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Dior and I: seven things we’ve learned about Raf Simons

Dior and I, the documentary chronicling Raf Simons’ debut haute couture collection, premiered at New York’s Tribeca film festival last night. Shot in Paris shortly after Simons was appointed by the iconic French fashion house, director Frédéric Tcheng was given intimate access to the ateliers and beyond. Here are seven things we learned from the film.

He’s not afraid of a fearsome challenge

A haute couture collection usually takes six to eight months to carefully hand-stitch together. Simons – who had never designed couture before – was given just eight weeks. The film shows the rookie retaining remarkable composure, remembering his manners and sending his hard-working seamstresses hand-written thank you notes. We fell a little bit in love with him, to be honest. Especially when he wore white shorts to work (“It’s summer”).

He doesn’t sketch designs; he prepares ‘files’

At the newly modern, forward-thinking House of Dior – where, radically, he goes by “Raf”, rather than “Monsieur Raf” – Simons creates chunky files of images and inspirations for his concepts. Each member of staff is handed a file, and everyone then sketches their ideas, creating around 200 for each prospective suit, dress or skirt.

Even Dior jumps to the demands of wealthy customers

Simons needs to see all the frocks-in-progress, but one of his two premieres (the heads of the atelier) is nowhere to be found. “Is she ill?” he asks. No, she’s in New York. A regular client has demanded an immediate fitting; spending €350,000 a season on couture means your demands trump Dior’s creative director’s, it seems.

Christian Dior show
Raf Simons’s first collection for Christian Dior – in a room wallpapered with flowers. Photograph: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Fashion goes beyond the boundaries of language

Simons, 46, doesn’t speak French – which does seem a little odd for a Belgian, non? But he muddles through valiantly in franglais, with the help of his “right hand”, his adorably cheerful long-term assistant, Pieter Mulier, and his frequent invocation of the catch-all “sublime”.

His floral displays put Elton John’s posies to shame

Inspired by Jeff Koons’ giant flower puppy, Simons filled every high-ceilinged room of a Paris mansion with thick walls of fresh blooms for his first show. His aim, for it “to look like the fucking puppy in Versailles”, took 1m flowers and the work of 50 florists to achieve. Even Anna Wintour is seen commenting on an obvious lack of budgetary constraints.

Simons is an innovator, not a disciple of New Look nostalgia.

“The past is not romantic to me,” he says at one point. “The future is romantic to me.” But his innovation is sometimes frustrated. He wants to try a technique called imprimé chaîne, to re-create the artist Sterling Ruby’s modernist prints on fabric. But only four engravers in France know how to do it, and they’re all busy, he’s told. Less bothersome, however, is simply spray-painting his spin on the coveted, classic white Bar jacket, rather than wasting time making an actual black one at the last minute.

He’s not afraid to cry … just to face his public

When the imprimé chaîne finally comes together, Simons gets more than a little misty-eyed; and backstage at the show, he’s in urgent need of hanky. He almost fluffs his bow from nerves, and refuses to walk the full length of the runway, threatening to faint. To be fair, we see his point – with an uber-A-list front row of Jennifer Lawrence, Charlize Theron, Marion Cotillard, Harvey Weinstein, Grace Coddington and Marc Jacobs, we’d probably suffer a spot of stagefright too.

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