‘Dior and I’ opens on Oahu
The house of Dior was thrown into upheaval in 2011 when racist statements made by desgner John Galliano got him fired from the design position he had held at the prestigious design house for 15 years. The fashion rumor mill wondered who would, or could, replace him.
‘DIOR AND I’
Opens Friday at Consolidated Theaters Kahala 8
Rumored replacements at the time included Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, Alber Elbaz of Lanvin, Stefano Pilati of Yves Saint Laurent and Phoebe Philo of Celine.
All made sense, but the fashion world received a double shock when the announcement came in 2012 that Raf Simons had been appointed as Dior’s new creative director.
Simons was not a natural choice. The Belgian designer had studied industrial and furniture design and did not see a fashion show until after graduating in 1991, when an all-white show by Martin Margiela inspired him to pursue fashion. He started with menswear and later, as creative director at Jill Sander, Simons became established as a minimalist designer whose work didn't seem to fit with Dior’s haute grandeur and highly embellished designs.
“Dior and I” focuses on the eight-week honeymoon that marked Simons’ inauguration into the Dior world, tasked from Day 1 to put his first collection on the runway. There is much to be done, and it doesn't help that Simons doesn’t speak much French and has trouble communicating with a staff and management set in their ways, and as obligated to the clientele that keeps the house in business, if not moreso than their creative director. He is angry when deadlines are not met by key staffers who must jet around the world at the command of certain clients.
From his initial meeting with the staffers of the atelier, Simons contemporary approach to work was at odds with the people who worked in this rarified world. Chanel and Dior are the last two houses working in the tradition of haute couture with its own ateliers, one for suits and one for dresses, its couture creations made entirely by hand.
Upon his first meeting with this creative team, when asked what to call him, the designer replies that it's fine to address him as Raf. Uncomfortable with this casualness, staffers say they will call him Mr. Simons.
“Why Raf Simons? He is in menswear,” a seamstress mutters, and it takes a while for them to warm to his aloof persona and understand his method.
Trained in industrial design, Simons doesn't sketch and instead draws inspiration from images and artwork collected in folders and passed on to the patternmakers and seamstresses, who piece together garments based on these dossiers. They appear happy to let their imaginations run free.
Simons hears the criticisms from the outside world as well, saying even though he worked for a minimal brand, it "does not mean I am a minimalist."
Throughout the process, Simons appears daunted by the challenge of making his own imprint on a legacy so strong, set in the mere decade Christian Dior ran his atelier, beginning with his New Look in 1947, a time when people were eager to forget about World War II. Dior got rid of boxy, uniform-look styles for women, in favor of rounded voluptuousness focusing on soft shoulders, voluminous skirts and nipped in waists.
Studying this legacy, Simons said he was amazed by how contemporary Dior's designs remain, but that he wanted to take a radical approach to modernizing, wanting it to be "more dynamic because women are more dynamic today."
French filmmaker Frédéric Tcheng directed and produced this film. He also co-produced "Valentino: The Last Emperor, directed by Matt Tyrnauer, but where that film was filled with stunning visuals and poignancy, "Dior and I" runs cool.
For a fashion film, there is very little fashion on display until the very end, with Simons triumphant debut Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2012 collection.
There is no suspense because the audience already knows Simons first collection is successful. Tcheng is more focused on Simons struggle, but that entails him sitting, chin in hand, mutely worrying. Who wouldn't do that? It's not enough for a fashion film.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.