The Long Museum in Shanghai’s West Bund is usually home to collections of Modern Chinese art, but on Friday April 18 it played host to creativity of a different stripe. For the first time, Kris Van Assche reprised his Fall Winter 2014 Dior Homme fashion show in China’s coolest city, followed by a rocking after-party with 300 people swaying to hypnotic techno from Gesaffelstein.
The Fashionable Truth’s Editor-in-Chief Daniel Jeffreys was on the front row.
Van Assche stepped into a very challenging role when he took over from Hedi Slimane, for whom he worked as an assistant at Yves Saint Laurent (where Slimane has now returned as creative director) and Dior Homme.
Slimane is credited with inventing the chopstick silhouette for Dior, which sent Karl Lagerfeld on a crash diet and brought Dior Homme millions of Asian fans. Van Assche has retained the Slimanean straight-jackets for more than 12 seasons, but with each collection he has added exceptional innovations of his own, with his latest FW collection having a decidedly Saville Row feel, which means a lot more volume, especially in coats and trousers.
Alongside bold stripes, polka dots, and Mondrian-style patch-work, the spirit of the maison’s founder, Christian Dior was ever-present in the Lilies of the Valley Van Assche had placed on every seat at the museum. The flowers were also incorporated in the show’s climax as its key visual. The tiny Lilies were a personal “motif” of Christian Dior and appeared throughout the collection along with stars and coins, which were also good luck emblems for the man who changed Parisian fashion with his Bar jacket.
“This is probably the most Monsieur Dior collection I have ever done,” said Van Assche. “In many ways I put the idea of the man, the individual, in front of the brand: an idea of L’Homme Dior.”
This is a singular achievement by Van Assche, for Christian Dior never made men’s clothes (nor was he especially thin) and there was nothing in the Dior archive to guide the Belgian designer, apart from a few ties. This didn’t bother Van Assche, because he was looking for a new way to create clothes for men, one that combines elegance, wear-ability and a dash of casual insouciance. His search bore fruit in Monsieur Dior’s work for women.
“Christian Dior’s dresses were all about construction, which is very similar to my approach to menswear,” he said. “Whatever you see on the outside depends on what it is created underneath, on the inside of the garment. Monsieur Dior used to say his only aim was to make women as beautiful as possible. That, together with his strive for elegance, is also something I truly relate to.”
Van Assche’s attempt to reach an effortless and beautiful elegance for men was evident in the collection he showed at the Long Museum, where coats and jackets combined with cleverly tailored trousers all seemed to create a vision of clothes as narrative, costumes that seem to have a story to tell, with the man wearing them being the central character.
In late 2010 Van Assche and I had breakfast at the Ritz in Paris. He told me then that he had already instigated a quiet evolution at Dior Homme, moving away from Slimane’s formalism.
“I am talking about comfort clothing and we are doing that with everything now, making things lighter,” he said. “It’s a new way of looking at modern clothing. You used to have high fashion with strict tailoring and street clothes that were baggy. And I have been mixing up these elements at my own label because that is what I want to wear, and now we are doing that at Dior … because you are never going to get a 16-year-old kid to wear a suit that makes him feel like he is dressed like his father.”
Van Assche’s approach has produced a FW 2014 collection that will make young men feel sophisticated, while more mature clients will feel sprightly and dapper.
“I now have a precise idea in my head about ‘the Dior Man,’ who evolves,” says Van Assche. “Now, there is no longer only one type of ‘Dior Homme man,’ but several styles. They read different books; have different jobs and different needs. This is both the most difficult and interesting part of my job. I like the idea we can both dress very demanding business men, who have an eye for cut, detail and quality, and very young fashion fans looking for strong identity pieces with high creativity.”
Last year, the Dior Homme collection was presented in Beijing for its first-ever show outside of Paris. This year it was Shanghai’s turn, underlying the role that the city now occupies as China’s fashion and design capital.
“It was a privilege to return to China with our runway show,” says Van Assche. “This collection offers the individual all kinds of possibilities. The spirit of the tailor-made suit handed down from Monsieur Dior toys with contemporary reality – A classic suit worn with a stonewashed denim waistcoat. Here is a bridge between all Dior men, wherever and whoever they are.”
And that message felt right on target as we filed into the Long Museum’s basement, to watch Gesafflestein pilot his spaceship of sound into the starry night. With a glass of champagne in hand and petite lilies in my buttonhole, I felt ready for any challenge the galaxy might have in store.