It’s been 30 years since Deee-lite destroyed global dancefloors with “Groove is in the Heart”, and it was a decade before that when Kenny Scharf and his friends Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat first stood the New York art world on its head, but in Kim Jones’s brilliant fashion cosmos, yesterday is today is tomorrow. Deee-lite was on the soundtrack, DJ Dmitry’s manbuns were on the models and Scharf’s art was on the runway for the virtual debut of Dior Men Autumn’21 on Tuesday. If many of us have had the sensation that time was standing still over the last nine months, Jones said that, for him, “Everything in lockdown has been like time travelling.” That was the subtext of his show, which traced a glittering circle from the Big Bang through the antique craftsmanship of Imperial China, the decadent languor of Edwardian aesthetes, the arch sophistication of Christian Dior, the cartoonery of Pop Art and New York nightclubs in the 1980s, then back to deep space and the embrace of the Mandalorian.
If this idiosyncratic journey through Kim’s own obsessions had a theme, it might have been escape from our earthbound selves, after being locked in for months. But don’t forget that he also has a curator’s passion. He’s been exercising it for years through his collaborations with other creators, most recently streetwear legend Shawn Stussy and Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo. It seems there’s always an umbilical connection with his collaborators. Jones has a huge collection of art, fashion and sounds from the 80s. As a cultural totem of that decade, Kenny Scharf was a natural.
Dior is the polar opposite of Scharf’s cartoon-based, apocalyptic sci-fi style but it’s scarcely the first time Jones has taken on the challenge of reconciling two vastly different signatures. “Mixing different elements from different points to create something now,” he calls it. I’m inclined to think Jones stands for sartorial order – he has a natural aptitude for the rigour of uniforms, very evident in his new collection - so he rather likes to introduce some creative chaos from outside. And this might, in fact, have been his most confident match to date in its pairing of tailored elegance and pop exuberance, with the high gloss of pure craftsmanship that only ateliers as accomplished as Dior’s can deliver. The most seductive element in the collection was how relaxed it was: soft shoulders, generous volumes, a looser silhouette with cropped, slightly flared trousers, jackets with elasticated backs, shirts that zipped rather than buttoned, the casual swag of a side-drape or a kimono coat. Jones felt a relaxed mood was a logical response to lockdown.
But you can’t take away the fact that he has always been an ardent details man. Never mind the jewellery and the accessories (oh, how a virtual viewer craved a closer look , even though the pink croc hiking boots spoke quite clearly for themselves), it was the intense, curious textures that drew the eye. The production was originally designed as a massive Beijing show in front of a live and probably worshipful audience (I’ve heard it tell that Jones enjoys GOAT-level fandom in China), so, inevitably, some of the most striking components of the collection anticipated that original intention. Scharf’s interpretation of the Ram and the Tiger from the Chinese zodiac was embroidered on sweaters. And it was the seed beading – fans, flowers, Scharf – introduced Chinese artisanship into the Dior lexicon. Lush on shirts and slippers, my favourite manifestation was the gorgeous belts that wrapped obi-style and tailed away in a huge tassel. The handwork that went into such pieces was obvious, and it truly is such human endeavour which is going to preserve relevance for fashion as the world spirals away into the unknown.
Maybe the planet’s ultimate destination will be the seething cauldron of deep space that provided the backdrop for Jones’s show. And maybe such cosmic chaos was also his empathetic tip of the cap to the art environments that Kenny Scharf was notorious for. At their peak, Scharf’s “Cosmic Caverns” were an art world cognoscenti destination. But their humble origin was the “Cosmic Closet” he installed in the apartment he shared with Keith Haring in Times Square in the early 80s. And that could only be the kind of detail that would set Kim Jones’s curatorial pulse racing.