When Kris Van Assche presented his Winter 17 collection for Dior Homme in Paris this January, inspired by the New Wave scene he grew up on in the late 80s and early 90s, the decorous designer wasn't pretending he spent his teenage years getting down and dirty on the dance floor. "Of course I wasn't, but I don't have to be a skater boy to be inspired by skating," he retorted with a smile. Oceans away from Paris, on a windy night in Tokyo on Wednesday evening, he pulled the door wide open to that revisited adolescent mindset behind his current mood. Marking the launch of Dior's new mega store in the Ginza Six boutique alongside the house's womenswear designer Maria Grazia Chiuri, who presented an extended take on her spring/summer 17 haute couture collection before guests moved on to the Dior Homme event, Van Assche imagined a series of teenage bedrooms lined up side by side, inhabited by boys wearing his Fall 17 collection—Van Assche's version of Pre-Fall, but more on that later. "I wanted to show young kids in their bedrooms, listening to music, hanging out with their friends, inventing life. Making up stories for their lives. It's bedtime stories," he explained, nodding at his own upbringing in provincial Belgium.
"I mean, I shot Boy George for the campaign," Van Assche pointed out, referring to the current Dior Homme ads. "And right now people are shutting themselves down from difference, from different people, from different cultures, and without getting all political about it, I do feel that fashion is supposed to celebrate difference. When I was questioning life and rules and who I was going to be, he was out there - like Madonna - being a boy, saying that it was okay to be different. And I feel like we're definitely lacking some of that right now." Tokyo was the perfect place for Van Assche to stage that message, not just because of the city's celebrated eccentricity but because it always embraced him as a designer. "The city has been very supportive of me ever since I launched my own label and when I started at Dior, because people in Japan like newness, They like new ideas, new collections and all that. So I've been here many times, and I love it. I feel like here, people have no limits within their personal expression. They go all the way." Asked if he's a huge celebrity here, he answered the question with a mischievous smile. Judging from the swarm of Japanese club kids vying for his attention in the Differ Ariake venue he'd chosen for the presentation, that would be a yes.
The collection continued Van Assche's exploration of the romantic gloom of the New Wave and New Romantics movements: black on black, long coats, baggy trousers and skinny tops, some adorned with a sportswear logo that read 'NEWAVE' plastered over the classic Christian Dior lettering. "I always like this dark, romantic side to the New Wave scene, but I didn't want it to become literal or nostalgic. So it's about using it and infusing it with a lot of street and sportswear, and so when you take the words 'New Wave' and write it as a sportswear logo, and you print it on sweatshirts and shirts and suits, you take it away from its context and make it 2017," he noted. Mr Dior himself was fond of Japan, weaving cultural references into his collections and staging shows here many times through the 50s until his death in 1957—but Van Assche's homage to the founder was of a different nature. "There's a room, I call it The Red Scream," he said, referring to one of the tableaus in the presentation. "It's a little homage to Mr Dior because it's the seventieth anniversary of the house this year."
"The very first show notes talked about the colour Red Scream - Rouge Scream - screaming red, basically, and I thought it was so incredible that he'd give such a funky name to one of his colours that I made a few outfits in Screaming Red." Had the ever-so modern Christian Dior lived to see the New Romantics, he'd surely have found some common ground—at least in the music, which Frederic Sanchez had tailored immaculately in the presentation soundtrack, which culminated in a not-so-New-Wave but always-welcome remix of Janet Jackson's If. A$AP Rocky, another member of Van Assche's gang, arrived fashionably late with a tail of male models after him trying to get the ultimate selfie from their Tokyo experience. Most of them were the same age Van Assche was when he was a teenager sitting in that bedroom trying to figure out where he belonged in the world, and that realisation only served to emphasise the parallel he made between those politically odd 80s and the world today—only without the selfies and insatiable internet-driven desire for the new. It's the zeitgeist that's created a fashion industry, which demands four collections a year. But rather than adopting the 'pre' and 'cruise' labels known from womenswear, Van Assche decided to go all in.
"It's a new story, because we've never shown three collections before. It's a new Fall collection, which will be in stores tomorrow here in Japan. So it's a new chapter in Dior Homme's evolution." See-now-buy-now, then? "No, we don't call it see-now-buy-now because it's not fast fashion. It was presented to our sales people in November, so we've had the normal process of development and production. I just haven't shown it to anybody. These collections have existed for several years. It's just that we've never shown them to people like this," he explained. "I don't like 'pre' because it makes it sounds as if it's not really an important collection. This collection is as important as it gets." And there you had it: a collection of the ages, for the ages, shown in one of the most progressive cities in the world. It was a fabulous way to mark Kris Van Assche's ten years at the helm of Dior Homme - an anniversary he's just celebrated - and an exciting early beginning of what could be a new platform for the presentation of men's pre-collections around the world, the way womenswear has done it for years. Even if we don't say pre.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Images courtesy of Dior