This Week's Wow: Dior and I Delivers an Intimate Look at Christian Dior, Past and Present
In this weekly feature, InStyle’s Fashion News Director Eric Wilson shares his favorite fashion moment of the week, and explains how it could shape styles to come. Look for it on What’s Right Now every Friday.
The Moment: The opening scene of Dior and I, an engaging new documentary that follows the designer Raf Simons (pictured above, in a scene from the film) at the moment of his arrival at the house in 2012, juxtaposes archival footage of Christian Dior in the late 1940s with scenes of Simons in the present. We first see Simons from behind, as he is introduced to the workers in Dior's ateliers, and even from that vantage, he is visibly uncomfortable, and anxious about how he will be received in his new role.
For the director, Frédéric Tcheng, who débuted the film at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday night, it may have been an approach that risked prematurely elevating Raf Simons to mythical status, by comparing him to Dior even as he begins his job as a couturier. Simons himself says in one scene that he does not want to suggest, "in any way," that he considers himself to be as talented a designer. But emphasizing a sense of nearly metaphysical connectivity between the two men, toggling as the film does between historic and contemporary scenes, turned out to create an effective narrative, since it so neatly mirrors the approach that Simons is seen taking as he creates his first haute couture collection.
"The idea of juxtaposing something from that time with something from this time—that for me is modern," Simons says in the film, describing one of his designs.
Parallels between the two designers are made evident almost from the start. The way they stand. How they address the workers in the atelier (pictured below). The mutual interest in modernity. The incredible sense of tension they face as they approach their work.
While he was researching the life of Christian Dior, Tcheng says, "I was surprised how intimate his autobiography was and how he talked about the work in great detail, but also his own relationship with the work and his relationship with image."
When he met Simons, who was a reluctant subject, at least at first, "I saw a little bit of the same dynamics," he says. "As I kept reading the autobiography, a lot of parallels started appearing in the past and present. What goes on in the workroom today versus 55 years ago is pretty much the same—not only the skills and traditions, but the same emotions and relationship to the work."
Why It’s a Wow: At the film's climax, Tcheng approaches his subject like a producer on "Shark Week," drawing out the big moment of the couture show with slow-motion, high-definition footage that captures the expression of every editor and designer in the house. Hamish Bowles leans in for a closer look at the embroideries. Jennifer Lawrence turns her head at the sight of a dress. Simons, backstage, is an emotional wreck.
Among recent fashion documentaries, it's one of the best, and most coherent, I've seen. Although the film curiously makes no mention of the scandal of John Galliano's disgrace at Dior that preceded the hiring of Simons, it otherwise seems unflinchingly honest. With only two months to prepare his first collection, Simons was under enormous pressure, and reacted at times slightly grouchily. In one scene, as he is told that work on his dresses have been delayed because a head of his atelier had gone to New York for a fitting—"We can’t say no to our clients," he is told— Simons snaps. "You also can’t say no to me," he says.
Learn More: If you can’t make it to screenings at the Tribeca Film Festival this week, watch the trailer for Dior and I, and hope someone picks this film up for broader distribution, because you can't say no to Raf.