Fall 2009: Dior Homme strikes a pose, says 'relax'
What a difference a year makes. Last January, when Kris Van Assche made his runway debut as the new creative director at Dior Homme, it was accompanied by the swelling strings of music commissioned from the Wim Mertens Ensemble of Belgium (whose 11 members performed the piece live, atop pedestals), and the vampire chic collection was inspired by the image of the noble chevalier and the chiaroscuro style work of Dutch photographer Desiree Dolron.
This season the soundtrack was mixed by former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, and the inspiration was a bit more -- how shall we put it? -- mainstream.
“Some of the inspiration came from voguing,” Van Assche told me backstage after the show. I had to ask him to repeat it a couple of times partly because even though he speaks better English than I do, the Belgian-born designer's accent made it sound like "frogging" at first, and partly because once I understood the word, I still found it hard to comprehend. The storied House of Dior was drawing inspiration from an early 1990s club scene dance craze best remembered by Madonna's song and video "Vogue" ("Don't just stand there/let's get to it/Strike a pose/there's nothing to it.")
Van Assche explained: “That was a period when there was some time for lightness and some happiness, so I used the skills of the atelier to take the DNA of Dior -- the black suit, the white shirt and black tie -- and treat them with a little bit of lightness and happiness."
So, this season, in addition to black suit jackets with asymmetrical closures and triangular cutouts and the full-legged "Hammer pants" trousers that have been part of the mix since his first collection for the brand in 2007 (this time with large, fold-over cummerbund pieces or asymmetrical closures), there were black boots outlined in white piping where sole and vamp join. Shirt-collar points were shortened to nearly band collar size. There were voluminous cowl- neck shirts, wrapped scarves (and combinations of the two), shiny black nylon puffer jackets (with hoods) and perhaps the most notable pieces, billowy white crew-neck T-shirts that hung to mid-thigh, screen printed in vertically stretched bold block letter designs similar to the ones Katharine Hamnett created in the '80s (and which are most closely associated with the English dance-pop group Frankie Goes to Hollywood and their merciless never-ending ear worm "Relax"). "OMG, oh my God" read one. “Raise your voice, louder, louder, louder" read another.
"I just wanted to include some of those silly little slogans that were popular during that time," Van Assche said, waving off any notion that the collection, clearly younger and more accessible looking than his recent efforts, might have some role in broadening the demographic for his line in the dour economic climate.
The economy "didn’t really influence my collection, because we really started working on this in August," he said. "What I wanted to do was use the skills of the Dior atelier, because that's what I'm most proud of at the house, and give the clothes a sense of fluidity. So, in the end, if the clothes look more easy and less constrained, it’s a result of that and not the economy."
As for the elephant of recession lurking at the end of the luxury runways this week, Van Assche sounded frustrated. "What is the right answer? I don’t know -- nobody knows. So for me the right answer is to just do my job."
Frankie says relax.
-- Adam Tschorn
Photos: Dior Homme runway show in Paris. Credits: Jonas Gustavsson.