| DIOR HOMME

We’re in Guangzhou, China, to dis­cuss the AW15 col­lec­tion with the la­bel’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, Kris Van Ass­che.

GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE GQ - WORDS NICK SMITH

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.

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