When Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons enters the House of Dior with his right hand man, Pieter Mulier in 2012, anxious looks are exchanged across the faces of the austere production team. Not only does Simons have a short deadline of 8-weeks to turn around his debut collection, but his minimalist reputation—founded on his tenure as the creative director of Jil Sander –precedes him well before he can set pencil to paper.
“I took on a minimalistic brand, does that mean I’m only about minimalism?”
That Simons prior credentials labeled him a minimalist—working for a design house that catered to the needs of the modern woman: think, sharply tailored suits, clean lines and more utility than couture—is an impediment to positive perception in a Parisian fashion house with a heritage founded on the basis of celebrating the feminine form; Dior revolutionized the female silhouette, constructing a new identity for women, post-war.
This is a heavy and almost impossible burden to bear. Simons has the mega-task of producing a couture collection, which will push his creative limits, but also open his eyes to the realm of possibilities; driving his employees into rabbit warrens as they work furiously to meet his demands: hemlines are shortened and the vision of femininity is deconstructed and re-evaluated once more—utilitarianism has no place in the Dior design vernacular, yet, what Simons will bring to a collection is a fresh perspective on inherent tradition.
“I took on a minimalistic brand, does that mean I’m only about minimalism?” refutes Simons as he contests the underlying resistance to his newly appointed role.
From the outset the story focuses purely on a drive towards the finish line, and as Simons begins to crumble beneath the weight of expectation, we are forced to question whether or not he is capable of embodying the spirit of Dior, which is imperative to his success.
Throughout the documentary staff remain constant and loyal to the brand and its traditions, and their camaraderie offers relief from the building suspense. They are bound together through a greater vision—not that of Simons, but of Dior himself –who it is believed haunts and maintains a presence within the floors of the atelier.
It is a pleasure to watch the craftsmanship of these highly-skilled artisans who painstakingly hand-stitch beads onto the most delicate fabric, and whose nimble fingers work quickly and magically across layers of tulle and silk to complete gowns over a 24-hour period. Their passion never wanes—fortunately for Simons—despite being allocated some extremely difficult tasks; his vision on paper become their children—brought to life through their hands.
Not that Simons dismisses their craft, he is well aware that they are more than just ‘workers.’
Excerpts from Dior’s autobiography ‘Dior by Dior,’ accompanied by black and white film from the time are interspersed throughout. It is these excerpts that open the film, and later, heighten emotions as Simons works his way through his collection.
It is here that we also see parallels between the two designers—aesthetes cut from the same complex cloth—seeking to radicalize fashion and move away from tradition, yet Simons is bound by history. At times the line between the two men are blurred and the excerpts bring them ever closer together with moments where they become one-in-the-same. Is Simons heading in the right direction, and what would Dior have wanted?
Ultimately what we see is that Simons has no need to attempt to embody Dior—he already inhabits the same qualities and poses similar questions.
‘Dior and I’ explores the artistry, beauty, imagination and intellect behind one of the most famous couture houses in the world, providing an insight into what it takes to bring a grand vision to life, and the team of people who make a designer’s dreams a reality.
This is a stunning documentary, finely crafted by its director, with colourful characters and a beauty that is elevated by Raf Simons integrity and pure vulnerability as he heads towards the finish line.
For anyone interested in history, fashion, art, design and good storytelling, ‘Dior and I’ will not leave you disappointed.
A finely crafted documentary that takes us inside the world of one of the most famous couture houses in the world, revealing a host of colourful characters and incredible artisans who help to bring a designer's vision to life.