PARIS — What do you get when you cross the storied house of Dior with one of Los Angeles’ buzziest emerging labels? “California Couture,” according to the tinsel lettering adorning a sweater from Dior’s upcoming spring men’s collection.
Kim Jones, men’s artistic director at the French fashion house, has invited Eli Russell Linnetz, founder of ERL, to guest design the capsule line, due to be unveiled in Venice Beach Thursday — and the result is a flamboyant mix of skatewear, tailoring and maximalist references from the ‘90s.
After all, Linnetz officially debuted his menswear collection at the Dover Street Market Paris showroom in 2020, with items including a $30,000 Lesage-embroidered jockstrap.
Just two years later, having added women’s and children’s clothing to his lineup of all-American staples, he’s one of eight finalists for the LVMH Prize for Young Designers, due to be unveiled on June 2. It’s clear that Jones, a member of the jury, has already cast his vote.
“For me, it’s nice to have a platform where you can support people openly,” the designer said during a joint preview with Linnetz in Paris. The two met through Ronnie Cooke Newhouse, art director of many Dior men’s campaigns, and Dover Street Market chief executive officer Adrian Joffe, and have both worked with celebrities such as Kim Kardashian.
It marks a new mode of partnership for Jones, following a run of successful collaborations with artists and creatives, including Daniel Arsham and Shawn Stussy on his main collections. He has now decided to limit such projects to smaller pre-collections like the spring capsule, which is being shown on the runway for the first time.
“I’m doing two projects like this this year, and that’s it, and I thought it was nice to work with younger designers I admire and give them the platform through Dior in a different way,” Jones explained.
“Talking to all the people that I know that have gone through the pandemic and being independent, it’s been difficult, so I thought it was a nice way to support people and also, glean a bit of how they’re working,” he added. “It gives us the capacity to do something in a different way than we’d work on it as Dior.”
Collaborations come naturally to Linnetz, who has worked with performers like Kanye West and Lady Gaga on everything from music videos to stage designs and tour merchandise. Since turning his hand to fashion design, the 31-year-old has teamed with labels including French ski brand Salomon and Guess USA.
“Kim gave me the freedom to go in the archive and really explore things that maybe he hadn’t touched on before, and then I brought it back to him and he could really curate those designs,” Linnetz said. “We were looking at the archive in the year when I was born, so we were interested and started at Gianfranco Ferré in the ’90s.”
Accessories include Saddle bags in sun-faded fuchsia quilted satin, festooned with thick gold chains, that are sure to resonate with today’s vintage-obsessed consumers, across genders. “Yeah, I ordered one of those immediately,” said Jones, who reckoned the micro version might just fit a pair of Air Pods.
Ferré’s Diorella jacket from fall 1996 inspired a new, fully quilted version for men, while his successor John Galliano’s signature newspaper print is reinterpreted on shorts and T-shirts. Linnetz also contributed photographs of Venice Beach, which were combined with images of Belle Epoque beauties to create original prints.
“I think it’s really representative of both our two styles coming together,” said Linnetz, who also shot the look book for the collection. “It was fun, this almost ’80s Los Angeles maximalist Rodeo Drive kind of energy, with the attitude of the boys, mixed with the skaters from my home.”
With its palette of juicy colors and oversize volumes, the collection oozes California cool, and will mark the first time Dior features a hoodie on the runway. “It’s like a very expensive hoodie, about $5,000,” Jones noted. Just don’t call it streetwear. “We don’t use that word,” Linnetz demurred.
“I mean, it’s really modern American dressing and American sportswear, which is the kind of menswear that I look at always because it has suiting, coats, classic mixed with jeans and things like that. It’s an interesting silhouette, and it’s the most modern form of menswear still around,” Jones reasoned.
He noted that founder Christian Dior was strongly influenced by his travels to the U.S., where he received the Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion in 1947, just months after staging his debut fashion show in Paris.
“He looked at California a lot as somewhere that he would get inspiration,” Jones said. “His love of America constantly flows through the archive.”
The London-based designer himself is more than familiar with Venice Beach. “It doesn’t feel foreign to me at all. It’s just somewhere that I’ve been going for 15 years,” he said. “I just love being there. The thing that I really enjoy about being able to travel properly again is just the freedom.”
The venue will take full advantage of the local atmosphere, and the show will be broadcast live for the first time on Horizon Venues, the digital experience platform that allows viewers to participate in exclusive events thanks to a Meta Quest virtual reality headset and the Horizon Venues application from Meta, formerly known as Facebook.
Due to be unveiled on Thursday at 8 p.m. PDT, the event will also be broadcast via Facebook Live on Dior’s Facebook page and will then be visible in 360-degree replay on the Oculus TV app.
Dior, one of the star brands at luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, joins the ranks of top-tier houses courting U.S. consumers at a time when the key Chinese market is slowing due to renewed lockdowns designed to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Louis Vuitton last week unveiled its cruise line in San Diego, while Balenciaga is heading to New York City to show its spring collection on Sunday.
Addressing the surge in U.S. luxury spending last year, Cowen analyst Oliver Chen said luxury’s embrace of online selling, and casualization — along with a more inclusive, democratic and youthful posture — were coalescing to drive the sector. “Luxury is on this journey of redefining itself, to modernize for new generations of shoppers,” he said.
No doubt Dior is betting that the association with the ERL brand will also ignite a younger demographic. Turning to Linnetz, Jones said he enjoyed seeing a fresh take on the brand’s heritage.
“I have set things in my mind about what I can and can’t do here, which I always have, just because I’m so LVMH trained, so it’s nice to see the freedom,” he said. “I think you’re the perfect balance of creative and also commercial. And it reminds me of when I was younger, doing my own label, and you’ve got the same work ethic that I have, so it’s kind of nice to see that in someone and see that moving forward in this time, which is much more complicated than it was when I was back there.
“It’s a really fun concept and the energy is right, and that’s what I like. The thing with Christian Dior, he was pushing boundaries the whole time and would probably be very interested in what was happening, because Venice still feels like it’s got a subculture, unlike loads of places in the world. And that for me is very interesting, because that comes through in your work,” Jones continued.
While it may seem the stars are aligning for Linnetz, his response befitted someone whose extraordinary life arc has seen him transition from child actor to David Mamet’s assistant at the age of 15, and now juggling his fashion line with side projects like shooting covers for Italian Vogue and Interview.
“I feel like everything I do is very organic and all these things just lined up at this perfect moment,” he said. “It’s very exciting, but it doesn’t necessarily change anything I do. I kind of create in a bubble anyway, so it’s nice to work with people I love and I connect with, and other than that, I don’t think too much about it.”