In the past, fashion thrived on the concept of selling the “brand”, not just the product, and that meant a “lifestyle”. Surrounding every product was an entire universe of narratives, experiences and emblems, meticulously designed to leave a profound impression and give a sense of identity and exclusivity.
New collections were interspersed with historical references to add prestige to the brand and authenticity to its heritage. For consumers, it was a sense of being in the know and of respect for history, which resonated particularly well with the generation’s love of everything vintage. The season’s “it” bags and looks symbolised the key to this exclusive “lifestyle” and your place in it. Aspiration and admiration were quite often the undercurrent that gave rise to that success.
Today, however, the conversation has progressed further and deeper. In the age of digital technology and social networks, “connection” and “change” have overtaken “brand” and “lifestyle” as the focal point of the dialogue between fashion and its increasingly international audience.
More connected and socially aware than ever, modern individuals are equipped with an increasingly holistic view of the world. Consumers are looking beyond the brand/lifestyle, aesthetic and quality, for a deeper and more direct, personal connection with the people behind, including their outlook, ideology, character, cause and values, what designers and labels stand for and their grasp of the social and environmental pulse of the moment. Dressing stars in all-black couture numbers (a tuxedo gown for Billy Porter), for instance, in solidarity of the #MeToo movement and gender equality evidently struck a chord with audiences worldwide and reasserted the powerful influence of fashion.
There’s also a rising need for “exclusivity” to be more inclusive, incorporating the zeitgeist of the era, the passions and high spirits of today’s youth; adopting a more relaxed take on luxury; allowing room for diversity and versatility; keeping an open mind and a sharp sense of community to collaborate with likeminded individuals, celebrate different cultures and foster new talent and ideas.
Dior demonstrated a good understanding of the times when it appointed British designer Kim Jones as artistic director of the men’s collection last year. Graduated from the prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Jones comes with an illustrious provenance that includes work for high-profile brands such as Topman, Alexander McQueen, Alfred Dunhill and, most notably, Louis Vuitton, where he revolutionised the house’s menswear by injecting his distinctive mix of high fashion and street style. In addition to pioneering a new style for the brand, Jones also helped kick off the “athleisure” movement that the world has come to embrace so dearly.
This complemented the global shift towards a more active living trend plus progressively broad sense of taste and hence consumers’ need for a more dynamic, versatile and eclectic wardrobe. Jones has since been celebrated as a designer of the zeitgeist.
What’s more impressive is that Jones launched his debut collection with Dior men for Summer 2019 to spectacular effect, just three months after joining the maison, and with it, a whole new, different direction from the characteristically slim, sombre, minimalist code set by predecessors Hedi Slimane followed by Kris Van Assche.
Inspired by the maison’s museum, Jones’ new policy sees him exert his cutting-edge sporty-luxe wits on the couture origins of the brand, taking full advantage of the long and storied history of atelier craft and sartorial elegance that both the house and its founder continue to be known for. This includes drawing on various personal aspects of Monsieur Dior to offer a closer connection with the couture legend.
The most significant change came in the form of a sweeping “Pleasantville” transformation. With his Midas touch, the agent of change has, in the words of Marie Kondo, “sparked joy” in the new Dior Man by bestowing on him the power to finally embrace colour and more relaxed silhouettes. For the finishing touch, Jones changed the name from “Dior Homme” to simply “Dior men” (with a modest lowercase “m”) in favour of a more modern, straightforward and down-to-earth label.
All this is beautifully captured in the Dior men Summer 2019. For his debut collection Jones has chosen to interpret the codes of Monsieur Dior himself through the language of his couture house. It is a dual tribute – to the reality of dior, and the fantasy.
Drawing inspiration from Christian Dior’s private life and his creative output, the collection represents a dialogue between these two sides of his personality. Couture has inspired the savoir-faire and informed the choice of materials – notably in a reference to the maison, through the use of a toile de jouy chosen for the original boutique at 30 Avenue Montaigne, decorated by Victor Grandpierre in 1947. A new Dior emblem, it appears as jacquards and embroideries, on materials as diverse as tulle and soft leather, and executed in feathers.
