Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dior and I (opens May 1st at the Capitol Theatre)

[DIOR AND I opens in Cleveland Friday May 1st exclusively at the Capitol Theatre for a limited one-week engagement.]

Review by Pamela Zoslov

The name Christian Dior is the very definition of French fashion, and has been since the cataclysmic debut in 1947 of his “Corolle” (“circle of flowers”) line – wasp-waisted dresses and suits with voluminous, blossoming skirts, a style that became known as the “New Look.” It was a revolutionary departure from the austere, uniform-like fashions of the war years. The New Look was controversial because of the extravagant use of material, unavailable in wartime, and because of the elaborate undergirding necessary to achieve the hourglass look: built-in boned corsets and padded bustiers. The style was at once radical and reactionary, consigning women to an atavistic, labor-intensive femininity. But always, there was Dior's impeccable taste and unfailing sense of proportion.

Dior's career was indelible but brief, cut short by his sudden death at age 52 in 1957. The House of Dior remains one of the world's foremost fashion houses, and Frédéric Tcheng's documentary DIOR AND I offers a view of its contemporary inner workings. The film juxtaposes the words of Christian Dior, from his memoir Dior by Dior, with busy, tense views of the process of creating the first haute couture collection by Dior's newest head designer, Raf Simons.

There was some doubt in the fashion world about what Simons, a Belgian-born designer chiefly known for menswear and minimalist womens' ready-to-wear for Jil Sander, would do with Dior, known for voluptuously feminine clothes. There are questions as to how  well he will work with the talented, tireless tailors of the Dior atelier, one of whom has been with Dior for forty years. In addition, Simons' taciturn demeanor does not exactly endear him to the staff. (They prefer to communicate through his loyal assistant, Pieter, who is much sunnier and sends them flowers signed with Raf's name.) Raf declares that his aim is to create a line that is younger and more dynamic.

Tcheng's camera, Julio Perez IV's editing and Ha-Yang Kim's music maintain a dynamic rhythm for this process-oriented documentary.. The most compelling sections, however, are the narrated quotations from Dior's memoir, illustrated with elegant vintage fashion footage. In the autobiography, Dior describes himself as two people: the introverted man who grew up surrounded by his beloved flowers in Granville, on the coast of Normandy, and his “Parisian twin,” the celebrated designer who reestablished Paris as the fashion capital of the world.

The contemporary drama surrounding Raf's couture debut are presented in the mode of the reality show “Project Runway” — will they meet the première deadline? Will they be able to get the material dyed the way Raf wants? (One of Raf's ideas is to have printed fabric made based on the abstract paintings of his favorite artist, Sterling Ruby). Tensions arise when head seamstress Monique, prized for her “golden hands,” is late for a fitting because she had to fly to New York to attend to an important client. Wealthy clients, we learn, who might spend close to $400,000 each season, are the financial lifeblood of couture houses, and their whims must be catered to. When Monique protests that she cannot say no to a client, Raf retorts (indirectly), “You also cannot say no to me.”

It is interesting to see the painstaking process of making the world's most beautiful clothing, especially if you relish the sensual qualities of fine fabrics and expert workmanship. Still, the juxtaposition of the old, grand fashion world and today's sleek, corporate milieu engenders a deeply wistful nostalgia. Fashion has always been a marriage of art and business, but somehow today's fashion world seems a far less romantic thing. 3 out of 4 stars.

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