As a teenager the photo below was on my bedroom wall. Oh that jacket! That form! That full skirt! That silhouette! I thought the look was the epitome of style. It’s Christian Dior’s now classic ”New Look” from 1947. And yes, it’s iconic.
|1947 New Look by Dior|
Now imagine being Raf Simons. In 2012, as the new creative director at the House of Dior, he has the weight of the brand, the man and history on his shoulders - and he knows it. In eight weeks he must design and present the haute couture range that will silence critics and cement his place within the world of Christian Dior. Raf is shy, but knows his own mind. He is inspired. But there are ghosts and whispers from the past haunting him – will he get lost in the fog of expectation?
|Raf Simons looking at an original Dior gown|
The documentary “Dior and I”, written, directed and produced by Federic Tcheng, cleverly juxtaposes extracts of Christian Dior’s memoirs (in the form of voice over) and old footage of the designer himself, with Raf Simons, the new artistic director struggling to come to terms with the future of the House of Dior and to create a show in half the usual time frame. The effect is mesmerising. At times, the film is a feel good story and at other times it is almost a thriller. And yes, it’s about frocks but the stakes are high.
|Christian Dior 1957 cover of Time Magazine|
The doubts that plague Simons seem to make him at times closer to Dior than he realises. Simon’s general reserve make any emotional reaction climactic and moving. As an audience we are with him for the ride and the film maker very much helps us understand the ambition inherent in this designer, the huge machine that is the House of Dior, the challenges of putting on a fashion show and the weight of history and importance of Christian Dior to the world of fashion.
But it’s more than that. Like Dorothy in the wizard in Oz, we get to pull back the curtain and see some of the levers and pulleys that create the magic of fashion – and these are the ateliers, the men and women who construct the garments. We see them as ordinary people, workers, craftspeople of admirable skill and work ethic, who bring the dream to reality. We see the relationship they have to their work place, to the brand, to each other, to the hierarchy and to Christian Dior himself, with some of the ateliers having worked there for decades.
As someone interested in garment construction and craft it was enthralling to see this process. It’s also interesting to see the reality behind this fashion icon. To see the work room, the dress dummies, the sewing machines. It’s the House of Dior but I noticed an ugly plastic tablecloth in the tea room. It made them all seem so much more likeable somehow and more within the realms of the world I inhabit!
Fashion is pretty facile I know. Fashion is about marketing. Fashion can be about exploitation. And I don’t shy away from this. But fashion can also be art. This film shows the creative process and teamwork in haute couture and as such, it is very inspirational. It is an intimate film about great ambition and as such, was riveting to watch. What Raf Simons and his team set out to achieve is huge.
|Christian Dior measuring a hem line - creepy!|
These days I have a problem with Dior’s New look. The look was a reaction to the freedom women had experienced in the war, where, due to fabric rations and practicality, the dresses were shorter and where women worked and drove war trucks and made ammunition. This look was positively retrospective and drove women back to the 19th century – corsets and crinolines for goodness sake! Long dresses are not practical for factory work and driving trucks. As a feminist, I bristle.
The documentary “Dior and I” was fascinating and gorgeous and is as well pieced together and constructed as one of Dior’s evening frocks. It’s really about the people behind the frocks. About emotion. About relationships. About striving for excellence. Go and see the film if you have any interest in fashion and sewing. but more, go and see it if you have an interest in people. Oh. And go and see it for the flowers. Oh my gosh! The flowers!