Translating a quintessentially feminine couture identity into a masculine idiom results in clothes which are softer, with rounded shoulders and eased shapes. A slashed cowl is added to the back of shirts, exposing the nape of the neck. A new Dior jacket, the Tailleur Oblique, wraps the body in a diagonal line, a subtle reference to the shape of Monsieur Dior’s autumn/winter 1950 collection. It is executed in featherweight cashmere and summer mohair, as well as in the British wools beloved of Christian Dior for his own wardrobe and those of his clientele. Combining tradition with modernity, Jones fuses references to haute couture with sportswear, representative of contemporary masculinity.
Floral motifs are a constant. They echo Monsieur Dior’s love of nature, and his “femmes fleurs”: they are actually drawn from his personal porcelain, the shapes reassembled into contemporary patterns for prints and embroideries. Feather embroideries by Lemarié are overlaid with vinyl, an effect that mirrors the glaze of bone china. Porcelain inspires the colour palette, which also echoes the founder’s Edwardian upbringing and love of the eighteenth century: blue, white, the pale pink of his childhood home at Granville, and the symbolic Dior gray. A shot of brilliant yellow-gold reflects Jean Cocteau’s definition of Dior as “this agile genius of our time whose magical name contains dieu (god) and or (gold).”
The summer 2019 collection also references an almost secret history of Monsieur Dior. His dog, Bobby, who inspired a limited edition of the Miss Dior perfume bottle, makes a witty recurring motif. The jewelry introduces a new modernist logo derived from the one used for the Dior family’s business ventures in the 1920s; an embroidered cipher comes from the announcement of Christian Dior’s birth in 1905.
The abstract notion of the interior also inspires techniques: a series of jackets seemingly reversed to expose striped linings, and overlays of organza – both silk, and a technical sportswear organza – which allow the insides to be revealed. These, in turn, also transform the clothes into another homage, to couture savoir-faire.
Accessories also draw on the inimitable Dior heritage. The emblematic Dior ‘saddle’ bag is interpreted for the first time for men, offered in cross-body, backpack and belt-bag styles. It is even reappropriated as pockets on ‘archive’ leather jackets. An embroidered version of the toile de jouy features on leather goods, alongside other Dior codes – the cannage pattern laser cut in leather, the Dior Oblique canvas in a new tricolor variation.
Christian Dior stated that his identity as a couturier was actually not one man but many – a composite of people. Jones draws on this same sense of community for his debut: Yoon Ahn of Ambush has created the jewelry, employing Dior emblems such as the neoclassical ‘CD’’, flowers and insects; Matthew Williams of 1017 ALYX 9SM has designed a new metal buckle, used on accessories. Stephen Jones has created millinery based on original ‘Christian Dior Monsieur’ pieces, found in the house’s archives.
In a special commission, the artist KAWS has created the centerpiece of the show décor using his signature character BFF covered entirely in roses, as an avatar of Christian Dior himself, clutching a replica of the bobby perfume bottle. KAWS’ designs for Dior men’s emblematic bee motifs punctuate the collection as idiosyncratic embroideries and prints, reflecting Monsieur Dior’s own observation: “You can never go wrong if you take nature as an example.” Here, the inspiration is both the natural world, and the nature of dior itself. it results in not only a new look, but a new outlook.
We appreciate that the Dior men artistic director Kim Jones has taken the time to answer our questions below.
How did you come to the decision to join Dior?
Dior came up quite quickly. It’s one of the best houses in the world, so for me being able to do that is a real privilege and a joy.
Since joining Dior, what have you discovered to be most inspiring or fascinating, or valuable, about the brand, its rich history and the late Mr. Dior?
The whole archive and heritage at Dior are incredible and the respect for it is so great, it inspired me to keep building the legacy. I’ve used the House colors and patterns and taken pieces from Mr. Dior interiors and family archive as a reference, but I also looked at Mr. Dior’s personal life.
The floral motif comes from Monsieur Dior’s dinner services. They echo both Monsieur Dior’s love of nature, and his “femmes-fleurs”, we just blew them up and made them into prints because Mr. Dior was famously into his food as well. His dog, Bobby, inspired a limited edition of the Miss Dior perfume in 1952. And, then, the Toile de Jouy which is actually the one from the first store that Monsieur Dior did in 1947 and it’s embroidered under en toile of tulle and organza.
