Director Frédéric Tcheng Takes Us Behind the Scenes of a Fashion Empire With ‘Dior and I’

“For me, as a filmmaker, it’s always very important to connect on a very personal level with the story and be very passionate about it,” said filmmaker Frédéric Tcheng when we spoke earlier this week about his new film, Dior and I. “I sometimes describe it like falling in love with the subject; if I don’t fall in love, it’s hard for me to do a film.” Having co-edited Valentino: The Last Emperor in 2008 and co-directed Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel in 2011, Tcheng’s latest film marks his first solo directorial effort and his third foray into the world of fashion iconography.

With Dior and I, he takes us behind the scenes of the revered 69-year-old house of Christian Dior. We’re given a candid glimpse into the final eight weeks leading up to Belgian designer Raf Simons’ debut couture collection after being named the new head designer at Dior, following John Galliano’s departure from the company. Confronted with a modernist previously best known for his minimalist work as the creative director at Jil Sander, Tcheng found himself fascinated by Simons’ new challenge at Dior and set out to capture the high-stakes, high pressure two months leading up to his debut.

In addition to Simons’ tireless work, Dior and I takes a close look at the company’s talented ateliers and master seamstresses who devote themselves to bringing the designer’s vision to the runway. The result is a personal and moving study of an artist’s grueling process, as well as a portrait of the dedicated and supportive base of that has kept Dior in high esteem for the better part of a century.

I spoke with Tcheng to discuss his fascination with Raf Simons, the mirrored process of making a film alongside the making of a collection, and the human connection necessary in documentary film making.

How did you form a connection with Dior and what was it about Raf Simons that interested you as a subject?  

It was a chance encounter between Dior and I, even before Raf was announced. I knew someone at Dior, whom I met at a screening  for my previous film. We started talking about what was going to happen at Dior and who as going to be nominated. I don’t think he himself knew it was going to be Raf, but then when it was announced, I knew there was something special about Raf that I connected with. For me, as a filmmaker, it’s always very important to connect on a very personal level with the story and be very passionate about it. I sometimes describe it like falling in love with the subject; if I don’t fall in love, it’s hard for me to do a film.

There was something about Raf’s universe that I was attracted to, in terms of his creative process. The way he thought and the way he created intrigued me. Of course him coming to Dior was going to be a very big challenge because couture is so different from the type of fashion he was making. I also knew that the women and men in the atelier were going to be a great supporting cast. I had an instinct that this would be a very promising story with very beautiful characters.

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Considering the pressure Raf and his team were under to put the collection together in eight weeks, did you find that mirrored your own experience having only those two months to capture all of the footage for the film? 

One of the defining parts of the project is the fact that my creative process as a filmmaker had a lot in common with their creative process. Their situation mirrored our situation, and I wanted to make a film that I could relate to. I like to make films that have something universal about them, and I thought the creative process was the element that I could relate to and that other people could relate to as well. So I was looking for the parallel between the two.

It’s very weird the way that what was happening to me and my team as filmmakers and was happening to him. I felt like I was following in his footsteps, and the story is also about him feeling like he’s following in the footsteps of Dior and feeling weird about it. So this theme of the double image, the mirror image, is a theme that haunted the whole process for me and the people at Dior.

Was it difficult to get Raf to open up and be vulnerable on camera, as he’s known to be a very private person.

Raf was very reluctant in the beginning. He actually refused to take part in the project at first, and then I convinced him by sending him a letter explaining my interest in the story and what I wanted to do with the film. I said a couple of things that he responded to, which were that this wasn’t going to be a movie that only centered on just him and that it would be more of an ensemble cast, and about his relationships with the atelier.

As a filmmaker you look for dramatic tension, and for me, the dramatic tension was between Raf, who represents modernity, and the atelier, who represents tradition. There’s a tension there, so how do you create something new that channels that past looks to the future? That’s what I pitched him in a single letter and he allowed me to come in for just one week as a trial period.

Then we just got to know each other and had a human connection. I heard him explain why he’s uncomfortable with being exposed in public in this way. He has principles about his private life, but it all comes down to the personal connection. When he knows the person behind the camera, it’s much easier for him. On a general note, I think everyone was so focused on what they had to do, and it was just a time of upheaval because everything was changing. There was a new designer, a new schedule, and there was just so much to be thinking about that it worked in our favor because the camera was part of that change. It snuck in and was just one more element that was changing—but in way, it was good to be invisible.

