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Convincing Simons to co-operate was half the battle. “Initially he said no! I explained my intentions in writing to him that I wanted to film the human side of the ateliers and his relationship with them. That got us through the first hurdle. After the letter, he said we could have one week with him. The rest happened through a lot of discussion as he explained why he didn’t want to be in the film. He didn’t want to be put on a pedestal. Once we established that I was not going to treat him that way, he opened up. He made me talk a lot about myself. At the end of the process, he got a sense of who I was. For him, it’s a two-way thing. ’”
Often filming alone or with one single soundman, Tcheng set about documenting the work process of the collection quietly, from the moment when Simons stepped in to be introduced by Sidney Toledano to the atelier staff integrating with Simons’ new way of working and of course, the actual making of the collection. The petite mains of the atelier become vital components of the film. There’s Monique, head of tailleur, with an amusingly anxious disposition who soothes her nerves with Haribo sweets. There’s Florence, head of flou, who creates drama when she has to leave the collection to fly to New York to attend to a client (justifiably so as she does spunk EUR350,000 a season on Dior haute couture).
I found this significant less because of Simons’ visible frustration but more that Dior haute couture as an entity is clearly profitable and that this atelier works not just as a labour of love but because they’re actively working for clients. Business aside, it’s clear they visibly invest much of themselves in what they create, taking pride in their work. There’s one scene when they’re re-embroidering a dress an eight of the workers are huddled over this two meter piece of fabric. There’s no questioning of why they need to get this right. They just do it because the perfection in every seam of every silhouette matters.