Another signature of the House is the Cannage that is laser cut in the leather trench and in some bags. …and it’s just a very chic, light update. I looked back to the toile (Dior Oblique) with treatments and also re-working the saddlebags. They come from such a masculine reference and still feel so relevant that I thought it the right time to bring them into the men’s universe.
You’ve truly lightened up Dior men, with a brighter palette, softer and more relaxed shapes, and a more playful attitude, giving the Dior man a fresh “new look”. What inspired the bold move?
I think Dior pink and Dior grey are two colors that symbolize the Maison. When I joined Dior I was asked to “Give it more color, more energy!”, so I used these two symbolic colors in particular. We chose pink as one of our main colors because it was used in women’s gowns during our Maison’s founding era as well as in in Monsieur Dior’s family home. And for anyone who thinks pink is not a men’s color, I encourage you to go to Los Angeles. There are tons of kids on the street wearing pink!
You mentioned about a return to elegance and the Dior tailoring. Please elaborate.
Here we have an atelier; tailoring is much more prominent here. This collection is energetic, very tailoring, respectful to the House, and referencing Mr. Dior’s personal world and life, but for 2019! The silhouettes are fluid, sophisticated and comfortable. The collection is actually really chic and elegant because that’s what this Maison is like. So, it was taking what the House has done, which is couture and tailoring and using that into making the new stuff.
You’re noted for your penchant for collaboration, as seen in your debut collection for Dior. What is your rationale behind this, and how do you choose your collaborators? And what have been some of their feedbacks on collaborating on fashion?
I’ve always wanted to work with KAWS, I think he’s super chic and also his work speak to a lot of people. So that’s what I wanted to do. I’ve grown up loving KAWS but now he’s like one of the major artists of his generation and it’s for everybody really. I wanted an element of surprise there, so we commissioned KAWS to redesign the iconic bee, a Dior house code. We did Mr. Dior as the BFF KAWS character with his dog Bobby, I’d wanted to make this show into something massive, and it was a huge success with KAWS. Dior is a large company, but the staff really respect each other, and the Maison has a warm family-like atmosphere. KAWS really fits well into that.
I wanted to bring some fresh and global touch to the new Dior men’s collection, and I always wanted to try something exciting with Yoon Ahn and Matthew Williams, so I invited them to join my team. Yoon is part of the studio, I thought it was nice to have someone that was working on custom jewellery…That is also someone that is not a French person coming from a different part of the world. She is a really independent woman. Her interpretation of Dior is fantastic, and she really gets the kind of things I like. Matthew Williams is a friend of mine, and he designed the metal buckles for this collection. I love the buckle he does, so I had him make originals for us. He also has a great understanding of Dior and is one of the artists that I want to work together with in the future.
Your expertise in combining luxury and sporty, casual styles has resonated among the younger generation. Please elaborate on this modern generation of customers and how do you think you can connect with them and vice versa.
People mix things: luxury and streetwear. Fashion is no longer so rigid and that’s healthy. It’s not a trend, it’s here to stay. We’ve been like this for more than five years. I think the difference between streetwear and fashion houses is the price point essentially. I think it’s all cross-pollinated now. Someone will wear something that’s a piece of streetwear with a piece of fashion, or something that’s high street. People mix things up so much, I think it’s just style. I think style is the thing to look at. Everything will be intertwined. Also, now people have access to fashion like never before, which requires constant innovation. We do several collections each year, six in my case, because that’s what consumers want. I like doing it because I have fun. As long as I have time for myself, it’s great. I’ve always thought it’s important to disconnect, to know your limits.
Having been in fashion for a long time now, how do you keep yourself fresh and stay motivated?
Travel has always been an important part of my life and remains a continuous source of inspiration for my work. I love going to places I haven’t been before. I just look at the moment and see what’s relevant for now and I do it. I’m always seeing places, inspiring things and meeting so many different people.
Photos by Adrien Dirand, Archieves Pictures, Jackie Nickerson, Morgan O’Donovan, Patrice Stable, Sophie Carre + Winter Vandenbrink