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As your solo directorial debut, was there a particular moment in the process that proved the most challenging or most rewarding?  

The show was such an achievement for me personally, because this was my first solo directorial effort. I’m not used to being the only one in charge or the only director, I’m used to working in the shadows a little. So the day of the show I had the biggest crew I’ve ever had, and then had to direct everyone. I was incredibly nervous about being able to capture Raf in motion that day; I thought it would make or break the film, because Raf had been pretty guarded up until then.

So I came in very nervous, and that day, Raf was comfortable enough in my presence to be so vulnerable on screen. I knew that there was a very human experience to be told with his story. So I was incredibly grateful to him of course, and I also felt like now I had a story that could sustain 90 minutes. Before, I thought, how can I going to make a feature film in only eight weeks? Until the last minute I didn’t really know if I was going to be able to pull it off.

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What was Raf’s reaction when he saw the film completed?
Was it important for you to be there with him when he saw it for the first time?  

He requested to see it alone. Usually I try to see it with the subject, because it can be a very confusing experience and I want to be there to answer any questions and reassure them, but Raf saw it otherwise. Again, I think it’s because he’s very private, and he’s a very modest person and doesn’t really like to show his emotions. He knew this would be very moving, so I sent him a DVD and waited by the phone. He sent me a text message hours later saying that he was incredibly surprised at the emotional ride that the film was and that he was’t expecting it to be so emotional. I was very flattered, and he said he cried when he watched it, which means he really recognized the journey that I was describing in the film.

Watching a couple scenes of Raf at work in the beginning of the film I was reminded of Wim Wenders’ Yohji Yamamoto documentary Notebook on Cities and Clothes. Did you look to any other movies for inspiration in putting the film together, fashion films or otherwise?

That’s a beautiful movie; I saw it when I was editing this one. When I was shooting I was not really looking at fashion films, I was watching more documentaries about institutions, like Frederick Wiseman documentaries. I’m fond of him because he has this social realism aspect that I really wanted have in the film. Then I was also watching a lot of Maysles films, like Grey Gardens and Take Shelter, because they managed to create emotional journeys for their characters and are very character driven stories, and I’m attracted to that.

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What is it about these iconic fashion figures that draws you to them and makes you want to explore their world?  

All of these fashion figures are very different, and I really try to approach each story as a different adventure. I can’t really explain why I’m drawn to it, it’s kind of like the falling in love thing. It happened with Diana Vreeland and it happened with Raf. Fashion is such a wealth of characters that it’s possible to find just about everything in fashion. It’s kind of a mirror of society in a way, maybe with a little more cinematic shine to it. It’s also beautiful to film, so that’s why I found so many interesting subjects over the years.

Another notable element of the film was the music, both it’s score and the soundtrack. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard Aphex Twin’s “Boy / Girl Song” used before.  

We worked with a composer Ha-Yang Kim, a really talented avant-garde cellist, and we talked about crating a haunting score for the archival images, something that would be at the same time eerie and captivating. That was the theme of Christian Dior, but we also wanted for Raf to have his own kind of energy, a different kind of energy so we collected music he actually listened to, like Aphex Twin.

Designer Raf Simons Talks Nerves, Fears, and Getting Emotional for New Documentary “Dior and I”

In an interview with WWD, Christian Dior’s Raf Simons discusses the filming of the documentary “Dior and I” about his coming to the house that will premiere next week at the Tribeca Film Festival. Geniuses get nerves, too.

270 hours of raw footage have been whittled down to the final documentary, a film that Simons found both comforting and emotional. Said Simons, “There was an enormous intimacy in the movie, which I think is also present in Dior, in the company. In the building, there was a strong kind of family feel.”

The filmmaker Frédéric captured Simons’ creative process — so rooted in contemporary art in a house “steeped in tradition” — a process that includes a bit of a temper:
“As he watches the film long afterward, Simons squirms as his anger flares in some scenes…”
… even at Simons notes he appears much more calm then he had envisioned. Wonder what the members of the atelier would have to say about that.
The film premieres on April 17. See stills from the film, below.

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Raf Simons

dior02Members of the atelier

Main image: Dior fall 2014, photo by Guillaume Roujas for nowfashion.com

Stills: Courtesy

Style Scoop: Christian Dior Shoes, Insider Shopping at Capsule, Marc Jacobs & Louis Vuitton

Catch up on the latest happenings in fashion and style:

Giambattista Valli is set to open its first store in Milan, to be unveiled during the city’s February fashion week.

