Dior. The name itself invokes the very highest of French fashion. One of the original members of haute couture, Christian Dior, opened his Parisian house in December of 1946 when he was just 41. By February 1947, Dior launched “The New Look,” as Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Carmel Snow proclaimed it, turning the drab square-shoulder boxer look of women’s wartime clothing into flowery skirts, willowy waists, and accentuated hips and bust. The New Look became immediately iconic and launched the iconic house of French fashion. Dior was forever.

Sixty-six years after Dior opened his doors, Raf Simons was announced as Dior’s new creative designer. The 44-year-old Belgian designer from the minimalistic brand Jil Sander may have caused head-scratching in the fashion world, but as the documentary Dior and I proposes, there might be more similarities between Raf Simons and Christian Dior than meets the eye.

Written, produced, and directed by Frédéric Tcheng, Dior and I is an exclusive backstage pass to the working world of Dior and the eight-week run-up to Simons’ first show as Dior’s creative director.

Being the new guy is never easy, but when Simons enters the hallowed halls of Dior, he inherits a staff that lives and breathes haute couture. Dior is one of the last two houses still working in the tradition of haute couture, and every last person working at Dior wants to make sure that it stays that way. The work is hard and demanding, but these people love it, and they will do anything to help Simons get those dresses on the catwalk.

Simons returns that passion by absorbing the archives of Dior and giving them designs to work with that harken back to the post-war years of Dior. Tcheng furthers this connection by inserting archival photography of Dior with excerpts from his memoir (read by Omar Berrada) that show Simons and Dior in a similar light. Dior recounts, “I didn’t mean to revolutionize fashion. I am a reactionary. Which is not to say that I am backward-looking.” Later, Simons echoes that thought when he tells Tcheng, “The past is not romantic for me. It is the future that is romantic for me.”

Dior and I is an exploration of that idea and the process that Simons and company undergo to make it a reality. It is a series of trials and errors, eleventh-hour realizations, and constant tension. Simons has the luxury of working with a seemingly endless budget as well as an ocean of talent and expertise at his fingertips, but he lacks what all artists lack, and that is time. Simons can design whatever he wants, create whatever he wants, and do whatever he wants to do. He just has to do it in eight weeks.

Simons knows that more than anyone else, and for the 86-minute run time, you can watch that knowledge build in his face. When it finally releases, it is a thing of beauty.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Dior and I (2015)
Written and directed by Frédéric Tcheng
Produced by Guillaume de Roquemaurel
Starring: Raf Simons, Omar Berrada, Christian Dior
The Orchard, Rated R, Running time 90 minutes, Opened April 10, 2015.

The above review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 22, No. 39, “Meet the new boss.”