By Andrew Hedge
In February 2012, legendary fashion house Christian Dior was in crisis. Long time artistic director John Galliano had been sacked a year earlier for publicly embarrassing the company in a drunken, racist rant captured on video, and Paris fashion week loomed with no replacement.
The choices Dior’s owner Bernard Arnault made at that time were not timid.
He surprised the industry by appointing Belgian menswear designer Raf Simons to mastermind an eight-week sprint to the Paris haute couture catwalk.
This is the basis for filmmaker Frederic Tcheng’s film, Dior and I (2014), where he combines compelling fly-on-the-wall storytelling with an interesting study in branded content.
Taken at face value, Tcheng’s film simply allows us to observe how Simons, who is a likeable and humble custodian of the Dior design legacy, helped the venerable French brand get its mojo back.
The film focuses on how he relates to the talented craftspeople employed in Dior’s ateliers, some who have been bringing Dior designs to life for four decades or more.
With a high-end visual aesthetic the film shows off dresses and suits that are lovingly created by large teams of friendly, passionate French folk and sold for six figures to multi-millionaires.
It’s plain to those who look closer that the film serves another objective, which is to reassure the public that Christian Dior, the brand, is alive and well.
In fact, the late Christian Dior ‘stars’ in the form of narrated sections of his memoir and file footage, and the company staff lovingly refer to him haunting their studios and overseeing their work.
At its emotional, colourful, triumphant conclusion, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you paid to enjoy a ninety minute (warts-and-all) cinematic advertisement for Christian Dior.
It’s no accident. Recently, the director Frederic Tcheng admitted to Fairfax Media that his film received support in raising its finance from LVMH, owners of Christian Dior.
He says they were ‘pretty fair’ when it came to creative decisions, but concedes he did not fight when owner Arnault asked to have his own role in the film diminished by cutting a scene.
This situation would make many documentarians deeply uncomfortable, and perhaps it should, but from a branding perspective it is also interesting to see what was left in the film.
While ultimately the audience are not left with much room to consider the brand in a negative light, there are certainly scenes that Simons and his staff would possibly have felt uncomfortable watching again and could have pushed to cut.
John Galliano’s embarrassing exit is entirely ignored and Tcheng escapes scrutiny by making his frame of reference tight: the film only covers the eight weeks from Simons’ first day until his first haute couture show, and it’s arguably a less flabby product as a result of ignoring why he’s there.
So what lessons are there for brands in Dior and I? I took away two:
- Even a confirmed fashion ignoramus can enjoy paying ten dollars to sit and watch your feature-length, heavily branded ad if you make it interesting enough
- Brands should be willing to relax some of the protective measures that so often make their content stale and boring, and be willing to let some real, human stories of how their products are made or used get out to their audiences.
Perhaps few brands will be convinced to fund feature documentaries (Newsmodo are happy to take the call from those who will!), but nevertheless the success of this unique approach for Dior might embolden some to test the waters with a new strategy.
The Golden Lions are a fine recognition for marketing professionals, but there’s an even greater prize in the Palmes D’Or or an Academy Award!