| DIOR HOMME
We’re in Guangzhou, China, to discuss the AW15 collection with the label’s creative director, Kris Van Assche.
We’re in China to speak to Kris Van Assche about his AW15 collection.
as though we’ve touched down in the Land of Oz. But no one’s told the wizard of our arrival. Or Dorothy. In front sits a large blue and orange asphalt oval flanked by curved, wave-like grandstands. To the left, a cluster of cultural structures – one replicating the pages of a book, albeit 100 metres high. A second – a vast, black box built of Tetris pieces – appears to hover above the ground. Then there’s a building of undulating glass, steel and further afield, a fantastical structure that rises, mountain-like, from a man-made lake. Flowerbeds of pansies and gerberas flank the square – row upon row of petalled soldiers standing to neat attention. It’s awesome. It’s whimsical. It’s an obtuse architectural masterpiece. A familiar song flls the air. Is it? It couldn’t be. Yes, it is. George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ seeping from embedded speakers into the air. OK, so we’re not in Oz, rather, the CBD of the sprawling Chinese metropolis that is Guangzhou. To be precise, we’re cocooned in Flower City Square, a smidge to the south of the city where 15 million people (not just flowers) reside. The aforementioned buildings – the city stadium, library, museum and opera house – represent both the contemporary cultural hub and a tangible expression of Guangzhou’s modernity, wealth, recent growth and incredible scale. Built, at pace, in 2010 as part of the Asian Games, Guangzhou used the ‘regional Olympics’ to announce itself as a global player – one where art, entertainment and the piped strains of George Michael can be found. Here, today, it’s a ftting backdrop to launch Dior Homme’s AW15 collection to the Asia-pacifc region. The importance of the Chinese luxury consumer is ever growing and Guangzhou, following the lineage of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, represents a boom for international fashion brands. High-end menswear may be a smaller category than women’s, but is currently
outpacing its sister in terms of global growth – and a tremendous amount of that is due to China. It’s simple, really – Chinese men appreciate a decent suit. And China has a lot of men. Interestingly, there’s but one stood in Flower Square at this moment – a council worker busily sweeping the already pristine footpath. He’s humming the words to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’, which has replaced George Michael. I saunter past him, smiling, en route to a swish hotel where, ahead of tonight’s star-studded collection parade (a recreation and update of that which walked in Paris in January) I’m to chat with Dior Homme creative director, Kris Van Assche. The Four Seasons Hotel is a further nod to the ridiculous grandeur of how things are done in China’s third largest city. The lobby is 70 foors up, Van Assche’s suite a few foors beyond that. Views from the atrium tumble over the vastness of the city – past the Pearl River to another cement pile in the sky, the 600m Canton Tower (like Sydney’s Centrepoint, just not as dated). Today, it’s draped in pastel pink, blue and purple lighting. “Oh, you’ve seen Dior Tower,” chimes one of Van Assche’s PR team. Indeed, the colours are reminiscent of a Dior bag. It’s then a Dior logo scrolls around the outside of the tower’s upper viewing deck. “Wow, they let you do that,” I remark. “Yes,” comes the deadpan reply. “The city is pleased to have Dior here.” Indeed. We’re ahead of schedule – lucky because Van Assche loathes tardiness – but he’s prepped and ready. Up to his suite on the 90th foor, the genteel Belgian ushers me in. He’s classically dressed – blue jeans topped by a crisp, white shirt. The subtle nod that he’s the men’s creative director of the historical French house is in the ‘Dior Homme’ handstitched into his collar – a detail that ran through the SS15 collection. A large TV to the side of the sprawling room features the Homme Paris collection on a loop. It’s a show that has, to this point, been reviewed countless times by commentators more seasoned and venerated than myself. Despite his near-decade at Dior, most claimed the collection spoke of a newfound ease – no mean feat when you consider the dramatic history that looms large for anyone heading up a major maison. “Yes,” offers Van Assche, tentatively, when quizzed on such commentary. “But I would say that it is not the frst time. And it is true, I’m happy with this collection – I’m very, very happy with it. But I’ve been happy for a few seasons now to be honest. It’s true that the mixture of the elegant and the sporty really blended in what is a very Kris Van Assche kind of way, so I guess that’s what people noticed.” The Dior Homme AW15 offering is without doubt a success, reclaiming the label’s authoritative voice in regard to tailoring; an elevated, elegant form of suiting (bow tie, tux, tails) paired with Van Assche’s strong sense of casual interplay and coupled with high-end kicks, leather track pants and colourful top coats. When the collection hits our shores at Sydney’s Dior Homme boutique later this month, it’s safe to say there’ll be something for everyone – young and old, formal or relaxed. Perched opposite Van Assche, GQ’S line of questioning hinges on the new fashion economy and the complexity of re-creating a collection show three months after completing it on the other side of the world. Apart from a slight humph at the need to
