Documentaries about fashion seem to have become a micro-niche of its own in recent years, thanks to pieces as successful and acclaimed as R. J. Cutler's The September Issue; but if Dior and I seems at first to be yet another look at a Paris haute couture brand, this is no flashy, glossy advertorial. Frédéric Tcheng, previously involved in films about Valentino and photographer Diana Vreeland, puts his all-access pass to the inner sanctum of Dior in the service of a clear-eyed and surprisingly in-depth take on what makes a brand a brand, using as his starting point the hiring of Belgian designer Raf Simons as creative director in 2012 after the John Galliano debacle.
Mr. Simons had eight weeks to create from scratch a brand new couture collection that would work within the company's tradition while delineating his vision for it. Mr. Tcheng does not stay only within the luxury cocoon of the designer's mind but also gets his hands dirty with the mistresses of the atelier, the seamstresses and artisans who actually turn the designs into actual dresses that will be worn on the runway. As such, Dior and I isn't so much about the creativity the stylist exercises on his drawing board as it is about the toil and craft it takes to translate that vision into reality, how an entire team responds to the challenge of building a collection in record time.
The "I" in the film's title is not really, not only, Mr. Simons; it's the many "Is" that work with and for the company, and what each of them feels about their work. Mr. Tcheng presents the entire fashion house as a curious kind of living organism, a symbiotic family where everyone has a specific role to play and where everyone has a special, personal relationship with the brand and its history. This actually leads to the director's single faux pas - making visible the connection between past and present through the use of quotes from Christian Dior himself (read in voiceover by actor Omar Berrada over period footage). Conceptually it's a nice touch, but it's so overshadowed by the strength and elegance of the film's follow-up into the actual making of the collection, raising the stakes and the tension through a rather elegant work of editing (by the director and Julio C. Perez IV), that it becomes surplus to requirements.
DIOR AND I
France, 2014, 90 minutes
Director and screenwriter Frédéric Tcheng; cinematographers Gilles Piquard, Mr. Tcheng and Léo Hinstin; composer Ha-Yang Kim; editors Julio C. Perez IV and Mr. Tcheng; producer Mr. Tcheng, CIM Productions
Screened September 2nd 2015, Cinema City Alvalade 2, Lisbon, distributor screening