Notebooks on Cities and Clothes, 1989, Wim Wenders
In this film, German director Wim Wenders follows Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto as he prepares to debut a collection in Paris. The two men discuss the creative process and reflect on the relationship between the city, identity and cinema in the digital age. The fashion that triumphed in the eighties was characterized by a strong body sculpture and corsetry, tight cuts and accentuated silhouettes, a haughty and aggressive look. In contrast to this current, Yamamoto would present his first collection in Paris in 1981, proposing new and strange ideas, undefined cuts, great gaps in the fabrics and especially the black, which was only occasionally broken by white and gray tones. The designer sent his models on the catwalk with asymmetrical black dresses and white make-up, triggering a reaction from the fashion world that shouted in scandal, while a young generation of creators enthusiastically welcomed the "Hiroshima chic' by Yamamoto, a macabre appellation attributed to Yamamoto by the press, to praise his "explosive" and "end of the world" style.
From this film emerges the designer's spirituality; we note that he is a very quiet person, even before a fashion show, and how he is attracted to fabrics and time, especially from the relationship between the two. The designer thinks of clothes that last over time, an idea that derives for him from a series of portraits taken by August Sander, especially from a photo Gypsy, which depicts a gypsy wearing black high-waisted trousers, a white shirt of cotton without a collar and a pinstripe jacket, also black, a typically vintage clothing, Yamamoto finds in this person a man who does not wear clothes, but who dresses reality. The characters photographed by Sander do not wear clothes, they could wear them for life, following this inspiration the stylist declares that its purpose is to create a coat that lasts forever, a dress that is beautiful because it's cold outside, so you have to wear it because you need it and without which you can not live. The functionality of the dress and the usefulness of the latter are fundamental characteristics that will clearly follow Yamamoto's creative path.
It is particularly with regard to identity in fashion that both Yamamoto and Wenders seek to deal, exemplified brilliantly in Wenders' opening narration, delivered on a cab ride along a Tokyo highway;
The word itself gives me shivers.
It rings of calm, comfort, contentedness.
What is it, identity?
To know where you belong?
To know your self worth?
To know who you are?
How do you recognise identity?
We are creating an image of ourselves,
We are attempting to resemble this image…
Is that what we call identity?
between the image we have created of ourselves
and … ourselves?
Just who is that, “ourselves”?
Wenders himself admits he does not and has never cared for fashion, a fact which lends a particular gravity and perspective to his unique work with Yamamoto.
Common's selection of Yamamoto's work is available here.
Jan Sharp had worked in film before making Rick, Michele, and Scarlett, however, she had never worked on fashion films, and, much like Wenders, did not have any particular inclination for the industry. Her more known work beforehand was Chasing the President, a work in which she followed East Timorese president José Ramos-Horta in his return to Balibo, the site of the Indonesian invasion of his country. It lends a unique perspective on the work of Owens, one that isn't disinterested, but one that is a lot more personal. The film features less on Owens work or a history of his collections, as some other fashion documentaries do, but much moreso on him, his wife, and their weltanschauung. The documentary takes place during Michele's re-opening of her cafe; Les Deux. The cafe became the talk of LA elite during the mid to late 90s, and was a joint work of Michele Lamy and interior designer Paul Fortune. All the while, Lamy and Owens lived across the street in a series of converted storefronts that housed his design studio and showroom, a makeshift kitchenette and their macabre bedroom covered from floor to ceiling in dark gray wool. It's a stark contrast from the more-than-40 million dollars Owenscorp pulled in the year the film was made (A number which has since grown to well over 100 million). However, this contrast is one which illuminates the person of Rick Owens, one which is radically different to his clothes in some respects, and perfectly in keeping in others.
Sharp provides an intimate picture of Rick Owens, one which most are not privy to. Away from Paris and the runway, the Owens of Sharp's film is one who is less concerned with fashion, and more concerned with himself, his wife, and his city of Los Angeles. It is also a Rick Owens before much of the fame surrounding his brand, one who is focused a lot more on the raw, leather-bar look of his early works than the much more tailored and structural tendencies of his latest collections. It is a stark and very real portrait of one of fashion's most well-known, and
Dior and I is often presented as a film about the house's then-creative-director, Raf Simons, however, in many senses, it is about so much more than one man. It is a movie about the house which for many defines the entire industry. Yves Saint Laurent once said "I love my job, I feel responsible for my employees who are so loyal to me" (J’aime mon travail, je me sens responsable de mes employés qui me sont si fidèles). If there is but one thing to take from "Dior and me", it is this dedication and passion that the teams of these great fashion houses invest into their work. Throughout the film, we follow the initiation of Raf Simons, following the hasty departure of the disgraced Galliano, and share his anxieties, his desires, and his creative impulses, but it is the life of the house of Dior which is truly brought to light. Moreover, the essential question that arises every time a decision is made; "will we remain true to the spirit?". The shadow of the master Dior does not cease to hover at 30 rue Montaigne; vestiges of his collections, memorials to him, and of course through its employees (One of them having worked for Dior for 42 years), everything helps to perpetuate the image of Maison Dior while infusing the innovative ideas of the various artistic directors who have succeeded, in this case, Raf Simons.
The movie follows a trend in cinema and in fashion of late, with house after house creating films regarding their legacy, creative process, and so on. Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008), Saint Laurent (2014), Yves Saint Laurent (2014), Lagerfeld Confidential (2007), Marc Jacobs & Louis Vuitton (2007), Dries (2017), then the upcoming We Margiela (2018) and McQueen (2018), the world of cinema has had a sudden inundation of fashion-related and sponsored films. However, Tcheng's Dior and I stands apart. The composition of the documentary is original because it first puts forward the history and idea of Christian Dior with archive images and quotes, alongside voice-over from his book Christian Dior and I to familiarize us with the origins of the house. Then as we progress, we follow Raf Simons with small quotes from the founder. Obviously, everything ends in the apotheosis of the runway. The runway presentation is the pièce de résistance of the film; a beautiful spectacle with incredible scenography (Real flowers lined the walls of a mansion, each room with a different colour) and a beautiful collection in the most Dior style, yet with the very modern touch of the new DA. The documentary is about Simons in some ways, and about his team, however, moreover it is purely about fashion, a theme so universal few other movies which have come out of this trend fail to extend to.