Kris Van Assche is a pioneer of minimalism and confrontational design – from colour palettes that evoke emotion to the consideration of silhouette to create the ideal Dior Homme uniform – he has mastered the art of transcending what it means to helm one of the strongest menswear lines in the industry and has truly made Dior Homme is his home. With transversal inspirations that include everything from white tie to streetwear, ruggedness to regal and even workwear to casual wear, Van Assche is known for his conceptual ideas that translate from paper to clothing and he does it well with his ineffable charm.
Ever since helming his position back in 2007 as the Artistic Director for Dior Homme, it’s been a decade of priming, exploring, experimenting and honing of skills to elevate the house to the status that it is now. Van Assche simply defies the meaning of luxury menswear, taking on contemporary designs of sleek and tailored looks while still maintaining the ambiance Dior-esque suaveness in the most humble way.
Noticeably, the house of Dior is one of the biggest and most beloved, respected and admired names in the industry, being able to implement both menswear in addition to womenswear without overlapping the creative processes of either. With Maria Grazia Chiuri looking after womenswear and bringing it to further success as the first female Creative Director, Van Assche must be credited for Dior Homme to be as successful as it is in standing on its own. It all boils down to Van Assche’s hard work and dedication to the house through embracing his personality and entwining it into a story full of romanticism behind the Dior Homme collections.
Van Assche’s biggest achievement up to date, beyond bringing the profits of Dior Homme to marginal success, perhaps, is his ability to clearly interpret the creative archive that Monsieur Christian Dior had left, along with previous predecessors, and then translating it into his own style for the runway.
To put it simply, Van Assche knows how to make his work contemporary enough to make it sought after.
“Rethinking, reworking…. re-purposing (the clothes) for today…”, Van Assche once stated, emphasising his interest in being able to make things for young audiences. He aims to create for young men (and women, of course) who want to feel like they can belong to a group without being restricted to codes and conducts – since menswear still very limited, Van Assche aims to play around with these codes and experiment with the usual industry ideas of sartorialism. In a way, anyone can see that bits and pieces from Dior Homme, with sprinkles of Kris Van Assche, are easily translated from work-wear to skater wear, street wear to formal wear without any problems – to combine the highs and lows of fashion and culture.
Van Assche is given all the autonomy to do as he wishes – past results have proven him to be a strong contender in the world of menswear. With the freedom being relative within the creative world of fashion, it’s no exception that for an exclusive capsule collection for Spring/Summer 2017, Van Assche enlisted the assistance of Japanese artist Toru Kamei. Not much is known about Kamei, except that he was born in 1976 and his work transcends the means of classic art, but at the same time is exactly what 17th century vanitas-influenced paintings would have been. His focus of gothic and surrealist themes have garnered him a strong following online in the past few years.
Inspired by the likes of Pieter Claesz and Willem van Aelst, this capsule collaboration between two great minds is a marriage of thoughtful botanical still life and mesmerising designs. From shirts to denim to even footwear, Kamei’s hauntingly beautiful pieces of work are haphazardly printed, stitched and layered onto jacquard fabrics which exclude the creative motion of Van Assche’s thought process.
To understand Kamei’s work and how it reflects the philosophy of Dior Homme, his work can be broken down into two aspects: vanitas and surrealism.
Vanitas is an artistic theme that was prominent between the 16th and 17th century that is associated with still-life paintings. Defined through the Latin term as emptiness and (impending) death, vanitas concentrates on the exploration of still-life objects that reflect the human mind’s desire for conquest and the inevitability of time and death. Reoccurring objects such as books to globes to maps – the motionless objectives of existence, are contrasted with butterflies, flowers and shells – symbols of life and death, create a sense of loneliness and the transience of existence. Kamei’s influenced work is rather thought-provoking, or even too morbid for some. With skulls, bugs and even eyes peering right back at viewers, combined with dark, lifeless colours that create a gloomy atmosphere, it’s no Picasso, but it does create depth and a sensuous reminder of morals.
Surrealism is the other aspect of Kamei’s work, where the literal understanding is for one to delve into their subconscious to freeformly in their work. Early surrealists such as André Breton were known to practice the artform of automatic writing or drawing, where they held no actual conscious to how they worked. Surrealism can also be explored as the gateway into otherworldly environments of unfamiliar surroundings and unsettling visualisations to provoke meaning. In his work, anyone can view the combination of vanitas and surrealism that Kamei addresses in his work – from the placements of his objects to the choices of colours used, he provokes thoughts of what is real, and what isn’t.
Combined with the skills of Van Assche’s codes and reinvention of Dior Homme, the two seamlessly combine art and fashion into a contemporary aesthetic of luxury wear that exceeds the means of just clothes. Using similar silhouettes from his previous collections, with consideration of vanitas, it might be that Van Assche is addressing the value of obsolescent that comes and goes with every fashion season.
It might not be a direct reference to the gravity of change that’s occurring in the industry (especially with the uprise in mass production and see-now-buy-now marketing), but it might not be too far off guesses for his ulterior motive for choice of collaboration, as Van Assche had previously used pressed flowers on badges during his F/W 2015 collection to replicate and present his subtle feelings of the industry. When one does think of how beautiful flora and fauna are, one can’t help to also remember that flowers that are cut, bound and given as gifts always end up wilting – so it’s an interesting way of expressing dismay for the industry in a different and distracting slant.
Van Assche stated that that at the end of the day, while acknowledging the commercialisation of the industry to provide an easier approach for consumers, luxury takes time, energy and thought, so he refuses to confide to the premise that Dior Homme will ever follow the path of quick mass production for the benefit of competing with other names. In the name of vanitas, Van Assche explores the industry’s obsolesce nature, and his devoted fans follow.
Dressing up for the 21st century feels like its less about the self and more for the masses, so it’s possible that the duo have teamed up to remind people to evade reality and explore what it means to take a step back in the name of fashion in a daringly beautiful concept.