I don’t have the least bit of interest in capital-F Fashion, but I was completely fascinated by this peek into the House of Christian Dior in Paris and the mad rush that then newly appointed creative director Raf Simons put himself through to bring his first haute couture collection from concepts to finished garments models could wear in a mere eight weeks, in Spring 2012. (This is a process that apparently typically occupies five to six months.)
Filmmaker Frédéric Tcheng got unprecedented access to Simons, his lieutenant Pieter Mulier, and the ateliers (workshops) where seamstresses interpreted Simons’s designs and brought them to life, and the result is a tapestry portrait of creativity and craft combining and operating in the nitty-gritty real world to give birth to the modern-art fantasies we see on the runway.
The demands of business and art clash in interesting ways: when a client who’s spending €350K on clothing demands a fitting, you don’t turn her down simply because you should be spending that time sewing a couture gown. And then there are the practical concerns involved in audacious creative decisions, like Simons’s push to print new fabric designs in a way that hadn’t been done before, and on that tight schedule to boot.
While Simons is clearly a brilliant artist with some bold ideas who was taking a big risk that would have blown back on him alone if he’d failed, this film also serves as a corrective (in a way similar to 20 Feet from Stardom) to the notion that a Great Man makes Great Art by himself with its focus on the seamstresses, some of whom have worked for Dior for more than 40 years. The heads of the two ateliers, one for suiting and one for dresses, are, respectively Monique Bailly and Florence Chehet, and they are talented and dedicated artists too. And here they get their due.