The problem with going to see any documentary when you're a nerd of the subject matter is that if it's too insider-y, you'll risk boring all the friends you dragged with you to see it (and ultimately resort to the comments sections of blogs for a sense of camaraderie). Or, if it's too general, you'll feel like you're sitting through a 90-minute lecture about things you already know. Fortunately, Dior and I, which fellow R29er, friend, and non-fashion person Kelly Bourdet and I watched at the Tribeca Film Festival, walks the line between mass and niche appeal.
Indeed, director Frederic Tcheng's third film, after Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel and Valentino: The Last Emperor, is surprisingly entertaining for both fashion idiots and savants. A lot of this has to do with the famously private Raf Simons, Dior's creative director since 2012. I went into the movie knowing just a touch more about him than Kelly. Same goes for the world of couture. As a fashion editor, the world of couture ateliers is as alien to me as OGLE-TR-56b. But, while I got a chill down my spine seeing the late L'Wren Scott in the front row, as well as some of my favorite past Dior collections, I also caught Kelly with her elbows on her knees in rapt attention at other parts of the movie.
So, here are five critiques Kelly and I have of Dior and I:
Photo: Courtesy of Dior and I...
1. Dior archive pieces actually fit the contemporary models, which I found totally surprising. We always hear about how models have shrunk, yet at the same time, grown taller in the past 50 years. But, when Raf was educating himself and drawing inspiration from old Dior pieces, the fit model wore them without much tucking or pinning.
2. Simons' design process doesn't actually involve any real sketching and drawing, but is still totally obsessive. In the film, his right-hand man Peter Milieu explains that Raf first creates a huge filing system, which he fills with inspiration broken down into 12 categories. Then, a huge team of designers sketch out 150 looks per category, from which Simons will then pick three each to fiddle with. Then, the final sketches are handed off to the atelier, who divvies up the garments to work on. Raf rarely picks up a pencil or a sewing needle.
3. Even Dior drops everything at the beck and call of their clients. One of the head honchos of the atelier — the premier — rushes to New York City to hand deliver a dress to a top client, nearly missing an important run-through and infuriating Simons. How much money would it take to get that kind of VIP treatment? In the movie, the client was reported to have spent 350,000 euros a season.
4. I loved, loved, LOVED how practicality and mobility was so important to Simons. In one scene, a model tries out a shoe that she can barely stand in. Simons orders the cobbler to ditch it, saying, "I hate the feeling of a guy supporting [a girl] on a staircase." And, in direct opposition of former head designer Galliano's frivolity, Simons himself dresses in full normcore gear: sweaters, cargo shorts, flip flops, and loafers.
5. Speaking of — Galliano was noticeably MIA. The movie made absolutely no mention of his 15 years spent there, his profound influence on the brand, nor his fall from grace in 2011.
Click through to the next page to read Kelly's take.
Photo: Courtesy of Dior.
1. I'm in love with Raf Simons. He's a meticulous, obsessive, straight-shooting visionary. The Steve Jobs of fashion — but probably not as mean as Steve Jobs.
2. Fashion — and art, generally — is obviously related to the economics and politics of a time. But, hindsight often allows us to better contextualize fashion within its period. For example, it's difficult to fully understand the ways in which the Arab Spring affected the fashion world. But, in 50 years, it will likely be clearer. In this vein, one thing I found really fascinating was the connection between the end of WWII and the rise of Christian Dior’s aesthetic. The film mentioned a return to hyper-exaggerated femininity following the modesty of wartime — lush fur collars, tiny waists, and full, crinolined skirts. It’s fascinating to consider how modern and reactionary those designs must have seemed at the time. Some of Dior’s original blazers were shown in the film, and they would look right at home on any woman in NYC today.
3. I had not anticipated how much creative input the atelier seamstresses had on the final designs. What they are given seems to be very much a jumping off point for a design, and they’re free to interpret it as they can and will. I had always thought that the designer would be more involved in creating the garments, but it really seemed like the seamstresses and premiers freestyled off the sketches after which Simons would give his input.
4. What was the deal with the “sublime” fabric created from the Sterling Ruby print? As a painting, it was interesting, but when it was printed on fabric and made into a dress, it just looked like a weird, lime-green, tie-dyed mess to me. Of course, a lot of fashion people loved this.
5. Finally, not to get on a soap box, but it was kind of weird to watch the way that gender and power broke down at this particular fashion house. I know that there are many fashion houses run by women, but at Dior, the gender dynamics seemed a bit mid-century. The owner of the brand was a man. The head of the house was a man. The most senior tailor was a man. But, then, everyone else below them — the vast majority of the seamstresses and the atelier premiers and, obviously, the models — were women. Yet, they were all designing, creating, and presenting this incredibly intricate collection of clothing for women.
Also, Simons kept making the point that he deeply respects and is interested in “femininity,” and that Dior is also interested in “femininity” — as if setting himself up in opposition to all those who, what, don’t respect femininity? Typically, no one belabors the point that they “really respect masculinity" because it’s kind of a given in our culture that masculinity is respected. It was unclear what “femininity” they were referring to. Beauty? Girlishness? Just possessing a vagina? And, it set up a strange dynamic, as if women are some fetishized, “other” creatures to design for.