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NEW YORK — A chance to experience Dior’s ateliers through the eyes of the man newly hired to direct them, Frederic Tcheng‘s Dior and I is a fashion doc with both a sense of history and a feel for the energy of a work in progress. Fashionistas will appreciate its level of access and moments of elegance, but Tcheng’s disinterest in fleshing out the personalities of his two main characters — the legendary designer and Raf Simons, his latest successor — limits appeal with a more general audience.
Partially based on Christian Dior‘s eponymous memoir in which he speaks of himself and his company as “Siamese twins” who are sometimes at odds, the doc offers attractive interludes where a narrator reads excerpts while we see nighttime images of the company’s offices and vintage fashion clips. Ha-Yang Kim‘s modern chamber-music score gives these scenes the feel of an old-fashioned Euro art film.
Present-tense footage has a more familiar vibe. We meet Simons just as he is introduced to the designers and seamstresses who will be working closely with him in the eight weeks before his first Dior couture collection premieres. Eight weeks sounds like frighteningly little time, especially since Simons has never done haute couture before. (He also doesn’t speak French.) And as expected, the film develops a ticking-clock mood as it progresses, observing the team spirit of pros who pull all-night stitching sessions and are mostly happy to do it.
Among the longtime Dior employees, film-worthy characters emerge: Florence Chehet, a cheery woman, who might be cast as the cook at a large estate, heads the dress side of the upstairs workshops; tightly wound Monique Bailly leads those making suiting. Both women seem more at ease with Simons’ “right hand” Pieter Mulier than they do with the man himself.
And while it’s quite interesting to watch Simons work — he doesn’t draw, for one thing, and communicates his ideas with sheaves of photos and by manipulating fabric on live models — many viewers will fail to connect with him as well. His curiosity and self-assuredness come across, but the film wishes to know him only in a professional way, sans personal details.
The exception to this is the day of the collection’s debut, when we learn how uneasy he is playing the role of public ambassador. He lurks as much as possible out of sight in a grand house he has transformed spectacularly by covering its walls in flowers and tears up at the thought of speaking to the crowd. For a flash, the weight of the role he has inherited comes alive for viewer and subject alike.
Production: CIM Productions
Director-Screenwriter: Frederic Tcheng
Producers: Frederic Tcheng, Guillaume de Roquemaurel
Directors of photography: Gilles Piquard, Frederic Tcheng
Editors: Julio C. Perez IV, Frederic Tcheng
Music: Ha-Yang Kim
Sales: Josh Braun, Submarine
Not Rated, 89 minutes
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