What would Mr Dior do? A fine question, if ever there was one. And the perfect place to start. Dior’s menswear artistic director Kim Jones is between fittings, the day before his pre-fall show in Tokyo, Japan, referencing Mr Dior with the ease and familiarity you’d expect of blood relations. Models take a break on the terrace while trolleys of fruit and nibbles get wheeled down the hallway; trays of jewellery and belts coming and going. It is unseasonably warm in the Japanese capital but the heating remains decidedly on in the hotel, as if to preempt a sudden temperature drop that just doesn’t seem to come. Despite the jet lag and looming deadline, the Dior team is excited, working away not to the beat of music, but a crackling extractor that keeps the makeshift (but extremely neat and ordered) photo studio ventilated.
“It’s been non-stop,” says Jones modestly. Less than 24 hours ago he was celebrating the launch of his (since sold out) summer 2019 capsule collection with Kaws in Tokyo’s Isetan Shinjuku department store. But neither jet lag nor the whirlwind year that has been can keep him down. Today’s large-scale show marks not only his first pre-fall collection (he was only appointed in March), but also the first pre-fall show undertaken by a menswear artistic director at the historic house. In many ways, it is also the first real glimpse into what Jones’s Dior Men will really be.
“The brand is brilliant, but it was a little quiet,” explains Jones of the decision to turn pre-fall into a full-blown extravaganza. “[This show was] just to say, ‘Hey, we’re really here!’ And to show we’re doing it with conviction. Tokyo was loved by Mr Dior very much; he referenced Japan a lot, he visited Japan a lot. I love Japan, he loved Japan, it seemed the perfect place to start.”
Where his spring/summer 2019 debut was light and romantic – a softer, more elegant departure from the moody, razor-sharp suiting of Kris Van Assche and Hedi Slimane – Jones’s pre-fall is “quite tough, actually”, he reflects. “Lot of metallics, the Dior grey and tailoring. It still has that relaxed fit, but it’s strong.” The colour palette is (naturally) darker, with Dior grey, midnight blues and subtle pinks. “Mr Dior had a very fixed palette when he worked,” notes Jones in raptures over the Dior archive.
The “strict” colour palette isn’t the only way Mr Dior has directly inspired the collection: the last tie the couturier was given has sparked a whole suit; the leopard-skin print, too, was taken directly from the archive; the kimonos closing the show are based on Mr Dior’s own sketches for his Japanese clients; and, of course, there’s the cherry blossom motif. True to style, Jones has taken these Dior classics and reinvented them.
The metallic buckles of Matthew Williams of Alyx make a welcome return, giving outerwear a decidedly modern update, as does the Tailleur Oblique, which is designed to wrap the body diagonally with a single button. “As well as outerwear, we’ve also [added the oblique] onto the bestselling tailoring shapes, which existed pre-me joining Dior. I think is important to tell the customer that these things are still here,” he says, conscious of the need not to alienate Dior devotees. Jones has no qualms with the word “commercial”, a term often derided by designers. Instead, Jones embraces it: “I’m quite happy to be commercial. You have to be nowadays to survive in these big jobs.”
The artist collaboration also makes a welcome return. “I’m working with artists because Christian Dior was a gallerist before he was a couturier,” says the designer. “He worked with the leading artists of his time, like Salvador Dalí and Picasso, so I looked to what the modern generation’s take on that would be, hence starting with Kaws and now Hajime Sorayama.”
The Japanese artist and master of “super-realism” may not be as well known as Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami, but his futuristic point of view proves a fascinating addition to the Dior universe. Aside from the erotic, 12 metre-tall sculpture at the heart of the set (“It’s the most beautiful thing ever,” remarks Jones as we watch a clip on his phone, entranced by the giant robot being lit up by strobe laser lights), there’s the limited-edition robo-take on the saddle bag, dubbed Sorayama metals, of which only 10 will be made. Sorayama has updated Mr Dior’s beloved cherry blossom, and his celebrated feminine forms and T-Rex illustrations have become prints, too. No less impressive are a series of “metalised” pieces. “It is a new technique that hadn’t been tried on garments before,” explains Edward Crutchley, Dior’s fabric expert and long-term collaborator of Jones’s. “The garment is placed in a vacuum chamber, we take out all the air, explode the fabric and atomise it, and then metal is magnetised through the garment.”
Beyond artists, Jones’s crew of collaborators remains key: milliner Stephen Jones, right-hand woman Lucy Beeden, Alyx’s Matthew Williams and jewellery designer Yoon Ahn included. (The last speaks openly of her own admiration and respect for Jones. “You can definitely feel the energy every time you go to the studio,” Ahn tells Vogue ahead of the show.) “I think it’s really important to have a team of people who you love around you,” says Jones. “You look at people like Karl Lagerfeld, he’s the person that everyone in the industry should look at because his team absolutely love him, he’ll make them laugh, he’ll make them work, he’ll inspire them… I think that is how things should be.”
Notably missing (again) is the streetwear sensibility that Jones became so synonymous with during his Vuitton tenure. “You have to challenge yourself and look at how people are looking at things, how they wear things. For me, it’s [about] respecting the house codes and finding new, exciting things to make people want to buy each season. I’ve got confidence in what I do, but, you know, you never really know… You have to do things with your instinct; trust yourself and take intelligent risks.”
Less than nine months in, what has he learned at Dior? “I’ve realised that clothing is not that fickle. You buy something because it makes you feel good, and I think that’s an important thing to do. Especially when the world is so dire. Enjoy the things you can enjoy, and the things that make you feel good about yourself.” Does that mean the autumn/winter show in January will be a feel-good affair? “It’s very full-on. It’s my favourite collection out yet, and I’ve done quite a lot.”