What can you accomplish in eight weeks? Perhaps you could lose a few pounds at the gym, grow out your fringe or even teach your dog to take a shit on the grass and not on your Mongolian-lamb shag carpet. If you’re Raf Simons, you can revolutionise fashion and complete the impossible task of orchestrating a 54-look haute couture collection for a French house with a DNA almost as rich as Queen Elizabeth II’s.
Normally, it takes four-to-six months to create a haute couture collection, to be presented to press and wealthy clients in Paris twice a year in January and July. However, after the dismissal of a design genius whose name is blatantly never mentioned in Frédéric Tcheng’s documentary film Dior and I, Simons proves that the impossible can be done when a designer is given the appropriate resources and budget.
Guided by a voiceover of quotations from Monsieur Christian Dior, director Tcheng gives viewers an unprecedented look into the private world of haute couture. For Simons’ debut for the House of Dior, Tcheng reveals the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to making, or in this case transforming, a collection into a show.
From the moment he appears on the screen, Simons’ vulnerability is made evident, particularly when the CEO of Dior, Sidney Toledano, introduces the designer to his new atelier and staff. Initially, Simons attempts to communicate to his new team in French, but midway through his choppy opening speech, he apologises for his poor grasp of the language and continues to jump between French and English in order to communicate.
As the film progresses, one discovers that the blood filling the heart of Dior is not Simons’ at all; it runs from the veins of every member of the atelier. It’s difficult to get an exact count of how many members make up the suiting and dressing divisions of the haute couture workshops, but one thing is for certain - without their talent and expertise there would be no Simons and there would be no Dior.
Perhaps the strongest message in the film is the ongoing struggle and sacrifices that a creative must make to appease the business side of fashion. Simons conveys his frustration to Catherine Rivière, Director of Haute Couture at Dior, when the dresses from the atelier fail to arrive on time for the first round of fittings.
This is because the head of the dresses workshop, Florence Chehet, is delayed on a trip back to Paris from New York, where she has been fitting a client spending close to €350,000 at Dior. Simons attests that one client should not trump 15 dresses for his fitting, but Rivière’s reply to Simons’ tirade is firm and simple, “You can’t have it all.”
As Simons takes his bow at the end of his premiere haute couture show to an audience filled with some of fashion’s harshest judges - Anna Wintour, Franca Sozzani, Sarah Mower, Tim Blanks, Azzedine Alaïa and Donatella Versace - he bypasses the formalities and heads straight for Toledano, the man who cuts the cheques, and greets him with a high-five and smile from ear to ear. After all, Simons knows that, at the end of the day, this is a business and he’s only as good as the last girl on the catwalk.
Dior & I opens in theatres in the UK on 27th March 2015.
Words: Zadrian Smith
Image: Christian Dior Fall 2012 Haute Couture