Human beings have always loved ceremony, but, as Kim Jones pointed out after his virtual show for Dior Men on Friday afternoon, “That’s the opposite of how we’re living at the moment.” You wouldn’t have known it from his collection though. It was a glorious celebration of extravagant pomp, sheer tonic as these locked-down weeks roll into months into years.
With his womenswear debut at Fendi much anticipated next week, Jones felt he needed to change direction a little to keep the excitement going at Dior: hang on to his signature polish and precision but create a different atmosphere. He looked to history, to the embroidery and embellishment of French uniforms, for ideas. And those fabulous archives at Dior once again provided a rich seam of inspiration. But Jones’s true trump card was Peter Doig, his latest collaborator from the art world. You want atmosphere? There are few artists more capable of generating a mood than Doig. Collectors crave his eerie, intensely coloured canvases.
Say Dior/ Doig fast five times and the symbiosis feels pre-destined, written in the stars of the inky night skies that recur in his paintings. Jones is a huge fan, of course, but he found they also had plenty in common, especially because Doig, who has lived in Trinidad since 2002, was part of the febrile fashion and art scene in London in the 1980s, and Jones is famously obsessed with that period. In fact, the artist assisted Stephen Jones on one of his first trips to Paris in the early 80s. That’s the same S. Jones who makes the headgear for K. Jones, so that was why, nearly four decades after their Paris jaunt, Doig found himself hand-painting wool felt hats for Dior.
He was initially hesitant, Kim said, so the original idea was that Dior would base just five looks on five paintings. But when Doig saw what the atelier was producing, he became more and more enthusiastic, and he got more and more involved: “Peter was in every single meeting, he was painting things all the time.”
One mohair sweater featured Doig’s painting of Christian Dior’s dog Bobby, another depicted Dior in the lion suit Pierre Cardin made for a fancy dress party in 1949. Doig also sculpted a lion belt buckle. The artist’s brush strokes were recreated in embroidery. His shadowy figures and landscapes were woven into outerwear, breathtakingly so in a coat which duplicated one masterpiece “The Milky Way.” But it was in the colour palette that Doig’s presence was most felt: the dusty pinks and mauves, the sunset oranges and acidic yellows, the blues of a Caribbean dusk, the deep green of tropical flora. They were a sensational counterpoint to more classic Dior shades of grey, camel and navy, and they elevated the military inspiration. The young models in their stand-up-collared jackets and their side-striped pants looked the way you’d imagine the cadets in Company D would dress if their uniforms were made by one of the best couture ateliers in the world.
Haute couture is fashion’s most ceremonial garb, and Jones reproduced the dense, gilded embroidery from Rosella, a couture dress designed by Marc Bohan in the early 60s, on his first look, a black cashmere coat. It took nerve to start the show with a show-stopper. But it was measure of Jones’s confidence. It knows no bounds now. And, with Peter Doig’s help, he set the bar for Dior Men to new heights.