DIRECTOR FRÉDÉRIC TCHENG is carving out a niche. With 2008's Valentino: The Last Emperor, 2011's Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, and now Dior and I, Tcheng's work in film has been exclusively devoted to documenting characters and moments in the world of high fashion. (True, Valentino was directed by Matt Tyrnauer—but given his work since, Tcheng's work on that film as co-producer, co-editor, and second camera appears to have been a seminal experience.)
Dior and I deals specifically with fashion designer Raf Simons' first collection for the iconic French fashion house Christian Dior—an haute couture collection, no less. Thus, Tcheng devotes nearly as much time to the men and women in the workrooms—whose job it is to execute the designer's vision with specialized hands—as he gives to Simons, including when the filmmaker accompanies the designer on inspirational trips to art museums.
But perhaps more than in his other documentaries, here Tcheng plays directly to a niche audience: Unlike the juicy Vreeland, which drew upon an incredible archive of images and interviews, Dior and I was filmed in real time, and therefore was something of a gamble. On one hand, it's interesting to get a glimpse into the couture process and its particular pitfalls. On the other, Tcheng simply doesn't have much drama to work with (save for some nerves on the part of Simons and a minor crisis involving a delayed flight). So instead of telling a story, Dior takes a fly-on-the-wall approach. That's fine for those who're already interested in the workings of this rarefied world, but the film's lack of historical or cultural context is unlikely to welcome newcomers.
Insider vibe aside, Tcheng is covering ground that few others are. Whether it's of value only to a select few doesn't matter as much as the fact that Tcheng has trained his lens on an art form worthy of capture.