In­side ‘Dior’

Frédéric Tcheng’s doc­u­men­tary tracks designer Raf Simons’ first col­lec­tion for the sto­ried house

Los Angeles Times - - AT THE MOVIES - Booth.moore@la­times.com

BOOTH MOORE FASH­ION CRITIC >>> Luxury fash­ion brands are no­to­ri­ously in­su­lar and protective of their images. Yet 37-year-old film­maker Frédéric Tcheng was able to con­vince the house of Chris­tian Dior to par­tic­i­pate in his re­veal­ing doc­u­men­tary, “Dior and I,” which opens Fri­day in L.A.

¶ Tcheng trails designer Raf Simons in sum­mer 2012 as he cre­ates his first haute cou­ture col­lec­tion as cre­ative direc­tor for the sto­ried house, built on the le­gacy of Dior, a mas­ter of in­ven­tion who held so much sway in the fash­ion world that he landed on the cover of Time mag­a­zine in 1957.

¶ Simons, a Bel­gian, started in fur­ni­ture de­sign, then launched his own menswear la­bel in 1995. In April 2012, af­ter be­ing ap­pointed cre­ative direc­tor at Dior, he had just two months to com­plete his first haute cou­ture col­lec­tion.

¶ Like Simons, Tcheng con­sid­ers him­self a fash­ion out­sider, even though he also worked on “Valentino: The Last Em­peror” and “Diana Vree­land: The Eye Has to Travel,” and it’s that per­spec­tive that he wanted to bring to haute cou­ture.

¶ Tcheng hu­man­izes the world of $30,000, made-to-or­der dresses by show­ing that the artistry is as much about the seam­stresses in the work­rooms as it is the de­sign di­rec­tion from on high. He con­nects all the cre­ative dots from past and present that go into Simons’ first run­way pre­sen­ta­tion, from the flow­ers in the gar­den at Dior’s his­toric villa in Granville to the room of a mil­lion blooms that was the run­way show set; from the splat­ter-painted Ster­ling Ruby work on view at Paris’ Pom­padou Cen­ter to the fab­ric it in­spired. But view­ers also see that a fash­ion col­lec­tion is about hours painstak­ingly spent sewing beads and cut­ting pat­terns by hand.

¶ “We didn’t want the film to be about the celebrity as­pect of fash­ion that you see in the news,” says Tcheng, who lives in New York. “We wanted it to be about the peo­ple be­hind the cam­era, who ac­tu­ally make what’s worn.”

¶ Here, Tcheng shares the story be­hind how the film was made. How did the idea for this film evolve?

We pre­sented the Diana Vree­land film at a pri­vate screen­ing in Paris where I met Olivier Bialo­bos, the head of PR for Dior world­wide. He re­ally liked the film, and we started talk­ing about open­ing the doors of Dior to doc­u­ment the ar­rival of the new designer. How did you con­vince Simons to par­tic­i­pate?

He said no ini­tially. I wrote him a let­ter be­cause I didn’t know him, and ex­plained very sim­ply who I was and what I wanted to do. Then, he said, “Why don’t you come for a week for a trial pe­riod?” I flew to Paris, met him in per­son … and I got a few ideas across that changed his mind. He sensed I wasn’t in­ter­ested in prop­ping him up as a star. I was more in­ter­ested in the en­sem­ble cast of the team at Dior. He’s very much about dia­logue and col­lab­o­ra­tion, and I think that’s some­thing he re­sponded to. Was there any­thing off lim­its? Were you made to show your footage?

They never asked. They knew what I was film­ing. I was in the build­ing at Dior, so it wasn’t like I wasn’t un­der their eyes. They left me alone dur­ing the edit­ing phase. … Then I showed them the film, and it was a big re­lief. Ev­ery­one was re­ally moved; some even cried. The seam­stresses, in par­tic­u­lar, were very proud. The seam­stresses play as much of a role in the film as Simons. Th­ese women and men fas­ci­nated me. I wanted to know more — where they live, who they love.

I re­ally lucked out when I met Florence and Monique, who are in charge of the dif­fer­ent ate­liers. They have such dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties. One is anx­ious, and the other up­beat. So they had dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ships with the cam­era. Florence lives two hours out­side of Paris, so her com­mute is two hours each way. It’s re­ally hum­bling. Do they wear Dior?

Maybe a piece here and there that they can af­ford at a sam­ple sale, but by and large, no. How did you come up with the struc­ture of the film, which has Chris­tian Dior in an imag­i­nary dia­logue with Simons?

I read Dior’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy [“Dior on Dior”] when I was pre­par­ing. It was pretty much the only re­search I did. I was struck by the can­dor of his voice. He’s very hum­ble and hon­est and talks about very per­sonal emo­tions he feels dur­ing the col­lec­tions. It be­came ob­vi­ous to use it when I learned that Raf was also read­ing the au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and hav­ing an in­ter­nal dia­logue that was so sim­i­lar that he be­came un­com­fort­able and couldn’t fin­ish read­ing it. I knew it cut close to the bone. There were a lot of similarities be­tween Dior’s dis­com­fort with his public per­sona and Raf ’s.

Yes, but the real story is how Raf es­tab­lishes his own voice in the shadow of Dior. So it quickly be­came a “Re­becca” story of try­ing to find your place in a house that’s haunted. There’s an amaz­ing scene where you cap­ture Raf in the mo­ments be­fore the run­way show be­gins, ba­si­cally hav­ing a break­down.

That mo­ment was re­ally in­tense emo­tion­ally. I didn’t want to ex­ploit his vul­ner­a­bil­ity, so af­ter three sec­onds or so, I got up and went as far as I could away from him on the rooftop, to give Raf his mo­ment. It’s a mat­ter of hu­man re­spect. Simons has been at Dior nearly three years now since you com­pleted the film and has had quite a lot of crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial suc­cess. Do you think he’s grow­ing into his public per­sona?

Yes. I had a feel­ing this was go­ing to be a trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for him, and on a smaller scale, it was for me, too. I’m not in charge of 200 seam­stresses, but I’m in charge of my small crew for the first time, and I have to speak to jour­nal­ists for the first time and step in the spot­light and step up my game. This al­lowed me to tell my story also.

Pho­tog raphs from the Or­chard

BEL­GIAN RAF SIMONS, above, a one­time fur­ni­ture designer, brought an out­sider’s eye to Chris­tian Dior, which made him a good match for 37-year-old “Dior and I” film­maker Frédéric Tcheng.

TCHENG wanted to cap­ture the be­hind-the-scenes ac­tiv­ity at Dior, and he found him­self fas­ci­nated by the seam­stresses’ ef­forts.

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