Release the Hommes! Celebrating KRIS VAN ASSCHE’S Ten Years at Dior Homme

Kris Van Assche is a romantic anti-hero. Since succeeding Hedi Slimane as artistic director of Dior Homme in 2007, the Belgian designer has steered a 
quiet and precise course. Van Assche’s decade-long reign at the house has taken a consistent approach to men’s fashion
at a time when the concept of menswear itself has been under siege by chauvinism, metrosexuality, and the disruptive rise
 of streetwear. Despite countless headlines about “the death of tailoring,” he has remained true to the craft and its ability to forge a prototype of masculinity for the twenty-first century. Van Assche is building this new order in silence but he is not afraid to please.

Jina Khayyer visited Van Assche at the Dior headquarters on Rue de Marignan in Paris.

Jina Khayyer: When you came to Paris and started your career as a designer in the late 1990s, fashion for men had become a catwalk fantasy. The industry became obsessed with juvenile utopia, but most men couldn’t connect with it. When you took over Dior Homme, you showed a radically different kind of man. An anti-hero in wide-cut tailored suits with flower pins. The industry doesn’t always love you for it. But men do.

Kris Van Assche: When I first looked at men’s fashion, I looked to the 80s and the 90s. The 80s were about oily, tanned, muscular guys – a cliché image that men didn’t relate to. The look of the 90s – the juvenile, skinny, drugged-up look – was a 180-degree reaction against that muscular guy. But again, it was just another stereotype. As a man, I was not relating to any of these clichés. So, 
I do have to admit that when I started designing on my own, the first few seasons were about pleasing myself.

And then you moved outward from there.

It was a shift to reality. And then I understood how exciting reality can be. It used to be that in the 90s and 2000s, it wasn’t masculine to talk or think about fashion. Only the younger generation – our generation – was ready for it. So it was logical to address fashion messages to these kids. When the term “metrosexual” became trendy – as horrible as I find that classification – it helped to make fashion popular and masculine, even among older men.

What is your approach when creating a silhouette?

Creating a silhouette is an evolution. Last winter,
 I experienced the first major shift in my career that made me put my own label on hold. For years, I always had to cut ideas in two: The brand Kris Van Assche was about street and sportswear, while Dior Homme was about luxury. For many years, this division made it somewhat easy in my head as a starting point. But then it got to the point where there was something schizophrenic about splitting ideas. Fashion has changed. It’s not interesting to make those divisions anymore. Yes, Dior Homme is luxury,
and tailoring is our core, but we can include street and sportswear codes without moving away from luxury. Since more street and sport influences have flowed into Dior Homme, I have realized how important it is to concentrate on the core, especially since tailoring today has a problem. Tailoring is not flexible – it can be stiff, as often it is hard to move in tailored fabrics. So, for me, the biggest challenge is to give movement to tailoring. Another ongoing story in the evolution of my silhouette is that I am always looking into contrast possibilities – tailored suit jackets and sporty trousers, tailored suit pants and boots. 
There are always at least two influences that clash, and 
my silhouettes grow on this idea of clash.

When you design, do you think in single pieces, in silhouettes, or in building a wardrobe?

There are two different ways of looking at that. Yes,
 I am building a wardrobe. But I am also in touch with reality. I am conscious of the fact that Dior Homme is a big brand that caters to a grand variety of clients. There is the made-to-measure client. There is the three-button cashmere coat man. There are the trend kids who want full-on fashion. It’s quite a complex wardrobe. So how do I develop a collection? In the end, I like to tell a story. Each collection is like a short movie. There is this imaginary character that needs certain clothes for adventures that I come up with. The scenery is from the world that
I am creating. The music, the soundtrack, is like the words to the images – I really pay attention to the lyrics. I love 
it when the phrases link in with the collection. The soundtrack for the last summer’s show, for example,
 was “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode. It was so autobiographical because I really enjoy silence.

Fashion is the opposite of silent though.

I like contrast. I like clashes. Where there is sun, there is shade. Sometimes I like being in the sun. Most of the time, I can remain in the shade.

Do you need to continuously study men and their desires to be able to cater to them?

It’s not a conscious thing, but yes, of course. I have 
a very great, young team around me, so it comes naturally to be aware of what’s happening.

In the past decade, the perception of men’s fashion has changed multiple times, mainly through comebacks. The return of streetwear, fired by Supreme. Do contemporaries effect your point of view on manhood and dress codes?

I am not sure if it effects me, but I notice it. Especially the streetwear movement, as it is a movement I relate to. Paris is at the end of the fashion agenda, so by the time people get to Paris, they have already seen so many collec- tions. Before my show opened last June in Paris, all the papers and critics were raving about sportswear and screaming, “Tailoring is over!” That was really disturbing for me, as my collection was all about tailoring. For me, great tailoring is never out of fashion.

