Men’s – Renewal & Change. Dior AW23

The autumn-winter 2023 collection is Kim Jones‘ best line-up for Dior Men, hands down. It felt like an eureka moment, a direction for the designer to take with the brand. The new season sees a change of spirit and style, with Jones presenting an absolute understanding of sophisticated menswear that can be both unexpected and easy, refined and relevant. Inspiration-wise, the British designer returned to his extensive collection of rare books once again. He brought in Robert Pattinson and Gwendoline Christie to recite The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot’s epically difficult, melancholic poem written in the aftermath of World War I. Jones owns six copies of this work of English literature which is considered to be pivotal to the modernism of exactly a century ago; so there were the faces of Pattinson and Christie, filmed by Baillie Walsh, and blown up on massive screens as the models walked past. All that’s just to fill in the background. What Jones took from the meaning of this most British of works was to do with its themes of time passing, death and renewal. “For me, I read it as about renewal and change; times changing,” he said before the show. “So it begins with Christian Dior dying, and then Yves Saint Laurent coming in and suddenly doing new things. And there’s a lot of me in it.” To parse the fashion stanzas: there were pale, neutral colors, a looseness and fluidity, layerings of transparent trails streaming from the backs of trousers. There was a moment for jackets and sweaters embroidered with tiny chains of abstracted lily of the valley, the early spring flower-favorite of Christian Dior. Then, as Christie and Pattinson spoke Eliot’s passages on death by drowning, there were conceptual life jackets with tonally matched buoyancy pads, riffs on seafarer’s Aran knits, voluminous A-line storm coats, takes on yellow seafaring oilskin raincoats, and sou’westers. Over the long run, Jones has been a pioneer in bringing street references into high fashion, and then insisting on applying Christian Dior’s women’s templates to menswear. As times move on, it’s a measure of Jones’s influence that the skirts – and shorts so wide that they look like skirts – in this show now pass as quite normal. He’s working in 2023, not 1923, like T.S. Eliot. English academics the world over might be aghast at Eliot’s poetry being used in a fashion show, but the two Britishers at least have this in common: being out to change the discipline they work in, mediating between history and the future.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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RetroFuture. Dior Pre-Fall 2023

This was a pretty good Dior Men collection that would do just fine in a studio-shot look-book or a chic, dove-grey Parisian venue. Why Kim Jones took the collection to Egypt? Well, that’s a secret of the Sphinx. During the show, in the middle-distance, a long line of men began to trek over a desert bluff, with the Great Pyramid of Giza as their backdrop. The desert wind cooperated by whipping up their pale, trailing chiffon scarves, asymmetrical capes, and half-kilts as they marched up the incline. Clad in clothes which felt coolly, elegantly avant-garde, sensibly utilitarian, each model embodied Kim Jones’s multiply-coded, yet highly salable method of menswear design for Dior Men. But the collection had pretty much no context related to the Egyptian culture and heritage. Moreover, it felt as if the pyramids became a decontextualized setting. Jones chose to sidestep any obvious references to Pharoahs or Egyptian archaeology. Instead, he was talking about how he was looking upwards to the sky for various star-related references. “Really, I was looking at two things. The ancient Egyptians were obsessed by astronomy, and Monsieur Dior was obsessed by stars and astrology. And,” he added, “when I go into the desert, I look at the sky.” That’s a very odd parallel, but OK. From there, he’d stirred in elements of retro-futurism and up-to-date science interests into a kind of ‘elevation’ of his own. “I’ve always loved Dune, which was really the first of sci-fi. And we’ve worked with NASA on some of the more technical prints.” There were desert boots with 3-D printed foot-guards that looked as if they’d manifested from a computer game. A couple of multimedia helmets with tinted visors looked as if they’d been constructed with future Space X travel to Mars in mind. All the leggings he showed might theoretically complete the kit. The designer has been intent on infusing his menswear with ideas from Dior’s women’s archive for a good while now. There’s an obvious transfer from Dior’s famous petalled ballgown ‘Junon’ into a couple of beaded-edge embroidered vests. Less obvious, but very chic, are all of Jones’s transferences from Dior’s signature gray tailoring. All the gray half-kilts he showed are bias-cut, worn over narrow tailored trousers. The collection didn’t risk any cultural appropriation controversy, clothes-wise. But with such stunning and monumental location, it felt like a missed chance for a truly inventive dialogue that could involve local artists and craftsmen.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Men’s – Full Bloom. Dior SS23

At Dior, Kim Jones does what he does best: combining contemporary elegance with art references, creating menswear that’s profound and desirable. For spring-summer 2023, the show’s venue was about two houses, joined by a garden in full bloom. Jones’s models were wending their way through the greenery from Granville in Normandy on the coast of France to Charleston in Sussex in the rural south of England. The designer had found yet another pathway to connect the patrimony of Christian Dior with his own Englishness, via his own obsession with collecting the arts, crafts, and literature of the early 20th century bohemian Bloomsbury Group. Charleston Farmhouse was owned by the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, who pursued their early 20th century free-love gender non-conforming lifestyle with guests in the isolated countryside away from London. Being English, Grant also adored cultivating the garden. Kim found a way to merge his translations of tailored Dior-referenced couture refinement with relevant, relatable, outdoor technical kit. This has always been Jones’s home territory as an experienced designer who was born to a love of traveling, trekking, and living outdoors. That’s his appeal to a huge young global fanbase. There were double-layer shorts, backpacks, zippy camo-jackets, poshed-up gardening hats and Dior ankle-length wellies. Sweaters – his Dior seasonal collectibles – were based on the artworks he owns by Duncan Grant. Where we saw Christian Dior himself was in the tea-rose and gray palette; a salute to the romantic legend of the haute couture house. Dior was raised amongst the roses of his mother’s garden at the Granville house, which his family lost in a 1930s crash. Those roots might not matter all that much to a modern viewer, but Jones is always conscious of keeping those roots alive.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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ERLification. Dior Men Resort 2023

