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'Dior and I' showcases the ordinary people behind fashion's flashy facade
New Dior designer Raf Simons looks at a vintage Dior dress from the documentary Dior & I, directed by Frdric Tcheng. - photo by Josh Terry
The world of high fashion comes with easy associations: rail-thin models, flashing lights, celebrities and clothing that feels more indebted to art than function.

When the film Dior and I reaches its climax, all those elements are on full display, but the path to get there is more ordinary than you might expect.

Director Frederic Tchengs documentary chronicles designer Raf Simons first haute couture collection for Christian Dior. Simons is already an accomplished designer, but this is his first collection for the famed fashion brand. Tack on his eight-week deadline about half the normal turnaround time for this kind of project and you have a recipe for stress.

The film proceeds chronologically, and we meet Simons as he is introduced to the staff at Diors famous Paris house. From there, we walk through the sketch and concept phase, some trial and error, and eventually get to the big show.

Along the way, a voiceover narrates the musings of Christian Dior himself, and offers a little background on the company. Born near the turn of the 20th century, Dior rose to prominence in the years after World War II, mainly by adding an elegance to female fashion that acted as a counterpoint to the boxy uniforms women wore through previous years.

Diors thoughts characterize a polarity within his personality, as if his public face is an entirely different person than the fashion-loving human being he is in private. This duality is transposed onto Simons, who clearly loves fashion and the creative process, but strains at the pressures of performance and public appearance.

The relationship between designer and team is a special focus of the film. Simons is a far cry from the high-strung caricature pop culture has created for someone in his position. But his insecurities and struggles are readily apparent as we watch the give and take between his vision for his collection and the realities of what is possible.

Simons is fascinated by the paintings of Sterling Ruby, and basically wants to turn his dresses into walking prints. Later, when inspecting the private house that will be used to showcase the collection, Simons describes walls covered floor to ceiling with real flowers. Its clear that these kinds of requests represent a strain for the team, but in the end, the designer gets what he wants. (The finished floral walls are especially worth seeing.)

Dior and I presents the team of veterans at the Dior house as the heart and soul of the operation. Many of the seamstresses have decades of experience and, in spite of their high-end careers, most come across as very grounded, down-to-earth people. When celebrities such as Sharon Stone and Marion Cotillard line the runway during the final show, the team members gather in a back room and peek in on the event like nervous parents.

The sincerity and ordinariness of the support team is what makes Dior and I noteworthy. Youd expect a documentary about this kind of topic to focus on the runway models, but the only model singled out is a girl named Esther, who makes her debut with Simons collection.

The result is a very human portrayal of an exotic industry and an honest portrait of an accomplished man confronting serious stress with the help of a dedicated team.

Dior and I is not rated. Three uses of R-rated profanity and a revealing dress are the only objectionable content.
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