But what about the comeback of macho-chauvinism, which manifested itself through the rise of Trump?

Trump is something else – it deserves a particular attention. I am 41 now, so obviously I start looking back on how my life was when I was a young. I feel the world was a more tolerant place. Chauvinists were a dying breed. By putting the heroes of my youth – people like Boy George, or Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode – in the Dior Homme campaign, and by looking at what they stood 
for and how that was celebrated, I react to the Trumps of today. I want to remind all men how open-minded we were when we were young.

What does masculinity mean?

It’s a letter in your passport.

Is every man masculine?

There are endless variations on masculinity. But for me, yes, every man is masculine.

There are a lot of photographs of flowers on your Instagram account – more owers than selfies actually.

If I had not been a fashion designer, I would have been a florist. There is something very unnecessary about ow- ers, but I do feel they make all the difference. There is something very fragile about both owers and fashion.

When did you first realize, consciously realize, that you are male?

I remember noticing very early on that I did not fit in with the football-playing kids on the street. I was already paying much more attention to the way I was dressed and taking care not to get my shoes dirty. I became aware of my difference at a very young age, which in turn made me aware about the world that comes, or is supposed to come, with the letter “M” in your passport.

There are so many stereotypes attached to the idea of manhood. Do you like to indulge in any of these clichés?

Stereotypes are what I love most about menswear. 
I actually think that’s why I became mostly a menswear designer and not a womenswear designer. I love all the commonplaces: the Wall Street guy, the biker guy, the football guys, the skaters, the goths, the New Wave guys. A man always needs to belong to someone, somewhere, or something. Just recently, I realized again how male stereotypes are related to an activity and how that activity gives a lot of rules. It’s really very reassuring.

What club are you in?

Well, I am obviously in the fashion club, which is 
a world on its own. But I am not a dancing-on-the-table guy. I feel the most comfortable with the scene I was brought up in – the Antwerp scene, which is a more recluse, darker, intimate scene.

What’s the soundtrack of that scene?

New Wave. Techno.

Who are your male style icons?

I hate the notion of that.

Your favorite color for men?

Black.

Your favorite fabric or material for men?

Wool mohair. I love mohair. It’s very nervous, but at the same time, it keeps its shape.

What is fashion for men today about?

We all declare to be leading very active lives. In contrast, tailoring is not exactly the type of clothing you have the most freedom of movement in. For me, fashion today
 is about making pieces that combine those two worlds. My focus now is to make jackets that are fitted to the body and to really study the armhole and the shoulder- line, so you can move your arm even if it’s a skinny sleeve. Reality is my playground. I have customers that take off their jackets but keep their pants on, so I need to make sure I can design pants that work on their own. A great silhouette is worth nothing if the single pieces don’t work on their own.

In the current Dior Homme Winter 2017/2018 campaign, the model is Dave Gahan, who is 55 years old. Dior Homme is not the only brand advertising with aged men these days. Are men – in contrast to boys – back in fashion?

For me, men are always in fashion.

Not many designers have remained at the helm of a major house for an entire decade. What’s your secret, Kris?

Hard work.

And what’s next for you?

Hard work.

Fashion 117Dior Homme 1
kris van assche

Published in

Issue #33 — Winter 2017/18BERLIN KIDZ

032c Issue 33 – Winter 2017/18 “Berlin Kidz”

How do you write in an age of anger? By using text as a weapon to deface the establishment.

This is lesson number one of this issue’s dossier BERLIN KIDZ, which follows the anonymous group of graffiti writers, videographers, and train-surfers to the highest points in the German capital. Meanwhile in New Jersey, FRANK OCEAN lives out his exile on Main Street and receives a fresh glow from PETRA COLLINS and ALEX NEEDHAM. In two 032c archeological expeditions, MARIO TESTINO explores the shores of Pompeii, while KATERINA JEBB visits BALTHUS’s Grand Chalet for an editorial posthumously narrated by a conversation between the late painter and DAVID BOWIE. We delve into the psyche (and country home) of artist JORDAN WOLFSON and escape a Parisian hospital with JACKIE NICKERSON. Writer PANKAJ MISHRA explains why embarking on modernity was such a risky project and how we ended up in an “Age of Anger.” In a chilling personal essay, CEO MATHIAS DÖPFNER recounts his travels to the Nazi Death Camps in Poland. DANIEL RICHTER and LUDWIG LUGMEIER perform a séance on Jewish exile, Al Capone bodyguard, and lost modernist JACK BILBO, whilePIERRE-ANGE CARLOTTI imagines the death metal cowboys of Botswana in Berlin. We speak with ABRA, BJARKE INGELS, TACO, and JULIANA HUXTABLE, and last but not least, KRIS VAN ASSCHE, who tells us what it means to be an Homme on the occasion of his ten year anniversary as artistic director of Dior.

