It's nearly impossible to persuade the average American citizen, especially if he's a straight man, that haute couture has a reason to exist. The phrase isn't just a catchall for "really expensive clothes," as it's commonly misunderstood, but a specific term for clothes made entirely by hand, for a specific customer -- something like a bespoke suit, though even more intricate and fanciful. A gown from one of the few remaining established couture houses can cost more than a Manhattan studio — and we're talking about the purchase price, not the monthly rent. The first thing any seemingly sensible person would say is, "For a dress? What a waste!"
But Frédéric Tcheng's marvelous documentary Dior and I could change your mind, or at least it should. In spring 2012, Belgian-born designer Raf Simons became the artistic director of one of the most revered couture establishments, the House of Dior. Simons's two big jobs: to re-polish the perception of an august French institution after his predecessor's drunken, anti-Semitic tirade embarrassed the house, and to somehow fit his own sturdy Belgian feet into the pristine prints left by founder Christian Dior.
No wonder he freaks out in Dior and I, which chronicles the creation of his first couture collection for the house — one he had only six weeks to complete, rather than the usual six months. I'll give away the ending: The show was a triumph. But even knowing that, to watch Dior and I is to see the iceberg of potential disaster looming every second. Dior and I is a great fashion movie, but it's also a superb picture about the art of management, applicable to any field.