more potential for storytelling and drama than they’re allowed. This collection not only carries the weight of Raf Simons, a stereotypically young and minimalist designer in the public’s eye, taking over one of — if not the — most famous couture house in the world, but also has the looming shadow of John Galliano hanging over it. Galliano’s firing from Dior is an aspect of the story most likely omitted on purpose, but his presence becomes even more palpable in the exclusion. The designer may have left the house in ruins as a person, but his creations for Dior were — and still are — highly lauded. For those in the know, this silent undercurrent pushes the stakes higher as everything unfolds, from tentative sketches to the likely millions of Euros spent on covering walls in flowers for the presentation. Those who don’t know the Galliano story miss out, however, and it might have added more tension to include it. Though a treasure in recording a fascinating moment of the brand’s history, Dior and I could have reached far beyond its banality to achieve an incisive look at Dior and Simons and the dichotomy between public and private personas.
Dior and I is now playing in theaters across the country. See the website for details.
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