PARIS — Fueled by a "fresh point of view," courtesy of designer Kris Van Assche, Dior Homme plans to continue its expansion drive by further developing categories such as footwear and leather goods and marching into new territories.
So says Dior chief executive Sidney Toledano, who on Thursday confirmed a WWD report that Van Assche will succeed Hedi Slimane as the brand's artistic director.
An alumnus of Dior Homme who worked beside Slimane for seven years, Van Assche starts work at the French house on Monday, responsible for ready-to-wear and all manner of accessories. He will not have purview over men's fragrances and skin care, as did Slimane.
Terms of the multiyear contract were not disclosed, and Dior has yet to announce when Van Assche will show his first collection. The next men's fashion week in Paris is slated for June 28 to July 1.
The 30-year-old Antwerp, Belgium, native, who launched a signature collection in Paris in 2005, also will continue with that business, which will remain independent of Dior. Van Assche declined to give sales figures, but said his line is sold in 160 doors in Asia, Europe and North America.
"I feel very privileged to be asked to join Dior," Van Assche said. "I have a tremendous respect for the house, its heritage and its know-how."
The split between Slimane and Dior, first reported in WWD, created shock in the industry and underscored the tensions that often fester between strong-minded designers and brand management. As reported, negotiations to renew Slimane's contract at Dior Homme, which expired in July, have been protracted, complex and often tense.
According to sources, Slimane was eager to continue his successful collaboration with Dior, but contingent on the launch of a signature brand. Paramount issues for the designer for both projects were creative freedom and design integrity. But sensing a gulf of disagreement on many key issues, the designer ceased discussions with Dior earlier this month, the sources said.
Slimane is said to be saddened to leave Dior behind but steadfast in his conviction that designers must safeguard their trademarks and creative boundaries. He could not be reached for comment on Thursday.Asked if the change in designer would impact the business, Toledano replied, "Not at all. The brand momentum is strong. I'm very, very confident. [Van Assche] has a very good approach, and he will show it with his collection."
Toledano could not be drawn into particulars about negotiations with Slimane but hinted at demands that Dior considered excessive. "We could not reach an agreement," he said. "At one point, we had to move on."
Indeed, Dior Homme, which now counts 26 freestanding and leased departments, continues to expand its network. A freestanding store opened recently in Nagoya, Japan, and other boutiques are slated to make their debuts this year in Macao and the Landmark in Hong Kong, Dior Homme's second location in that city. "It's not a niche business. It's a broad business," Toledano said.
The executive said Van Assche's mission would be to continue cultivating Dior's "edginess" within its existing codes and to continue reaching out to a wide audience, "from young men to more mature men."
A fashion graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Van Assche worked for Slimane first at Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Homme and followed him in 2001 to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton for the launch of Dior Homme, which electrified the men's wear scene and catapulted Slimane to fashion stardom.
On Thursday, Van Assche declined all talk about Slimane but in previous interviews, he has praised his experiences working at his side. "It was very intense and very extreme. Hedi's a perfectionist, so you learn a lot from that," he said. "I was very, very happy to be working in those big fashion houses. It was huge. It totally changed my life."
Van Assche won raves for his debut signature collection, which featured tight-fitting three-piece suits that were elegant but approachable. Forays into tango and poetic themes have received less critical success.
"Men's wear is so much about detail and proportion," he told WWD's sister publication, DNR, earlier this year. "It's about millimeters and centimeters. You can't hide a bad shoulder under a flashy fabric."
On Thursday, Van Assche said it's too early to talk about his plans for Dior Homme. However, he has described his approach as "a balance between elegance and comfort. That's just how I am. It's not a choice."Slimane is in the United States, and his MySpace page features a photographic diary of his recent travels there. His eclectic subjects include filmmaker Gus Van Sant, pop star Beck, American flags and clusters of mirror balls.
Sources suggested Slimane is keen to launch his own fashion house on his own terms, but it could not be learned if he has had discussions with potential backers.
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