cast new models and ft their clothes, Van Assche dismisses any diffculties. Well, if his local Chinese team can get the Dior logo on the side of one of the city’s most iconic buildings, and secure the stage of the opera house for the evening’s eventual show, he’s rightly not too stressed about what’s set to walk. Rather, he’s consumed with ideals of the Dior Homme ‘man’ – how such a gentleman lives and breathes. “The character that I had in mind was this young man, a guy taking his girl out to the opera for the frst time,” he enthuses. “So he gets his tuxedo on and all that. But he’s a contemporary guy so he wears it with a baseball cap. He might be wearing sneakers; he might take his date there on a bike. It gives you a dynamic view on eveningwear. And he’s going to see modern dance. Not Swan Lake.” And what of the jogging pants? “We make them in a luxury leather… So he could also be wearing jeans because he has a lot of street credibility.” Interestingly, the 39-year-old announces a displeasure of traditional black tie, “this almost old-fashioned idea of dandyism is something I really don’t like. But [I like] taking time to dress up, taking the time to seduce or to be seductive. So, it’s about all those notions from the past, but worked in a 2015 way. Take the idea of putting a fower on a lapel, for example, but wearing a dried-fower in a badge – the badges almost have a punkish side to them. “I like to always imagine that this ideal ‘Dior Homme’ man that I have in mind knows all about tradition – he knows the codes and the rules that go with it. But he twists them into a personal style, in a contemporary way that he can wear. So I wanted it to be about elegance, but not in a historical, ‘looking back’ kind of way.” It’s this specifc understanding of the Dior homme that frames Van Assche’s success – a point furthered by claims he invests little of ‘himself’ in the creations. “I mean, if it was about myself, it would be really boring, an uninteresting catwalk that’s for sure. I dress very classically.” So where does inspiration come from? “It’s an ongoing process. Each end of season is the beginning of the next, so there’s always a moment when I think things over, ‘What did I do well?’, ‘What do I want to do better?’, ‘What do I never want to do again?’ and ‘What did I do too much?’ “And this season is a really good example as summer had been quite casual with lots of prints, graffti and writing – it was all very much about going to the seaside to relax. The reaction against it was immediate, so the next one will be very sartorial, very much about tailoring – black tie. Then when you say, ‘black tie’, you say, ‘well, this is going to be really old-fashioned like the twenties or thirties.’” It’s from this point that in-house talk and far-reaching research begins. “You have to know that it’s a big, ongoing thing,” explains Van Assche. “I’ll do some research, then I’ll have to tell the person in charge of fabrics about the research, which will make him research. It’s the same for accessories. And on it goes. Even when I have just a vague idea about a jacket or a pant, I’ll immediately start talking to the atelier; even if I have half of an idea, I’ll get them working on things because then they’ll tell me, ‘Oh, but we have three ways to go about that.’ So I’m like, ‘Oh, two to three?’ It’s about getting the ball rolling. “It also freaks me out, because sometimes, people are looking at you saying ‘what’s next?’ And you have no idea. But I’ve been doing Dior Homme for eight years and now I’m prepared. After each show I go away for 10 days to think things over and always try to come back with at least a hint of an idea. And then it starts all over again.”
“THE ‘DIOR HOMME’ MAN KNOWS ALL ABOUT TRADITION – AND THE CODES THAT GO WITH IT.”
Ninety minutes have passed since our chat with Van Assche and we’re again installed at the forecourt of the Guangzhou Opera House. Where only hours earlier it was eerily quiet, it’s now a mangle of black chauffeured cars, socialites, celebs and the frenetic fash of camera bulbs. It’s nice to be an outsider for a change – to stand and watch the process. It also allows for consideration of the dramatic scale of the production. We’re led onto the opera house stage and seated, front row, in one of the erected stands. A round black curtain waits to be lifted. It’s easy to imagine Van Assche looking down – brushing aside nerves and relishing the romance attached to creating a show within a show. Nearby a predictable stoush about seating is being played out between a PR and media attendee, as celebrities start to fll from the front, pouting for the cameras amid a sea of production staff accessorised with clipboards and headpiece mics. The lights fall black, music begins (not a ’90s hit this time) and the curtain slowly rises to reveal the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, sat in a large circle and facing outwards. Each member is clad in Dior Homme black tie and white sneakers. The rhythm, a beat to which it would be easy to march, flls the space as they slowly start to spin around the stage – think of it as a large-scale, human lazy Susan. On step the models, adhering to the musical timing, and Van Assche’s romantic production is in full swing. It’s ftting given our fnal minutes with Van Assche were spent exploring what, beyond this romanticism, drives him. “That’s a tough one,” he had said, stalling. “Um, I’m in a period where I try to do what seems impossible – like trying to make a fve-piece tuxedo contemporary. I guess the more challenging aspect of fashion has been big on my mind. And even romanticism or poetry is a challenge for me. Putting fowers on a lapel, that’s something most [men] don’t like. And this vulnerability is not something that most men feel comfortable with. So it’s always about fnding ways to sneak it in there.” n
FROM LEFT: A GROUP SHOT FROM THE AW15 COLLECTION; KRIS VAN ASSCHE; MODELS AT THE CASTING; A RUNWAY LOOKBOOK; FINAL TWEAKS ARE MADE BACKSTAGE; THE OPERA HOUSE.
FROM LEFT: CASTING SHOTS; MODELS ARE DRESSED FOR THE SHOW; BACKSTAGE BEFORE THE SHOW; THE FINAL WALK; A GROUP SHOT.