You could see the crest of a 30-foot blue nylon wave from several blocks away on Pacific Avenue in Venice Beach, part of the impressive ocean-themed runway set design that was constructed for Dior Men’s show last night. With Californian designer Eli Russell Linnetz of ERL signed on as the house’s latest guest designer, it made sense that creative director Kim Jones would choose to show the capsule collection against the backdrop of this well known Los Angeles beachfront. “I grew up in Venice Beach, I came to this street all the time,” said Linnetz speaking at a preview before the show. “This was basically my backyard.” Linnetz’s story is straight out of Hollywood. A film student turned designer, he cut his teeth in Kanye West’s artistic studio, directing videos for the likes of Teyana Taylor. Since launching his ERL brand in 2018, his fanbase has swelled year on year and includes the likes of A$AP Rocky and Hailey Bieber. He’s also one of several bright young finalists up for this year’s LVMH Prize. “We have lots of people in common,” said Jones, explaining that the pair were introduced by mutual friends and started the conversation over DM about a year ago. When Jones arrived at ERL HQ in Venice Beach to work on the capsule, their creative chemistry was almost instant. “I was 99% excited at the idea, 1% scared that I would lose myself, just because Kim has such a strong vision of the world and his collections are so refined and striking. My world is so much more chaotic,” said Linnetz. “But the second Kim came to the studio, it felt easy, seamless.” 

The pair used Linnetz’s date of birth, 1991, as a jumping off point for the collection, mining the Dior archives for clothes created that year. “I think people would assume that I would be more into the Galliano archive because it’s so theatrical, but actually through my research I become more interested in diving into something that hadn’t been touched before,” said Linnetz. They landed on the maximalist elegance of Gianfranco Ferré’s designs for the French House, the kind of opulent tailoring you might have seen sauntering down Rodeo Drive at the time. Cue the opening look, a gently padded silk satin suit in Dior’s signature dove gray created with the lining twisted inside out and worn with wide-legged pants puddling over chunky skater sneakers. It was a sweet marriage of Parisian executive realness and SoCal cool, or what you might call “California Couture,” a slogan that appeared on at least a few cozy turtleneck sweaters.  Several of ERL’s quirky design flourishes were filtered through a sophisticated lens. There were baggy skater boy shorts galore, only done for evening with an eye-catching beaded trim. Clearly Linnetz and Jones had a lot of fun dreaming up the accessories. According to Linnetz, the pillbox hats worn backwards with beaded veils were a cheeky nod to Jackie O. Strung on a heavy duty gold chain and worn across the body, the tiny tinsel saddle bags were a very elevated take on the classic skater keychain wallet that are bound to be a hit with Dior Men’s streetwise fashion guys alongside those ingenious sneakers. The yin-yang motif Linnetz is known for got a look in too and was rendered in an intricate embellished wave on a gray marl hoodie. “It’s interesting to see how Kim works because he really approaches everything like a film director,” said Linnetz. “And that’s very familiar to me.” In a sense the bigger picture here felt decidedly fresh, an example of what can happen when two creative minds from seemingly different ends of the fashion spectrum – and different sides of the world – come together to exchange ideas and find common ground. In the new fashion landscape, playing it safe hardly feels modern. Exchanging ideas in a freewheeling way is the new wave. 

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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Men’s – Sublime Gardener. Dior AW22

I really loved Kim Jones‘ autumn-winter 2022 menswear collection for Dior. It might come as a surprise that Jones, who has devoted most of his Dior collections to collaborations (which sometimes feels to predictable) with artists and writers, approached his 75th anniversary homage to the house as a one-man show. “We’ve done a Birkenstock, but only because we didn’t want to do a Christian Dior gardening shoe and copy it,” the designer told Vogue. In true grande maison style, Jones erected a life-size copy of Pont Alexandre III in a tent on Place de la Concorde, just a stone’s throw from the real one (not a very sustainable approach…). The nasal might of Christian Dior spoke on the soundtrack with godlike authority as Jones’s interpretations of the couturier’s signature silhouettes bathed in his favorite “Dior gray” strolled along the bridge’s banister. It was a straight-forward exercise: from the Bar jacket to the wrap coat and the cannage, Jones worked each of the Dior icons into something that would resonate with a contemporary male customer. “It’s really complicated pattern-cutting but it looks so simple. That’s the beauty of it,” he said, pointing at one of the jackets on his board of looks. A series of Bar jackets and coats constructed like men’s blazers with white stitching that looked almost frayed had a deconstructed character to them we don’t often see at his Dior. It suited him. But mainly, it was nice to see a Dior collection that was purely Jones, somewhat similar to his debut from a couple of years ago. A collection like this may not receive the hype of last season’s Travis Scott collaboration (the release of which has been indefinitely postponed due to controversy surrounding the rapper), but in its Dior-core it will serve to enlighten new audiences in what the house historically represents. “I think young people want to learn about things,” Jones said. “The thing about Dior is it still looks modern when you see pieces from the archive. That’s probably why it’s still here, and so big.” He took his bow with milliner Stephen Jones, who is celebrating 25 years at Dior, and reworked the founder’s beret for the heads of Jones’s models.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.