Of course, I know what haute couture is - I ordered some at a fancy French restaurant just last week.

But even if you understand that very rich, very chic people will pay to fly a fashion house's top seamstress across the Atlantic to do alterations on a gown purchased (for six figures) straight off the Paris runway, the process of designing, producing, and showing a high-end line of dresses, suits, skirts, and coats remains something of a mystery.

Or it did until now. In Dior and I, documentarian Frédéric Tcheng burrows into the Eighth Arrondissement headquarters of Christian Dior, the fabled label that has been plying its trade in tulle and percale since the end of World War II.

In 2012, a new artistic director was named to run Dior: Raf Simons, a Belgian previously known for his furniture and men's lines, and for the minimalist wear he conceived for Jil Sander.

His appointment as creative director was fraught with drama. Could this broody gent, whose communication skills were hobbled by a reticent personality and a lack of fluency in French, be able to win over the workshop of white-coated seamstresses and tailors - women and a few men - many of whom had worked at Dior for decades? Perhaps more important, could he win over the fashion press and the celebrity clientele essential to keeping the place solvent?

Dior and I follows Simons and his congenial right-hand man, Pieter Mulier, as they set about conceiving and realizing a new collection - in a breakneck eight weeks.

Grabbing inspiration from the American painter Sterling Ruby and from the classic silhouettes of the House of Dior's namesake, Simons and his team of artisans, publicists, makeup artists, and wispy models come together in panicky days and nights of collaboration and creativity. Intercut with these scenes is archival footage of early Dior designs and shows, and a narration, from Dior's memoir, in which the legendary designer reflects on his aesthetics of style and beauty.

Tcheng finds Simons in moments of haughty self-confidence and tremulous self-doubt. The film also drops in on Florence Chehet and Monique Bailly, Dior's chief seamstresses, who take the designers' airy concepts and rough sketches and turn them into actual clothes. Their dedication, passion, and skill speak to the long tradition of artistry in this rarefied corner of the garment biz.

Dior and I casts a captivating light on what goes on at the house long before the likes of Jennifer Lawrence and Marion Cotillard and Sharon Stone show up for the Haute Couture Fall-Winter show, eager to see what Simons and his crew have been up to.




Dior and I ***1/2  (Out of four stars)

Directed by Frédéric Tcheng. With Raf Simons, Pieter Mulier, Florence Chehet, Monique Bailly. Distributed by the Orchard.
Running time: 1 hour, 29 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz Bourse.