Dior and I, a new documentary by Frédéric Tcheng, debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last night. The film follows Christian Dior creative director Raf Simons as he puts together and shows his first collection for the legendary couture house. Tcheng presents Simons and his experience as a conversation with the house’s namesake, juxtaposing his intimate and candid footage of Simons and his team with clips of the legendary designer and excerpts from Dior’s 1957 autobiography Christian Dior and I.
Published just two months before his death Christian Dior and I is filled with Dior’s meditations and confessions about his career, his maison, and his legacy as a fashion designer. Regarding himself in the third person, Dior addresses “Christian Dior” the couturier as a separate entity, a being independent of his real self that threatens to usurp his identity and trap him with the impossible expectations of his talent and fame. In 1947, just two years after World War II ended, Dior revitalized French haute couture with the New Look; a highly constructed and overtly feminine silhouette that reestablished Paris’s international influence and helped to define the dress code for the next decade. It is said that Dior’s immense impact haunted him, taunting him to exceed his initial success and constantly revolutionize fashion with each coming season. Ten years after he founded his maison Dior died of a heart attack, apparently brought on by increasing amounts of stress.
Tcheng observes Simons and his own struggles managing the larger than life myth of Christian Dior, though in 2014 it’s a much different relationship. While Dior’s maison was a juggernaut business that at the time of his death included a myriad of accessory and perfume licenses as well as a pret-a-porter collection, it was a far cry from the gargantuan size it would balloon up to nearly 60 years later through the management and support of luxury kingpin Bernard Arnault and his behemoth conglomerate LVMH. And while the pressures for Dior’s first successor, a 21-year-old Yves Saint Laurent, must have surely been great as he emerged from the shadow and into the spotlight after his mentor’s death, they pale in comparison to the global empire and vast product lines Simons is now responsible for — his first test being the flagship haute couture collection in which resides the brand’s last remaining connection to its history and heritage.
How Raf gets along designing haute couture for the first time while balancing his duties as the mega brand’s frontman is something anyone interested in the legacy of Dior or the talent of Raf Simons should watch for themselves. But as it is revealed by Tcheng, and as it is unfolds in the context of Christian Dior the man and Christian Dior the legend, it makes for a rather poignant and dramatically beautiful elucidation of the truths of fashion myth and how they must be reconciled for modern machinations, contemporary commerce and an ever-present past.