#WattsWhat Dior and I – one year on

Hindsight they say can be “20/20 vision”!  Given that a year in fashion can be a lifetime or a fleeting moment, and having written this review of the documentary, “Dior and I”, a year ago, I thought it was interesting to revisit the piece given what has subsequently played out at the House of DIOR.

The latest fashion-film sensation “Dior and I” by filmmaker Frederic Tcheng is a rather serious and somewhat measured, fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows the debut Haute Couture collection for the House of DIOR by designer Raf Simons (Simons stood down last October to focus on his own label and other creative projects; a decision said to have been driven by the stress of producing eight collections a year. His replacement is yet to be named.) One gets a sense when watching this film, that Mr Tcheng was quite reverential to a rather nervy Mr Simons, who on one hand appears a somewhat insecure character, whilst on the other hand, a steely, unyielding design talent who takes no prisoners!

In spite of impeccable design credentials Raf Simons is not known for Haute Couture, and as the film opens we see him being introduced to the atelier at DIOR, where it transpires he has a mere eight weeks to design, develop and deliver his first Couture collection for the house. From the off, the nervous tension is palpable.

The cameras then turn to those women in the DIOR atelier for a discreet opinion of the new Maestro, which again one suspects has been carefully edited. One revelation is Pieter Mulier, the personal assistant/senior design head to Simons, and who is presented as his “right hand man” on more then one occasion. He has worked alongside Simons for ten years and it becomes very clear to all that he is both a pivotal influence on Simons but also the oil that makes the cogs turn in the day to day machine of their collective fashion world.

In a similar way that renowned Creative Director, Grace Coddigton of American Vogue, eclipsed Anna Wintour in the fashion film The September Issue, Pieter Mulier comes across as a genuine, unflappable talent who wins over both heads of the DIOR atelier with his charm and total respect for their craft. He gets that some of these artisans have been there for more than 35 years and essentially that “they” are the reason Couture happens. Mulier and Simons definitely have a Yin and Yang balance in their working life, but while Simons comes across as a rather self-focused creative, in contrast Muller comes across as a very likeable, friendly chap without affectations or ego.

What I didn’t know about the film is that it also parallels the auto-biography of Monsieur Dior which is interwoven into the story-line voiced by Christian Dior himself. Somewhat spooky, as we hear a voice-over of Christian Dior explain the way he works and his weird creative duplicity, it becomes clear that there are remarkable similarities in the way Simons and Dior both work. In fact, there is a scene in the film where Simons explains that he started to watch the documentary about Dior and was “so freaked out” by it that after 15 minutes he had to turn it off!

For me there are some fascinating highlights, such as where Simons comes up with the idea of the flower rooms as a backdrop for the Couture show, which ultimately translates into 50 people taking 48 hours to build the elaborate room-sets with real flowers. Given that many creative ideas can be borne out of countless people within a brand such as DIOR, it is refreshing to discover that the idea was Simons’ himself. One cannot imagine the cost, however, the trade-off must have been the mind-blowing impact it had on the fashion crowd, leaving all but the most hard-boiled fashionistas aghast, and no doubt garnering millions of pounds worth of free publicity around the globe.

Then there is a scene where a rather fractious Simons is seen giving the Directrice of Couture, Catherine Riviere a dressing-down, when all of his fit samples for the new collection are not ready, as the head of dresses needed to fly to the US to fit a couture dress for a unhappy client. In her absence the dress atelier does not move, in turn delaying the completion of the toiles and further infuriating Simons, to which he says, “you cannot say no to a couture client [who spends 350k a year] but also, you cannot say no to me” – the response of the Directrice is “you cannot have it all’, although we note this is said direct to camera and not to Simons’ face!

On the day of the show, as Simons sits with DIOR Communications Director, Olivier Bialobos desperately needing reassurance that it will all go well, the pressure finally becomes too much to bear and he starts to weep. Given that the emotional side of Simons is rarely seen in the film, it actually makes us rally for him all the more. Hindsight shows us that the debut will be a resounding media success, but the jury is still out as to whether Raf Simons is the right fit for this most revered and archetypal French fashion house.

The culmination of the film is the Haute Couture DIOR show is without question truly remarkable and in the word of the man himself “sublime”.