Designer Francesco Russo heads to Christian Dior as the house’s new women’s footwear designer.

Ralph Lauren International’s (previous) president has tapped out. Daniel Lalonde had submitted his resignation in September.

Capsule Market Square is happening – this will be the tradeshow’s first open-to-the-consumer event. It’ll be open on December 14-15 at 82 Mercer Street, featuring goods from Creatures of Comfort, Want les Essentiels de la Vie, Mark McNairy, Nudie Jeans, Billy Reid, Maison Kitsuné, and others.

Condé Nast is getting into e-commerce, setting up a new online retail division within the company.

Marc Jacobs admitted to being nervous about leaving Louis Vuitton behind.

Unique Creatures: Nan Kempner, a Couture Collector and Supremely Stylish Badass

Nan’s love of fashion was borne in her blood, her mother and grandmother famously clotheshorses themselves. At 19, Nan purchased her first piece of couture, a Christian Dior white silk sheath with mink trim that she cried over to get the price down. At the time Yves Saint Laurent was the head designer there, and his curiosity over her need for the dress caused him to seek her out. Thus begins one of the largest couture collections in existence.

Shop the look, see more photos, and READ +

FashionFeed: Mila Kunis for Dior, Coco Rocha for Twitter

● Joining the ranks of fellow actresses Natalie Portman, Charlize Theron, and Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis has been named the new face of Christian Dior. [Fashionologie]

● 23-year-old model Coco Rocha says that she has "extended her career" by actively engaging with her fans on Twitter and other social media platforms. [Telegraph]

● According to Barneys creative ambassador and Gay Men Don’t Get Fat author, Simon Doonan says that "sushi may well be the gayest food on Earth" because of it’s dainty presentation and portion control.  [Styleite]

● Prabal Gurung’s first line of T-shirts will set you back $200 to $300 a pop. [The Cut]

● First Proenza Schouler and now Jil Sander. Natasha Poly’s sweeping up those spring 2012 ad campaigns quite nicely. [Style]

● Despite continuous controversy, American Apparel’s sales raised 15% in December due to a partnership with Groupon, but the lifestyle brand is still around $161.6 in debt, which is nothing to shake. [Grazia]

Cameron Diaz is All Up in the Couture Shows This Season

While the usual suspects make the front-row rounds in Paris for the haute couture shows this week, there’s one celebrity that has surprisingly snuck into the high-fashion mix: Cameron Diaz. Today the bronzer than normal starlet has already hit the Aterlier Versace show with fellow actress Diane Kruger, and was just spotted rubbing elbows with the likes of Bar Rafaeli and Karlie Kloss (pictured) at the Christian Dior show. Is this her new thing?

It’s no surprise that while others have to work their way to be seated in the front row, Diaz need only show up to make it there, especially since designers love a star power moment. We wonder if Diaz will score an extremely limited seat at the highly anticipated Chanel couture show, given that Kruger is a Karl Lagerfeld favorite. 

Fashion Week by the Numbers

Fashion week – scratch that – fashion month, has finally drawn to a clothes. I mean close. It’s going to be a very shiny spring.

fashion week

Thanks for the memories, Marco and Marc. It’s been real! See you next season.

Pat McGrath’s Genius at Paris Fashion Week

The preference on the runways this season has been, largely, for messy, wet hair (which I took to task this past Friday, thank you) and easy, natural makeup. Which is welcomed– seriously how great is it to be socially accepted and on-trend without trying much? Take Alexander Wang, who literally put zilch on the models in terms of makeup.

 

But… this is fashion, and the shows and editorials are the place to go wild. This is from where we draw inspiration, so it’s with gratitude that we turn to Pat McGrath, star makeup artist who season after season, creates some of the best, most inventive looks we see, regardless of venue.

 

In Paris alone, McGrath masked (literally and figuratively) the models at Givenchy and Christian Dior in makeup that extends beyond what we normally pick up at the beauty counter. Gold brocade-textured eyebrows (Dior) and sequins that overtook the face (Givenchy) sparked gut excitement at the possibilities. It’s like being a kid again, and letting imagination roam free! What if you actually veiled yourself in sequins? What would your life be like?

 

The very slightly more wearable version of this is the gold eyebrow at Dior, which I’ve already pledged allegiance to. I not so solemnly vow to try it out as soon as I get my hands on the appropriate products. Until then, a gold cat eye or a chunky glitter eye shadow might sate me.

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