According to legend, the ghost of Christian Dior haunts the Paris fashion house. At night, when the security guards lock up, some say they feel . . . something, as though they’re being watched.
Dior’s spirit feels like a friendly one, though, as least in the way it permeates the delightful documentary “Dior and I.” The movie follows designer Raf Simons as he takes over as the company’s creative director in 2012. Over the course of eight weeks, he has to get to know his employees while simultaneously designing a collection, overseeing its production and debuting it in front of a group that includes such intimidating figures as Anna Wintour and Harvey Weinstein.
All the while, Dior — who died in 1957, just a decade after starting one of the world’s premier fashion houses — seems to be watching. He pops up here and there, through snippets of his memoir read aloud or archival footage of the bald man in a natty suit sketching dresses. Simons is nervous, and who could blame him? There’s no escaping the shadow of Dior.
Director Frédéric Tcheng, who also made the engaging fashion doc “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel,” makes a smart decision in the way he presents the material. You don’t have to be a fashion expert to appreciate what Simons is up against. He’s coming into this role as an outsider — he’s Belgian and has worked mainly in menswear at Jil Sander. Because of that work, the press labeled him a minimalist, even though he’s not.
But there’s also the logistical challenges of working with a new team and gaining the trust of the communications people and sales team, not to mention the army of white-coated worker bees who meticulously hand-craft the decadent creations.
There’s eye candy to spare, especially for fashion fiends. And the final scene, the big show, takes place in a Paris apartment where the walls have been entirely cloaked with a million flowers. (No one would call Simons a minimalist after that little stunt.)
But what’s best about “Dior and I” are the gentle humor and tensions that arise during this period. The only way to capture so many gems — a seamstress pulling out a bucket of candy when things get stressful, for example — is to shoot a lot of footage and expertly edit it. That kind of wry, observational comedy doesn’t just appear all the time, nor does it happen when people feel they’re performing for the camera.
It’s not all fun and games, though. There are times when Simons and his new team are at odds, and tense discussions follow. The movie, not to mention the company, deserves praise for showing the challenges as well as the triumphs; “Dior and I” doesn’t shy away from conflicts when they arise. This isn’t marketing material. It’s a real look at a fascinating line of work.
Unrated. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains brief strong language and fashion-show nudity. 89 minutes.