Sensually Stroking the Weaves of a Sleeve: Dior and I

04/08/2015 6:12 AM |
Photo courtesy of The Orchard

Dior and I
Directed by Frédéric Tcheng
Opens April 10

Considering the circumstances, Dior and I sounds tailor-made for high suspense, pressurized stress, strained nerves, and frayed hems. Raf Simons, incoming artistic director of the revered fashion line Dior, has eight weeks to complete his debut couture collection. Normally, he’d have five or six months.

But while worry and stress weighs on everyone, what Frédéric Tcheng’s felicitous documentary zeroes in on is the grace and craft of this rarefied world—that and its spirited connection to Mr. Dior’s looming legacy. With a keen, playful sense for the ways that history and expectations hang in the air and in the mind, Dior and I charts the space between inspiration and limitation.

Murmuring about the film are excerpts from Dior’s memoirs (author Omar Berrada serves as the voice of Dior). Raf cannot hear them, yet it is likely he thinks of them, sharing that he read the memoirs, but had to stop, their similarities too uncanny. In one inspired scene Tcheng projects archival footage onto the dresses of the future, a lovely, haunting collapse of time and heritage.

Flies on the walls (or, in this case, perhaps, ghosts in the halls), Tcheng’s cameras bring back great footage, none better than from the ateliers where the seamstresses work. Skilled, wise, and behind it all, they are the lifeblood of Dior, some with 30 or 40 years of experience. Winningly at ease among them, Tcheng picks up on their rhythms and quiet distinction.

By contrast, the inward Raf is the most seen, and the least probed, his creative process largely unexamined. Leaning on his double—Dior—to fill in some of the blanks, Tcheng has a tendency to reflect more than reveal. Which makes the presence of Dior run a tad dry as conceits go.

Tcheng’s deep wit and observation makes up for this shallow patch, though. The I of Dior and I, for example, remains subtly, deliberately undefined. It could refer to Raf, hidden by Dior’s fame. Or might it be the seamstresses? Evoking the dynamics of a family—the pleasure of belonging mixed with the longing to be unique—Tcheng perceptively brings the high culture of haute couture a little bit further down to earth.