at home with dior homme
Luxury starts at home and Kris Van Assche lets i-D into his most personal space, as Willy Vanderperre shoots his fall/winter 16 collection.
Look up Dior on Forbes, the Scrooge McDuck of glossy publishing, and count the word 'luxury' in tenfold. With annual sales of some $43 billion, you'll soon understand how Kris Van Assche, the Artistic Director of Dior Homme, can cover his runways in beds of white roses and sell jeans at $826. It's luxury all the way at Dior, which houses its Paris ateliers behind the most luxurious street of them all, Avenue Montaigne, where Kardashian-Jenners lunch at L'Avenue and future wives of Russian oligarchs get fitted for their bridal gowns. But tell Van Assche you want to interview him at the place in Paris that most represents luxury to him, and he'll invite you to his own appartement. "I wasn't going to take you to a spa," he quips. Located in the prim and proper 17th arrondissement not far from the Arc de Triomphe, his most private sanctuary is a fourth-floor flat of the grander persuasion with parquet flooring and swirly stucco friezes framing the ceilings.
On a sunny March day -- the last of the women's shows, which this menswear designer says he's had no choice but to follow thanks to Instagram terrorists like yours truly -- its white walls are gilded by the sun lighting them up through the terrace doors that form an arch through the two large drawing rooms. He was never set on the 17th but took the place because of that terrace, "which is super rare in France." Oh, and it's "a five-minute drive from the office," he says. "Heaven!" In a time when fashion is at a crossroads, luxury brands like Vetements and Burberry are introducing show-now-buy-now sales cycles, and Raf Simons recently resigned as women's designer for Dior citing too much work and too little time, Van Assche's understanding of luxury is crucial. "If luxury is being comfortable, yeah, in this place I'm very comfortable," he says. "I have a happy life here."
Van Assche shares his home with his boyfriend and two Burmese cats, Frida and Diego (after Kahlo and Rivera) who take turns at climbing the interviewer while he takes notes on their master's Pierre Jeanneret furniture. Van Assche is into 50s minimalism — mainly French, never Danish. "What is luxury in fashion today? It's a very good question. There seems to be much more interest for the visual than for the real value behind things. It sounds like a cliché, but luxury is time and freedom." Which begs two obvious questions. "Creatively I feel quite free. I do really enjoy the creative aspect of my work. I love it," he says, answering one. "Time-wise, I'm quite okay. I do actually get to enjoy this place, on the weekend and so on. I have a very full-time job and that's fine, but it's not impossible this life. I do enjoy it." This year Van Assche celebrates a decade at the helm of Dior Homme, and at 39 he's got the residential track record to measure a career at the forefront of the luxury industry.
Upon arriving in Paris 18 years ago, Van Assche moved around the city's chambres des bonne -- studio flats -- until his job could afford him an industrial space: "nice, but kind of cold and minimal and stone floors and all that. Little by little it got a bit warmer and a bit more French, and here I would like to stay for a while." His first big purchase was a Robert Mapplethorpe print of two bodies wrapped in white gauze, which still takes prime wall space. Athwart a bookcase rich on photography and design volumes hang two enormous black paintings by Rinus Van de Velde, the young Belgian artist Willy Vanderperre shot for Dior Homme's spring/summer 16 campaign. "It's charcoal so it's like black stone. I put the glass over the front, which actually he doesn't like so much, but I had to because otherwise the cats would just scratch it until there was nothing left," Van Assche says, Frida now nestled neatly in the interviewer's lap. It depicts the silhouette of a Beethoven-haired man, underneath him a short poem.
"All his days are about the same," it reads. "He wakes up at 11 or 12, eats cereal or toast, reads the newspaper, looks out the front door," and so on. "Don't relate the text, relate the image," Van Assche implores, but knowing him and his rigid Dior Homme, where cleanliness is next to godliness, how could you not? "I like routine and I like order," he admits, "but I also like the very few things and people, who can convince me to disturb the order." Enter the cats. "There's nothing rational about collecting ceramics and having cats," he laughs, glancing at the Kristin McKirdy urn on his coffee table. "I always tell my boyfriend that I feel like I'm the most normal person in the world, and he says, 'Believe me, you're not'." But perhaps Van Assche's eccentricity isn't found in grandiose luxury, but in his love for the very opposite. "I enjoy a Saturday with the few plants I have on my terrace, reading books, going to galleries, and relaxing at home. It's not very strange. Sorry."
Later, as we diverge, he echoes that ideal in the image of his industry. "Real journalism and real, beautiful fashion stories in magazines are becoming rare. It's not the speed or the rhythm that we're missing—we're missing depth. So I think we should all step back a little. High fashion is not supposed to be as quick as high street brands. It's supposed to be more complicated to produce. That's the whole point." You can't accuse this purveyor of luxury of being a material girl. "If the house was burning," he says, "I would save the cats first."
Photography Willy Vanderperre
Styling Mauricio Nardi
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Hair Anthony Turner at Art Partner
Make-up Lynsey Alexander at Streeters using Estée Lauder Make-up
Models Nathan Dionisio, Koen Verdumen at Success, Etienne Martinet at 16MEN. Dylan Roques, Paulius Meskaukas, Otto Vainaste, Trè Samuels at Bananas.
All Clothing Dior Homme