Film Review: “Dior and I”

After watching the biographical film Yves SL last year, as well as a few documentaries about French fashion designers launching collections, “Dior and I” was left on the back-burner. Too much fashion, too much style, too many people spending astonishing amounts of money on non-stylish haute couture can be too much. There were also a lot of interesting films released at the same time. But finally, it was time for “Dior and I”.


The title is based on Christian Dior‘s book “Dior and I’. In it, Christian Dior describes what it is like to run a fashion house and how he creates collections. The title not only refers to his fashion house and himself. It also points at the gap between the public image and the private person. For being basically a shy person, creating the “New Look” pushed Christian Dior into the limelight.

In a scene at the house where Christian Dior grew up and which is now a museum, Raf Simons mentions he had to put the book away after reading only 15 pages. Not because it is a badly written book. No: what Christian Dior describes was exactly what Raf Simons was going through and it was simply too close for comfort.

When this documentary-film by director Frédéric Tcheng starts, Raf Simons and his right-hand man Pieter Mulier are welcomed at Dior. The film does not mention it, but the owners of the fashion house were caught up in a scandal. Their creative director John Galliano was caught drunk on video in a Paris bar.

This in itself would have barely raised an eyebrow. What he was raving about did. There were court cases and Galliano was fired. Dior and I 3Dior needed a new creative director – fast.

Raf Simons, tipped for another job at another fashion house, was brought in. So when the film starts, he is introduced to Dior employees. Monsieur Raf, or Raf as he prefers to be called by Dior employees, is not the rookie some film critics make him out to be.

Like Christian Dior, Raf Simons started working in another field. But by the time he ends up at Dior, he has already launched and relaunched his own brands, fashion house, worked with other designers and artists, organised exhibitions, done a long stint at Jill Sanders.

Dior’s new creative director does arrive pretty late on the scene – so to say. For he has about 2 months to launch Dior’s haute couture autumn collection 2012. Usually, a creative director and his complete team have 6 to 8 months to create such a collection from start to show.

Raf Simons must have been stark striving mad and totally barmy, to have said “yes” to this job. For with his experience, he must have been aware of how challenging and near-impossible it would be. He and his whole team push themselves well beyond comfort zones, right across limits, while meeting challenges, overcoming disasters – and pulling it all off sympathetically and brilliantly.

They surpass themselves. It is difficult not to cry with them, watching the last few scenes when models wearing their finished creations pass through a beautifully prepared Paris Hôtel Particulier and the collection is applauded by a bowled over public. Or as Tim Blanks of Style.com stated at the time: “… That it would be such a triumph was a thrill. The avant-garde outsider from Antwerp insinuated himself into the hallowed history of haute couture with a tour de force that had both emotional and intellectual resonance. …” and Vogue’s director put it “… It was what you hoped for and more – it was such a beautiful homage to Dior, a mix of the modern, clean and unexpected with a real lightness of touch. It was more elegant than elegant and he trod a brilliant line of being him and being respectful of Dior, I loved it.

This behind-the-scenes film not only concentrates on Raf Simons. As stated above, its audience “meets” practically his whole Dior team and quite a few others. There are lovely interviews. Even Christian Dior is kind of present: his voice from old interviews comments on events.

It comes as no surprise that Raf Simons had to put down “Dior and I”. There are quite a few similarities between the old master and new creative director. Raf Simons is shown visiting museums. Dior knew many contemporary artists personally and worked as an art dealer before starting his fashion career. But where Dior sketched, Raf Simons uses modern techniques. He creates portfolios and the film shows how these are turned into designs, patterns, clothes. This is fascinating stuff.

Of course, there are hilarious and outrageous moments. One of them shows the creative director simmering. At a crucial moment, when he wants to inspect the “toiles” of the various creations, he is kept waiting – and not for just 10 minutes. Unknown to him, part of his department with their “toiles” and documentary-makers are stuck in an elevator with tantrums. As for the other part of the team: an important customer in New York had a problem with a hem.

This scene also gives an insight in the money spent in this business and it is not the only scene. Things go totally over the top, when a building is selected for the presentation of the collection. The beautiful Hotel Particulier has stood empty, but despite the dirt and lack of maintenance, it is still fabulous. (Wouldn’t mind living in it – nor would you.)

Of course, the solution is not just to clean the building. The end-result is indeed fabulous and forms a perfect link with Christian Dior’s love of flowers. But the costs … are never disclosed. Yet, in this present day and age: could such amounts of money not be better spent? For remember: there was Occupy and other protests going on while plenty people were without jobs, homes, food – and still are.

Nevertheless, it must be admitted: many of the dresses in this film are so beautiful, they make you cry. Despite all the stress, long hours, lack of sleep during the last two weeks, it comes as no surprise that many of the employees have worked for Dior for decades. Creating stunning works of art with such brilliant colleagues and doing what you love and do best, must be addictive.

As for this film: personally, I would not mind watching it again soon. It is one of the best fashion films I have seen and has already won many awards. It is an absorbing “behind the facades” film and not easily forgotten. On the other hand, the film will appeal to women more than men.

Which leaves two questions: Raf Simons states he hates being filmed, photographed, be in the limelight. So how come he’s in this documentary? Use the YouTube link at the bottom of this post to get the answer.
As for the other question: where did Raf Simons got that black knitted (?) “kekkie” jacket he wears in several scenes? Think it might suit me.

“Dior and I”, director Frédéric Tcheng, is currently shown in cinemas throughout Europe.
Youtube interview with Frédéric Tcheng

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