As the new Dior boutique opens in Auckland this weekend, you may want to whisk yourself away on a journey of discovery on the topic by watching the latest documentary on the fashion house.
With each still selling for 350,000 Euros, one can only really describe Dior's couture dresses as art. Mr Christian Dior was at the helm of his eponymous fashion house for 10 years, but as Pieter Mulier says in the latest documentary on the topic, what a revolution in fashion he created.
If every you doubted that fashion is art, this documentary will convince you entirely that it is.
Christian Dior and I charts the deeply intensive time when Raf Simons and his 'right hand man' Pieter Mulier join the House of Dior and have 8 weeks in which to create a couture collection.
What Raf shows us is the workings of genius- both in his design processes and Christian Dior's himself who seems present throughout the film in spirit. Characteristic of many a genius, Raf displays an intriguing mix of self-doubt and utter self-belief. He has an anxiety of too many people, of being on show, fame and too much noise- just as Christian Dior did himself.
But while Raf is in many ways a shy and deeply private character, his way of working is to 'talk, talk, talk' about designs, ideas and concepts. He doesn't sketch like other designers might, instead he looks, reads, and talks some more until, through a fascinating process, a dress, like a piece of art, metamorphoses.
The importance also placed on the handing-down of masterful couture-making and sewing skills through verbal teaching is high in Raf's mind. The couture section is the engine room of Dior, where the 'magic happens'. It's a legacy that can only continue if those seamstresses who've been there for over 40 years teach the new talent coming through. In this we see a world that's refreshingly traditional, placing a premium on person-to-person dialogue and teaching in this world of technology. Every pleat, nip, tuck and sequin is painstakingly and lovingly hand stitched. It's from this deeply traditional environment and ethos that the most original and new fashion designs emerge.
Raf's tenacity is equally pronounced. He works by a nothing-is-impossible philosophy. When he has the idea to cover the walls of every room of a French manor in a blanket of flowers (different ones for each room) for the runway show of his first collection for Dior- a seemingly impossible feat of creative expression in honour of Dior's own love of flowers- he won't give up until he has the go-ahead. He wants the setting to reflect the extremities of Jeff Koons' larger than life Puppy in Bilbao and he eventually gets those around him to adopt his vision and make it happen.
Equally when he wants a piece of printed fabric to reflect the mood of a modern painting with which he's fallen in love, he won't give up on making it happen despite the fabric-makers persistently urging that what he wants is impossible. Raf's persistence and demands for excellence from those around him shows that if humans have the passion and desire, as well and the courage to overcome their fears, the seemingly impossible can be surmounted.
Similarly to Dior, Raf trusts those he works with to use their own hands freely to put their touch on his creative direction. He's not afraid to glean inspiration from others and what went before him, to give fashion a future. We can all learn a lot from this kind of leadership and trust in others.
Raf's approach to femininity is also pleasing. There's a scene in the movie where he expresses concern about a beautiful, but precarious-looking, shoe design: "I don't want a man to have to support a woman down the stairs," says Raf. He wants a woman to walk tall and strong, helped by the clothes she wears on her back. Raf rejects a young model who seems anxious and timid because he wants fearless and strong.
Dior approached femininity as the ultimate starting point for all his designs, which Raf himself finds incredibly freeing in terms of creative spirit and opportunity. Dior is known for its suiting - but with emphasis on feminine elements, such as the nipped waist, plunging bust and softly rounded shoulders. Dior designs are created to celebrate these features.
But more than anything. like every genius of which I can think, Raf dedicates themselves to the one very focused, single craft, so that he becomes a master of it. In the case of Raf and Dior it's to make exquisite clothes.