Dior & I (Movie Review)

The Belgian fashion designer, Raf Simons, who had just taken over in 2012 as creative director at the house of Christian Dior, was tasked with putting together his first ever haute couture show in just eight weeks, an enormous undertaking which usually requires five or six months. But when the big day finally comes to display his debut collection, it was breathtaking, an amazing works of art.

“Dior and I” refers to the connection between the 47-year-old Simons and the late, master designer, Christian Dior, which the film reveals through narrated segments from his 1956 memoir, “Dior & I.” The parallels are many. Both men share a preference for the quiet company of a few trusted friends. Both ponder their outward persona versus their true selves. Both fret about dealing with the press. But the title also could be interpreted as the connection between the longtime employees of the house and their departed master, whose ghost they swear lurks in the hallways and workrooms. These veteran seamstresses and craftsmen, some of whom have worked for Dior for 40 years, feel a dedication to perpetuating his legacy and an emotional bond with the products they create.

Longtime fashion writer Cathy Horyn, then with The New York Times, describes how “Raf wasn’t the obvious candidate” because he’d been known primarily for menswear and a minimalist aesthetic through his previous work with the German fashion line Jil Sander. Meanwhile, The Dior look, is all about femininity, romance and a shapely silhouette. Simons’ challenge was to honor the traditions of the influential house but also implement his own ideas and designs to provide a modern edge, and to achieve it within the high-dollar, high profile realm of haute couture.

The film also shines and it takes to create a look that’s effortless – the meticulous structure and painstaking detail that can make a gown float ethereally. Simons added an extra layer of pressure when he got the wild idea to create dresses inspired by the abstract paintings of his longtime friend, American modern artist Sterling Ruby, which required a complicated, decades-old thread-printing technique. His other outrageously expensive demand was to rent a Paris mansion for his debut show, then cover the walls of each room with different kinds of fresh flowers. The result is breathtakingly vibrant. Still, although he’s on camera nearly the entire time as a commanding creative figure, Simons the man remains elusive. We learn much more about his longtime right hand Pieter Mulier.

“Dior and I” won’t tell you much about Simons’ personal life, or his family, or where he lives, or why he does this, which ultimately makes it difficult to connect with him. Simons is all business. But when the tears flow at the end of his first show, there’s no denying their authenticity in an artificial world.