Dior And I: A Movie Review

Dior and I, a new documentary by the director of Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, Frédéric Tcheng, debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last night. The film follows Christian Dior creative director Raf Simons as he puts together and shows his first collection for the legendary couture house. Tcheng presents Simons and his experience as a conversation with the house’s namesake, juxtaposing his intimate and candid footage of Simons and his team with clips of the legendary designer and excerpts from Dior’s 1957 autobiography Christian Dior and I.

Published just two months before his death Christian Dior and I is filled with Dior’s meditations and confessions about his career, his maison, and his legacy as a fashion designer. Regarding himself in the third person, Dior addresses “Christian Dior” the couturier as a separate entity, a being independent of his real self that threatens to usurp his identity and trap him with the impossible expectations of his talent and fame. In 1947, just two years after World War II ended, Dior revitalized French haute couture with the New Look: a highly constructed and overtly feminine silhouette that reestablished Paris’s international influence and helped to define the dress code for the next decade. It is said that Dior’s immense impact haunted him, taunting him to exceed his initial success and constantly revolutionize fashion with each coming season. Ten years after he founded his maison Dior died of a heart attack apparently brought on by increasing amounts of stress.

Tcheng observes Simons and his own struggles managing the larger than life myth of Christian Dior, though in 2014 it’s a much different relationship. While Dior’s maison was a juggernaut business that at the time of his death included a myriad of accessory and perfume licenses as well as a pret-a-porter collection, it was a far cry from the gargantuan size it would balloon up to nearly 60 years later through the management and support of luxury kingpin Bernard Arnault and his behemoth conglomerate LVMH. And while the pressures for Dior’s first successor, a 21-year-old Yves Saint Laurent, must have surely been great as he emerged from the shadow and into the spotlight after his mentor’s death, they pale in comparison to the global empire and vast product lines Simons is now responsible for — his first test being the flagship haute couture collection in which resides the brand’s last remaining connection to its history and heritage.

How Raf gets along designing haute couture for the first time while balancing his duties as the mega brand’s frontman is something anyone interested in the legacy of Dior or the talent of Raf Simons should watch for themselves. But as it is revealed by Tcheng, and as it is unfolds in the context of Christian Dior the man and Christian Dior the legend, it makes for a rather poignant and dramatically beautiful elucidation of the truths of esteemed fashion lore and how they must be reconciled for the modern mechanisms of contemporary commerce and myth.

A to Z

AtoZStyle

Garmento editor Jeremy Lewis takes a look at American fashion for Style.com’s 6th print issue and online…

Bonnie Cashin, 1962/Tom Ford, 2014

unnamed-3Bonnie Cashin for Sills, 1962

TomFordTom Ford, 2014

Patrick Kelly, 1988

Two years after this show was staged its designer, Patrick Kelly, would die at the age of 35. Another victim lost to the AIDS epidemic, another name in fashion lost to time. At his peak Kelly was the ultimate American in Paris, born and raised in the deep south, designing and showing his collections in the French capitol to great fanfare and excitement. That he was an American working in French fashion and was regarded with the same esteem as Sonia Rykiel and Karl Lagerfeld is noteworthy. That he was a black American is even more so.

Accounts of his life suggest Kelly found an acceptance and understanding overseas that he never could have had in the U.S., it’s a sentiment echoed by performer Josephine Baker and writer James Baldwin, both of whom had tremendous experiences living in the city of lights where they could escape a troubling history of racism and prejudice. In 1988 Kelly stood out as an ironic foil to the status quo; working in the upper echelons of a class-centric industry, setting standards of taste and beauty that would ultimately filter back to his native country — a land that would so easily dismiss him as “black” and nothing more. Kelly would however use his black identity as a theme and play off racist stereotypes of Black Americans that have plagued and haunted them. He adopted the Golliwog, a children’s character popular in the late 19th century, a frighteningly dehumanized black boy, as his talisman. He would flirt with stereotypes, re-appropriate them, recast them as tongue-in-cheek fashion, as if to suggest that embracing these memes  could serve to render them powerless.

Never really known for being a great cutter or technician, Kelly’s charm was in his use of bold colors, punchy prints, and witty embellishment. Multicolored buttons sewn in various motifs were his most famous signature; a nod to his childhood in the south. His shows were humorous affairs. Models smiled and audiences laughed, fashion was to be fun and Kelly represented this idea in the French fashion landscape. Having begun by selling his clothes on the street he had worked his way to the top. And with backing by clothing conglomerate Warnaco and increasing exposure in the media, Kelly was poised to become the next big American designer. But like many stories from the ’80s his time was cut short well before he could make a lasting impact. Kelly died due to complications of AIDS on New Years day, 1990.

Night of 100 Stars, 1982

Who’s Who of America’s fashion talent worn by the era’s most illustrious celebrities.

Thierry Mugler, 1984

Merry X-Mas!

Tina Chow, 1983

SantaTina

Dressed in Chanel by Karl Lagerfeld and photographed by Peter Schlesinger.