Straight from left field, it was announced earlier this week that much-lauded Belgian designer Kris Van Assche will leave the house of Dior Homme after 11 years and pass the gilded baton to ex-Louis Vuitton creative director Kim Jones - who nimbly hops from one LVMH stalwart to the next. Being handed the reins of Dior Homme in 2007 after Hedi Slimane turned the label inside out as creative director was no straightforward gift, but Van Assche managed to leave an indelible mark of sublime, dark glamour tailoring imbued with artistic and sportswear inspiration on the age-old Parisian house. The exit may be seen as puzzling as Van Assche seemed to have hit a fresh stride at the house with several highly-inspired collections recently and the independent route seems less obvious since the KRISVANASSCHE label shuttered almost 3 years ago. However, the era of #KRISDIOR is officially bygone so until we become privy to KVA’s Next Chapter (which will unfold within the LVMH group as well), you can enjoy these highlights culled from a remarkably steady and impactful tenure. Like white tulips frozen in time before a marble fireplace, these moments are evergreen.
The first season. After graduating from the fabled Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp Fashion Department (don't sleep on marking your calendar for #SHOW2018) in 1998, Kris Van Assche went on to become Hedi Slimane’s first assistant at YSL Rive Gauche Homme. The two later moved to Dior Homme to replace Patrick Lavoix and the label was completely reborn under Slimane's revolutionary skinnier-than-thou vision. After debuting the KRISVANASSCHE LABEL in 2005, a few years later the designer would present his own vision for Dior Homme as Hedi Slimane’s successor. For his SS08 debut, in a dramatic and romantic tableau vivant, Kris Van Assche swerved into a new lane as signature rock star Dior Homme cigarette pants made way for MC Hammer tailoring. You've got to love the low-res Vogue photo coverage. The world was such a different place back then, I'm reeling!
After a feet-finding few first seasons, you could argue the languid fluidity of SS11 was one that took Van Assche at Dior Homme to the next level, with critics praising the translation of the show’s ‘lessness’ concept into striking looks of flowing shawl-like jackets, caftan tops and atypically cut necklines. The stark minimalism and fluidity of this collection would solidify the base for the overarching ‘less and more’ philosophy of the house at the time.
This is the season where we can clearly see Kris Van Assche’s love of sportswear rear its head in the most luxe way. Stark military and hunting-inspired looks melded into hoodie jackets and baseball caps stripped away of all but its essentials. Adding the contrasting piping to a classic belted trench suddenly gave it an activewear appeal, and the use of white bird embroidery on dramatic cape looks created the illusion of new camouflage.
There has never been a self-imposed limit to what a men’s suit can look like with Van Assche. In his naval-inspired SS13 collection, suits ran the gamut from being a tunic top with flap pockets to a waist-gathered three-button specimen to a trompe-l’oeil double-breasted nylon fusion coat. Van Assche is an expert at peeling back and re-assembling menswear codes, that’s established.
I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favourite from the AW13 Dior Homme collection. Everything was a true standout in its severe simplicity: the belted and zippered suits, the cult-like geometric prints applied with laser precision, the white lacquer outerwear... All austere beyond measure but terribly covetable. At the same time, the signature melding of different ideas and garments reached its peak in the AW13 KRISVANASSCHE collection (those spliced hoodies are classics). Five years later, this Dior show is still a gem.
By this time, Raf Simons had entered the Christian Dior ateliers and Dior Homme soared in a harmonious Belgians-do-it-best medley. The lily-of-the-valley pocket pins and prints, the crisp pinstripe and polka dot tailoring, the boxy coats and injection of denim in the right places still pack a punch.
Growing up in Londerzeel, a small community north of Brussels, punk and skate culture as well New Wave have always pervaded Kris Van Assche’s lexicon and the SS17 collection worked out all of this youth culture agitation. Does that kind of friction work at Dior? It historically has. "It just so happens that the house of Dior has always been about contrast. Mr Dior himself was always focused on the contrast between feminine volumes and masculine fabrics", Van Assche informed The Telegraph. This ‘Sinksenfoor’ (a classic Antwerp fun fair) show was an outré shift towards a harder, bolder Dior Homme - first signaled in the AW16 season. Now you can’t say ‘harder’ and ‘Dior’, without winding up at - wait for it...
HARDIOR. Placing the face of Christian Dior next to ‘They Should Just Let Us Rave’, the dyed shag furs, the mosh pit cape: they’ve all become staples of the recent archives. The atelier’s address is Rue de Marignan 3, right? Excuse me just one moment.
The final show, a tribal print Bar suit-inspired extravaganza which we touched on earlier this year. Little did we know it would be the last, although I would like to claim prescience by quoting this line from the review: “The Kris Dior legacy will truly be dominated by the myriad ways the designer turned men’s tailoring into an art form.”
Names, names, names
how & runway images: Of course, this past Dior decade has been inextricably linked with the many celebrity endorsements and collaborations that marked each new season. Everyone from Boy George, A$AP Rocky, Dave Gahan, Rami Malek and Oliver Sim became part of the tapestry. Artist collabs proved pivotal, whether they involved marquee names like Larry Clark or lesser-known creators like Dan Witz or François Bard. Names. And who was Barry Jenkins wearing when he finally picked up the Oscar?
We’re going to have to let go of a rare anchor point in the perpetual vortex of fashion, but undoubtedly there's oodles to look forward to that will bear Kris Van Assche's signature.