PARIS — Christian Dior may have been a Savile Row faithful when it came to his own wardrobe, but his sole contribution to the men’s wear category came in the form of gift collections based around accessories such as letter openers, ties and cigar holders in hand-stitched Russian leather.
Instead, the couturier was fond of using traditional masculine cloths like houndstooth, herringbone and Prince of Wales for his women’s collections.
The house has since caught up on the dynamic segment. In a recent interview at the Dior Homme headquarters on Rue de Marignan, artistic director Kris Van Assche, who took over the creative reins from Hedi Slimane in 2007, argued that the lack of a historic men’s wear legacy “may be a handicap, but it’s also something that gives me a lot of freedom,” adding: “It makes me more interested in the way that [Dior] approached fashion and elegance as more like an abstract idea.”
“I’ve always been fascinated about the person — the person who loved flowers, who loved art, who loved to enjoy life, basically, who didn’t look to be a revolutionary. He just tried to make women as beautiful as he possibly could, which are all things I very much relate to,” the designer said. “So it’s more about the person and the way he approached his work than the work itself.”
Though the tailoring he inherited “has little to do with Monsieur Dior” — it was Hedi Slimane, acknowledged Van Assche, who established a “certain idea of silhouette and quality” and cemented the house’s reputation for men’s tailoring, “which I continue in a certain way and which I think I made evolve into a much cooler, more democratic and sporty [direction]” — it’s Dior’s exacting approach to the technical construction of clothes that remains the designer’s biggest influence.
“There’s this idea of attacking from the inside — [his creations] look like flowers on the outside but are very technical on the inside, which is quite similar to men’s wear,” he said.
Here Van Assche takes us through some key Dior Homme collections referencing Dior, including the Bar suit-inspired men’s jacket for spring 2018, marking the house’s 70th anniversary.
New Look Goes Men’s Wear
Chiming with the house’s 70th anniversary, the Dior Homme spring 2018 collection put the spotlight on the house’s tailoring know-how, opening with a cinched, black, double-breasted ottoman suit evoking Dior’s New Look Bar jacket, with a signature hand-stitched buttonhole and “Christian Dior Atelier” label at sleeve end.
“I thought what do these 70 years mean for men? I’ve been here for 10 years, and men’s has [only really] existed since 2000, so where do I fit within all that? And if Monsieur Dior was so much about haute couture and savoir faire, I have tons of savoir faire here [in the atelier] on the ground floor,” said Van Assche, confessing that the Bar reference was a happy accident of sorts.
“I took this skinny jacket from winter and was like, ‘OK, let’s go three steps further. How do we give this a body? How do we make it into a tailor’s dummy, almost?’ I looked at this jacket and I said: ‘It needs more shoulders and it needs more hips.’ And everybody was looking at me, like, it’s the Bar!”
Van Assche refers to the house’s ultralight spring 2010 collection, Cold Love, presented at the Carreau du Temple, as a key turning point in the orientation of his collections for the house. “If you would ask me what has been the biggest moment in my 10 years, it was this moment where I really understood that I had to attack the inside, the construction of the clothes, rather than just concentrating on embellishing the outside. I wanted to make it much lighter, sportier and more modern,” said the designer, who sent out sheer wool voile jackets that revealed the inner workings. “I also showed constructions as accessories, as top pieces on shirts, to really insist on [this message that] beauty is actually on the inside, and the outside is the easy part.”
Nods to Dior’s fetish flower, the lily of the valley, have ranged from delicate needlework motifs peppering suits and ties to a tonal embroidery on black leather for the house’s spring 2018 pre-collection. Van Assche even commissioned vintage lily of the valley postcards as invitations to Dior Homme’s fall 2014 show, designed by M/M (Paris), placing small bouquets on each of the seats.
In terms of direct nods to Dior, says Van Assche: “There was the letter handwritten by Monsieur Dior, which was still so accurate about the necessity, in tough times, to insist on beauty and tradition, which obviously after the war was very present, but I feel is very right in our time, too.”
“For me, Monsieur Dior was very much about contrasts: a dress would look superlight and flowerlike on the outside — there was a collection called Tulip, what is more fragile than a tulip? But on the inside everything is very constructed, very thought through,” Van Assche said.
“A lot of his dresses are actually quite stiff, though they look all feathery, and he would use a Prince of Wales cloth but for a very feminine dress. I think maybe it’s the thing I have most in common with him, that I will always search for contrast.”
Riffing on influences from his own youth growing up in rural Flanders, Belgium, Van Assche’s HarDior collection for fall 2017 played on the contrast of rave and New Wave.
“New Wave is something that comes quite naturally to me: black, dramatic, red, poetic — those things I really like. And since I like them so much, it also needs to be disturbed. The other music influence that was very present when I was a teenager was this hardcore rave [movement] that was big in Belgium, which I didn’t really attempt so much because you had to choose which side you were on. This idea of opposing the two worlds — one is super poetic and the other is really hardcore, no emotion, or a different idea of emotion — to make them cohabit was a lot of fun,” the designer said. “The balance had to be also very much about tailoring, luxury. So it also had to be hardcore Dior — very, very Dior, and very music. Then hardcore Dior became HarDior.”
Scream Red capsule fall 2017
Van Assche for fall 2017 created the Scream Red capsule inspired by a color description from Dior’s first collection in 1947. “I came across it in one of the show notes — ‘Rouge Scream’ — which I think was already quite rebellious, to give it an English name within all this bourgeois French context. This idea of ‘Rouge Scream’ was something that I can very much relate to with my music inspirations, whether it’s rave or New Wave.”