While we await the vaccine rollout, Kim Jones, creative director of Dior menswear, has been quietly formulating his own sartorial shot in the arm. After ten long months of lockdowns, and the steady slide into casualisation in how we dress day after day, Jones provided just the dressed-up antidote in the form of his autumn/winter 21 show for the house, broadcast digitally from Paris.
“The mood is unrelentingly gloomy at the moment, for good reason, but I wanted to create something that lifted the spirits,” said Jones of the richly decorative collection that spliced bold colours with embroidery and some very special art works across the clothes. The designer joins forces with one artist per season on his collections, and this time it was Scottish painter Peter Doig’s turn to add his creative input, applying his dreamlike figures, evocative landscapes and Milky Way imagery over silk coats, or depicted on knitwear.
“Stephen Jones (the British milliner who has provided hats for Dior for decades) actually knows Peter, so a relationship evolved from there, and his particularly otherworldly, magical approach felt right,” said Jones.
The menswear catwalks this season - showing in online format - have been awash with references to our new mode of doldrum dressing, with easy silhouettes and soft-fit aesthetics. Jones took the opposite approach, creating a collection of rarefied, beautifully-crafted clothes, many of them employing couture techniques, to be seen in beyond the confines of our four walls. “It felt like a time for optimism, a time to enjoy all things beautiful and special. It was a reaction to this strange time we find ourselves living in,” said the designer.
That parlayed into the embroidery and beadwork, crafted in the Dior couture atelier, applied to a burnished bronze coat and across the buttons, braiding and frogging on military jackets. Those were symbolic; the most ceremonial and upright of uniforms, rendered in black and canary yellow, a counter argument to the relaxation of dress codes right now.
Lest the dress-up element look overly formal and precious, Jones balanced it with breezy sportswear; cagoules and track tops, with linings dotted in crystal embroidery. These aren’t museum pieces to be locked in a display cabinet but, said Jones “lived in and used.”
Doig’s imagery came courtesy of the coats which featured enchanted forests and ghostly silhouettes, and knitwear that featured playful beasts (and Monsieur Dior’s dog, Bobby, something of a mascot of the house). Broader references to the painter’s joyous Caribbean island-scapes came in the saturated colour; the coral sports jackets, dusky lilac rose ombre effect on coats and buttercup yellows.
Jones - who is set to debut his first collection at Fendi in the coming days, one of the few contemporary designers to balance working across two monolithic fashion houses - might have felt the need for a touch of glittering distraction amidst the crisis. But his greater responsibility, he said, was to the artisans and craftspeople whose livelihoods depend on the kind of work only a house like Dior can specialise (and excel) in.
“If you think about the foundations of the house, it came into being after World War II. Monsieur Dior’s mission was to bring joy,” said Jones. In a January of unrelenting darkness, both literally and figuratively, Jones’ celebration of all things exceptional, elevated and fantastical felt like just the light relief we need.
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