When asked about how he first came up with the concept for Dior and I, his new documentary film that provides a behind-the-scenes look at Raf Simons’ first haute couture collection as Christine Dior’s new artistic director, director Frédéric Tcheng simply says “it was a matter of good timing and a chance encounter.” The movie opens Friday at the Capitol Theatre.
He was in Paris presenting Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, the previous documentary he had worked on. In the audience at the screening was the man who’s the head of communications at Dior. He came up to him at the end of the screening and told him he liked Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel and they started talking about Dior’s future and what was going to happen because they were still looking for a designer. He told Tcheng there was going to be an announcement “fairly soon.”
“I knew Raf Simons was in the contest to take over,” says Tcheng. “I had been following his career. I knew he was very unique in the fashion world. He challenged the stereotypes about fashion. I was interested in his arrival at Dior. He’s somewhat at odd with the aesthetic of the Dior house. He’s worked for minimalist houses and in menswear. It would be interesting to see how that would translate into creating something at Dior.”
Tcheng thought he had a good enough premise for a feature. He waited patiently until Raf Simons was indeed announced as the designer and then flew to Paris almost immediately. There was a bit of a “hiccup,” however, because Raf Simons was reluctant to have a documentary crew follow him. Tcheng sent him a letter and told him what his process was like. He invited Tcheng for a one-week trial, which was “challenging.”
“I showed up the day he arrived and was already behind the camera when I met him,” says Tcheng. “We took it from there. We talked a lot during that initial week and I tried to assure him about the approach I was going to take. I wanted to not focus solely on him but I also wanted to show the entire cast that was working there.”
The movie shows how difficult it was for Simons to establish his own personality with the ghost of Christian Dior hanging over the French design studios. Tcheng followed Simons for an eight-week period and the film captures the intense nature of the work as Simons and his fellow designers scurry to meet deadlines. The film also shows what makes the mercurial Simons tick.
“I really discovered the person and the artist,” says Tcheng. “What I knew from reading the few interviews that are available online is that Raf is extremely thoughtful and modern in his approach. He was working in a different way from other fashion designers. He was collaborating with his team and his models. I knew his references were different from the other references in the fashion world. He was more interested in youth culture and music. I saw all of that when I saw him work. I didn’t know the person. The person was the most amazing surprise to me. He’s a very generous person. He’s a very beautiful human being. Even though he had principles about his privacy and guarding his privacy, I never felt that he was suspicious of me or of the project. He was always curious and wanting to know more about me so he could be comfortable in front of the camera.
Though the film provides an inside look at the fashion world, it’s also very accessible for the average viewer.
“It was very important for us to make it relatable,” says Tcheng. “I’m very attracted to character-driven films. That’s the way I approach a story. We tried to make it about the emotional journey you go on when you create something. There’s a certain emotional rollercoaster that happens during the collection. That’s what we tried to do. I’m not a fashion expert by any means, even though my resume might suggest otherwise. I’m not entrenched in the fashion world. It’s something I like and appreciate but it’s not my main obsession. My main obsession is film. I have a little bit of an outsider point of view which helps me not get lost in the minutiae of fashion. I can look at the creative minds behind it.”