Also included with the issue are sticker pages featuring designs by AMBUSH, Geoff McFetridge, J.W. Anderson, SSS World Corp, Wes Lang, and Virgil Abloh c/o OFF-WHITE.

 

Learn more about the issue below:

For this issue’s dossier, Thom Bettridge climbs to the rooftops of the German capital with the BERLIN KIDZ, the city’s most notorious graffiti writers, who provide us with a how-to of public vandalism. Defined by danger and illegality, their practice is a map of how writing can escape the feudal boundaries of digital society.

For her first 032c cover story, “Exile on Main Street,” PETRA COLLINS voyages with Mel Ottenberg for a weekend with FRANK OCEAN, while Guardian’s ALEX NEEDHAM pays homage to the musical enigma in his essay “The Artist is Absent.”

Jewish prince. Gangster. Political refugee. Anti-fascist soldier. Barkeeper. Lost modernist master. The story of artist JACK BILBO is a winding odyssey, told here to 032c by writer and 1970s bank robber LUDWIG LUGMEIER. On the occasion of the artist’s first exhibition in decades, painter DANIEL RICHTER and Süddeutsche Zeitung Editor PETER RICHTER discuss Käpt’n Bilbo’s legacy.

On an archeological expedition to the shores near Pompeii, MARIO TESTINO and ANASTASIA BARBIERI bring us “I TRIED TO DROWN MY SORROWS BUT THE BASTARDS LEARNED HOW TO SWIM” – an editorial accompanied by Testino’s photographs of the lost city.

For “Le Grand Chalet de Balthus,” photographer KATERINA JEBB and stylist ROBERT RABENSTEINER delve into the legacy of BALTHUS by capturing the painter’s widow Countess Setsuko Klossowska de Rola and his daughter Harumi Klossowska de Rola in their Chalet de Rossinière. The editorial is accompanied by a conversation from the 1990s between the late painter and DAVID BOWIE.

In her latest editorial for 032c, JACKIE NICKERSONescapes a Parisian hospital with Mel Ottenberg on a quest for the fountain of youth.

“NOBODY WANTED TO SEE ANYTHING.” In a chilling report, Axel Springer CEO MATHIAS DÖPFNER visits Sobibór, Bełżec, and Majdanek – three of the Nazi extermination camps in Poland – to explore how quickly ignorance slides into genocide.

Why do we live in a culture of rage? According to novelist PANKAJ MISHRA, the origins of our political quagmire can be traced all the way back to the Enlightenment. In a conversation illustrated with skate bails by photographer SAM MULLER, Mishra discusses the future and its discontents with JACK SELF.

For their editorial “8,000 miles from Gaborone,” PIERRE-ANGE CARLOTTI and Marc Goehring raid Berlin’s leather stores and re-imagine the death metal cowboys of Botswana.

“I WANT TO FEEL MORE. WHERE DO I FEEL MORE? HOW DO I FEEL MORE?” In conversation with Thom Bettridge, JORDAN WOLFSON discusses the Faustian bargains he made at Bikram yoga class and his virtual reality film that shocked the world.

Since taking over the position of artistic director at Dior Homme in 2007, KRIS VAN ASSCHE has taken a consistent approach to men’s fashion at a time when the concept of menswear itself has been under siege. JINA KHAYYER sits down with the designer at Dior HQ in Paris and talks about his dedication to tailoring, opinions on macho-chauvinism, and his penchant for flowers.

In the “SSENSE Files,” we bring you scenes of cross-platform madness, including stories with ALEX OLSON, ABRA, BJARKE INGELS, DOUGLAS COUPLAND and TORSO, JULIANA HUXTABLE, and TACO.

In our “BERLIN REVIEW” section dedicated to our favorite books of the season, we limbo through the past and present: from tracing NASA’s graphic identity to dissecting the cashmere globalism of EMPORIO ARMANI MAGAZINE to studying the 1000-year history of PISSING in art to wandering through Korea’s Demilitarized Zone.

This issue’s SOCIÉTÉ de 032c first brings us to Seoul, where Korean rockstars HYUKOH take five to read the magazine in front of thousands of fans. We then fly over to Moscow to stretch before our pas de deux with prima ballerina POLINA SEMIONOVA, and make our way to Stockholm for a city tour with EYTYS co-founders Max Schiller and Jonathan Hirschfeld. After a detour with Gucci to check out the recently opened Zeitz MOCAA and catch up with its founder JOCHEN ZEITZ, we head home to Berlin to visit ANA RAJCEVIC and her animal masks at her atelier.

All this and more on 288 pages!