PARIS — The arrival of Kim Jones as artistic director of ready-to-wear and accessory collections at Dior Homme signals that leading luxury brands are reshuffling their decks to keep pace with the red-hot streetwear sector, industry observers said.
The surprise move marked the first big decision by Pietro Beccari since he took over as chairman and chief executive officer at Christian Dior Couture six weeks ago, after stints at Fendi and Louis Vuitton.
Jones, who succeeds Kris Van Assche in the post, is seen as one of a handful of marquee designers who can straddle the luxury and streetwear worlds. Previously, men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton, the British designer made a splash with his collaboration with New York-based streetwear brand Supreme; artists such as Jake and Dinos Chapman, and cult brands Fragment Design and Christopher Nemeth.
Jones, who starts April 1, is set to present his first collection for Dior Homme in June. Van Assche exits Dior Homme after leading the brand for 11 years and is expected to take up a new assignment within LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
“I am delighted to welcome Kim Jones, with whom I had the chance to collaborate previously at Louis Vuitton,” Beccari told WWD. “I admire his creative vision, which combines both his own inspirations of contemporary culture and his own reinterpretation of specific codes and heritage of a house. I am confident in his ability to recreate his universe within the maison Dior and imagine for Dior Homme an elegant and resolutely modern wardrobe.”
Jones joins a clutch of prominent designers at Dior, headlined by Maria Grazia Chiuri, artistic director of women’s haute couture, rtw and accessory collections; Victoire de Castellane, its fine jewelry designer since 1998, and her cousin, Cordelia de Castellane, who heads up Baby Dior. Chiuri joined Dior from Valentino in 2016, succeeding Raf Simons after a three-year stint.
With his connections to cool brands, 345,000 Instagram followers and famous friends ranging from Kate Moss to David Beckham, Jones will be sure to shake up Dior Homme, whose image has remained largely tethered to the slim tailoring pioneered by Hedi Slimane and elaborated upon by Van Assche.
“I am deeply honored to join the house of Dior, a symbol of the ultimate elegance. I would like to warmly thank Bernard Arnault and Pietro Beccari for their trust in giving me this incredible opportunity,” Jones said in a statement. “I am committed to create a modern and innovative male silhouette built upon the unique legacy of the house.”
Jones’ arrival at Dior Homme was unexpected. WWD broke the news last fall that the designer held discussions to join Versace, and he was also said to be a contender to succeed Christopher Bailey at Burberry, a role subsequently filled by Riccardo Tisci.
A graduate of Central Saint Martins in London, Jones has had a storied fashion career, with John Galliano snapping up his graduate collection. His own men’s wear label, known for its sporty, streetwise flair, lasted for eight seasons and attracted the attention of Dunhill, where he was creative director from 2008 to 2011.
Jones was named British men’s wear designer of the year in 2006 and his résumé also includes stints at Alexander McQueen, Mulberry, Hugo Boss and Umbro.
Floriane de Saint Pierre, who runs a namesake consulting and executive search firm in Paris, said big brands are starting to reflect the emergence of a new generation of men’s wear designers with a more casual attitude.
“The arrival of very talented men’s wear brands and designers such as Ami, Virgil Abloh, Martine Rose, Craig Green and so forth, and the energy they bring, will lead to changes at the head of more established brands,” she said.
“For these brands, the capacity to create a culture that resonates with the zeitgeist is a decisive element in the choice of a designer,” de Saint Pierre added.
Mary Gallagher, European associate for the New York-based search firm Martens & Heads, said recruiting a hot men’s wear designer with street credibility makes sense.
“In a megabrand, after you push women’s ready-to-wear and accessories, men’s wear is the next frontier to gain a new customer, brand loyalty and competitive advantage,” she said. “Athletics, street style, personalization and high fashion have collided head-on to make men’s wear an un-missable spectator sport and — with Kim — Dior is clearly investing at the cusp of a big bang.”
LVMH continues to flex its muscles in the burgeoning men’s fashion space, having lured Slimane back to the group to take over Céline and extend that 73-year-old brand into men’s wear for the first time. His first show is expected during Paris Fashion Week in the fall.
The French luxury giant has also been investing heavily in Berluti, now under the design leadership of Haider Ackermann, and Loro Piana, embarking on a growth phase under a new ceo.
Vuitton men’s wear will also attract attention and buzz when it discloses its designer change. Sources said the house has held discussions with Abloh of Off-White and Lanvin’s Lucas Ossendrijver, along with candidates put forth by Nicolas Ghesquière, Vuitton’s artistic director of women’s collections.
In a statement, Beccari lauded Van Assche “for contributing to the amazing growth of Dior Homme by creating an elegant and contemporary silhouette for men. He wrote an important chapter in the history of Dior Homme and played a key role in its development.ˮ
Van Assche thanked LVMH chairman and ceo Bernard Arnault “for the trust he placed in me,” along with “Sidney Toledano and Serge Brunschwig for their warm welcome at Dior and their continuous support during all those years of collaboration.”
After more than 20 years leading the Dior fashion house, Toledano in February became chairman and ceo of LVMH Fashion Group, which comprises brands including Céline, Givenchy, Marc Jacobs, Kenzo, Loewe and Emilio Pucci.
Meanwhile, Brunschwig, who had been the number-two executive at Dior under Toledano and the head of Dior Homme, took up the management helm of Fendi, succeeding Beccari in one of the French conglomerate’s biggest management shuffles in years.
Van Assche, who had been Slimane’s underling before rising to the top design post in 2007, was a popular, if low-key figure at Dior Homme, faithful to the founder’s penchant for nip-waisted silhouettes and floral inspiration, and to Slimane’s influential template of sleek suits and dark sportswear with a tinge of rock ’n’ roll and winks to skating culture.
He partnered with management to lead the brand even further upscale; extend its global reach with a range of fashion shows in Asia, and broaden the brand image with a range of celebrity pitchmen spanning from A$AP Rocky and Boy George to Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan.
In his statement, Van Assche said “it is with great emotion that I thank my team, my studio and the ateliers. Their support and their unique talent and ‘savoir-faire’ have made all my creations possible.ˮ
His next move could not immediately be learned. Van Assche might be tempted to revive his signature label, which he shelved in 2015 after a 10-year run, citing challenging market conditions for small-scale, independent fashion brands.
“I feel the need to take a break and some distance to better think about how to develop my brand in the future,” he told WWD at the time.
The Belgian designer had shipped his signature collection to about 130 doors in 32 countries, with the business concentrated in Asia.
Known for its youthful tailoring and loads of athletic and workwear influences, the Kris Van Assche collection also spanned popular high-top sneakers and backpacks, the latter in collaboration with Eastpak.
A graduate of Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Van Assche moved to Paris in 1998 and worked under Slimane at Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Homme and then Dior Homme.
In an interview last year as Dior celebrated its 70th anniversary and Van Assche a decade at the head of the brand, he said he evolved Slimane’s look “into a much cooler, more democratic and sporty” direction.
Closing his own label freed him to inject more of his personal affinity with streetwear into the Dior esthetic, bringing back a sense of youthful energy with show sets including a skatepark and a funfair.
Musing on his tenure at the brand last year, Van Assche said, “Sometimes people want to put the house of Dior and men’s wear at Dior in a box. Is it supposed to be just luxury, so it should be showing just impeccable suits? Or is it supposed to be this young, underground brand that I inherited 10 years ago with only fashion kids? And I always refused to choose. I think we should definitely enjoy being both.”