Haute couture isn’t really my cup of tea. I’m perfectly content slouching around in my baggy t-shirts and ripped skinny jeans, indifferent towards the competitive and seemingly conceited empire of fashion houses. So, when I was invited to a screening of Frédéric Tcheng’s new behind-the-scenes documentary ‘Dior and I’ at Portobello’s independent cinema, I was enticed more by the promise of a quaint cinematic experience rather than an exclusive look into the world of Christian Dior’s prestigious fashion house. And this little cosy corner of west London did not disappoint.
As we collected our tickets from the box office, I experienced a childish thrill of delight as we were greeted with a dentist’s nightmare of pots of liquorice, jars of lollipops and dark wooden drawers of pick’n’mix. After stocking up on treats, we made our way into the small, intimate cinema room and grabbed a drink and a box of generously garnished nachos before finding our seats. I found myself surrounded by stylish couples, young and old, as the classic red interior, the low moody lighting and the big cosy armchairs (with a cashmere blanket stowed in the footrest!) made for a romantic setting. You can even book a spacious front row bed for extra snuggle room, accommodating for those who tend to ‘starfish’ in bed. There was also a very devilish-looking red velvet cake perched proudly on the bar. I ignored its flirtatious winks.
I didn’t research much into the film before watching it, other than briefly tapping into IMDB to see the running time (I know, it’s bad, but it’s a habit of mine). I didn’t even know much about Monsieur Dior himself. However I was intrigued to find that the cast were not actors (besides Jennifer Lawrence, who makes a very brief appearance- if it wasn’t for the slow motion you’d blink and miss her) but real people, playing themselves. I was also unaware that the majority of the film would be in French. So, being une étudiante de la belle langue française, I therefore justified this trip as beneficial to my education…
I have to admit, there were moments in the film where I couldn’t help rolling my eyes; the quintessential couturier demands of ‘I want this dress and I want it now’, and the endless Marlboro packs and cans of Coke Zero scattered amongst the croquis. But as I allowed the film to temporarily erase my cynical attitude towards the industry, I found myself empathising with these people.
The film evoked an overall sense of insecurity and vulnerability amongst this exclusive crowd, and especially within the new artistic director, Raf Simons. This insecurity seemed to me to act as a welding agent, pushing these vibrant characters together into their own fantasy world. I began to wonder where they had all come from, and how they had found each other across language barriers and country borders. I came to the conclusion that they had all been those children at school who were just a bit different to the rest. The girl whose lips were too big for her face; the boy who wore bright purple and orange laces in his shoes. I realised that this closed clique is the way that it is because they are all intimately linked by an individuality, and a vision.
But what I found most incredible in the film was the work of the seamstresses. Although it seems to place Simons as the protagonist, the film emphasized the huge weight they carry on their shoulders, working under extreme pressure to the very last second before the climactic première of Simons’ first show. Their inexhaustible dedication to what can only be described as their art is paramount to the narrative structure, as they truly are the reverberating pulse of the entity that is the Christian Dior fashion house.
Pssst… If you do plan a trip to the Electric Cinema in Portobello, be sure to explore the neighbourhood too! There are some gorgeous Georgian townhouses around Ladbroke Grove station to lust over, I couldn’t resist taking a few snaps of the macaroon-box buildings.
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