The latest title to join the fashion film genre is Dior and I, the documentary that enters the House of Christian Dior as the brand's new artistic director Raf Simons created his first collection for the fall/winter 2013 season. After co-producing 2008's Valentino: The Last Emperor and directing 2011's Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, filmmaker Frederic Tcheng found himself focusing not only focusing on Simons, seamstresses and show attendees, but also Christian Dior himself.
"I found myself trying to push the boundaries of how we construct a film in the use of voiceover of Christian Dior, trying to conjure this ghost of Christian Dior, and creating a much more immersive and cinematic experience for the viewer," Tcheng told The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s world premiere on Thursday at the SVA Theatre, as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.
Before the film's festival screening, Tcheng spoke to THR about zooming in on Simons' first Dior collection, addressing John Galliano's departure onscreen and refitting the fashion film genre that he has helped to create.
When did you know you were going to start Dior and I?
I had been talking to Dior about making a film [after Galliano's leave], but they were like, 'We don’t know when the announcement [of Raf Simons] is going to be.' Suddenly, it hit, and I called them and said, 'Should I jump on?' They were like, 'Well, Raf Simons is not convinced yet.' It was very short notice.
What was the struggle of making a fashion film strictly about a single season's collection?
Usually, in a documentary, you have a long shooting period. But on this one, we just had two-and-a-half to three months. We had no time to warm up and get the subjects’ trust, and that was the most challenging part of it, really. We were thrown into the situation. But, as in all creative processes, an obstacle becomes an asset. You could sense that there was electricity in the air. No one knew each other, and there was such a limited time to create.
With such time constraints, what was your shooting strategy?
You go in very prepared – you talk and read and research as much as you can. But once the shooting starts, you have to let your instincts take over. When your heart beats, and you feel something when you’re shooting, you know those are the storylines and the themes you want to follow. There are always things you wish you could include, but the film is its own entity, and it asks for a certain simplicity.
How did you decide what to do about John Galliano's departure in the film?
I thought about it for a while, and I didn’t know if I wanted to acknowledge it or not. In the end, I came to the conclusion that it’s a story that’s been covered – a lot – and everyone already knows what happened. And this was not really about John Galliano; this is about the future, what Raf Simons was gonna do. So we decided not to really go into that, because there were so many other things we wanted to talk about.
Do you push yourself to continue refitting the fashion documentary genre?
I think maybe I do it naturally because I’m not really a fashion person. I come from film; my medium is telling stories and falling in love with characters and places. Every approach is different -- on the Valentino documentary, [director] Matt Tyrnauer and I were discussing it, and we always wanted to bring it out of the fashion world, because Matt's not in fashion either. And for Diana Vreeland, it was the same thing: you need to find what makes the character human, because that’s universal.
What new storytelling approach did you take for Dior and I?
It’s very different from the Diana Vreeland project, for example, in that it’s not archival footage; it’s much more alive and is capturing the moments. Technically, I found myself trying to push the boundaries of how we construct a film in the use of voiceover of Christian Dior, trying to conjure this ghost of Christian Dior, and creating a much more immersive and cinematic experience for the viewer.