Kim Jones Turns to the Bright Side at Dior Men

Posted June 22, 2018 8:19 p.m. EDT

PARIS — At 3, rue de Marignan in the Eighth Arrondissement, just steps from the Champs-Élysées, a receptionist waits to admit you into the menswear studio and ateliers of Dior.

If, for whatever reason, you have forgotten why you’ve come, there on the wall is a video on constant loop, of moony young men in stern dark suits or shorts, cradling armfuls of red roses. This is Dior Homme as the fashion world has known it for a decade, and how it has long seen itself: rigorous, romantic and, in truth, a bit grim. Ribbons are flying around the models, but black ribbons, as if for a funeral.

Stacked against the wall on Wednesday, and creeping around the corners of the screen, were 18 cardboard shipping boxes of sneakers just in from Italy. Three more were near the reception desk, five more on the other side. It was three days before the Dior spring 2019 show, and the new was arriving to obscure the old.

Upstairs, Kim Jones, the new artistic director of the re-christened Dior Men (which until now has gone by the more Gallic Dior Homme), was readying his first collection. He sat behind a long table, behind trays of rhinestone jewelry and piles of patches of yellow and black bees waiting to be sewn on. All around him were racks of the new pieces, as far a cry from the somber suiting shown downstairs as could be imagined. Flowers bloomed everywhere, a reference to Christian Dior’s love of gardens, a motif lifted from one of his old dinner services. There were toiles de Jouy hand-embroidered in tiny feathers by Lemarié, the plumassier that supplies the couture houses.

“Dior, for me, is a couture house,” Jones said. “I want it to look rich.”

It does look rich — Jones was adjusting the fit of a cream-colored double-breasted cashmere jacket so fine the gold-flecked stripe of the shirt underneath whispered through — and Jones doesn’t fear the rich. Working at Louis Vuitton for seven years, all but branded by its famous monogram, ensured that.

But he doesn’t worship it, either. Around his wrist are a trio of multicolored tennis bracelets in diamonds and other precious stones — “ASAP Rocky copied them off me,” he said; I raised an eyebrow but, yes, Rocky confirmed that when I ran into him the following night, saying, “That’s facts.” Jones has commissioned his friend Yoon Ahn, the Korean-born creative director of the Ambush jewelry line, to make versions in crystal so that they can be snapped up even by those without the means for a jacket or a bag. They shimmered in rainbow colors in their trays.

“They’ve been lacking color for years,” Ahn said. “I think it’s time they did something fun and beautiful. Let’s enjoy it.”

There does seem to be a new lightness in the air, a sunniness coaxing Monsieur Dior’s flowers into bloom. Jones invited friends to do what they do: Ahn to make the jewelry, the designer Matthew Williams of Alyx, to make the C-D logo buckles that appear on accessories.

KAWS, the American street artist, created an enormous floral statue of his BFF character recast as Dior and his beloved dog, Bobby, for the centerpiece of the runway Saturday, something unimaginable under the earlier regime. He redesigned the house’s signature bee motif, too, more approachable and adorable in its cartoony new iteration.

“I just feel like he’s a really important artist for the generation now,” Jones said. “You look at things like Hypebeast, and he crosses into them — it’s more culture than art. Things like that interest me. So I asked him to do the set and to redesign the bee for us because I thought it was a nice way to start a new era.”

His is a softer, elegant, more feminine Dior, one that effectively sidesteps the moody, razor-edged styling of its two previous designers, Kris Van Assche and Hedi Slimane, to look back to the life of Dior himself. There are the flowers; there is logo-print lace; there are suits in a swooping, kimono-like cut drawn from Dior’s 1950s womenswear; there is one surprising one in the petal pink of Dior’s childhood home in Granville, France. In a streetwear-mad moment, Jones, the man who brought the street into the ateliers of Louis Vuitton, is going another way.

“I know what people are buying,” he said. “You can see it when you look at sales reports. You can look at it when you go in the street. But I think it’s nice to have something fresh like this. I think it’s important.

“A lot of people are talking at the moment that they want to see something new,” he added. “I think it’s time to do something new. What I know is how to work within codes. I see what the houses represent and I see how things go. I want to surprise people with what I do.”

Ahn had a similar view. “In the beginning, I was kind of nervous,” she said. “It’s a big house, are there going to be lots of codes to follow? But it’s not. It’s almost like a new chapter into everything.”

Three months earlier, Jones had arrived at Dior. He brought along his experience at Louis Vuitton, where he had worked the unlikely trick of making a 19th-century luggage-maker into a covetable men’s fashion label, one whose bona fides were endorsed not only by the rich and titled but also by the rappers, actors and athletes who mobbed his shows, and by the fashionable men (and women) who preordered his pieces even before they arrived in stores.

“It’s been amazing to watch him grow and go from strength to strength,” his friend Kate Moss said in a note.

Jones hadn’t slowed much — a collaboration with the New York skate brand Supreme from his fall 2017 Vuitton collection made more headlines than any other during the chilly fashion week that January — but he was ready to move on. His “seven-year itch,” he called it. Rumors swirled that he would step down and that he was considering other offers: Versace, some insisted; Burberry, others were sure.

“You have seen the news that he was going out of the group,” said Pietro Beccari, the chairman and chief executive of Christian Dior Couture, one of the largest and most cherished brands at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. “There may have been something true there.” Beccari swooped in, and quickly — “like, one week,” he said — a deal was made.

In an industry of increasingly regular turnover, Dior Homme had been a beacon. Van Assche, Jones’ predecessor, designed the men’s collections for 11 years, steady to the point of stolid. “Mr. Van Assche,” The New York Times wrote last year, “has effected surprisingly little change, either in the broader culture or even his own style. Season after season he creates commercial menswear that alludes to risks he largely sidesteps.”

He had taken it over from Slimane, his former boss, who created Dior Homme and made it its tight jeans and second-skin suits into sensations. Dior’s chief executive at the time, Sidney Toledano, had been in place since 1998. (He’s now chief executive of the LVMH Fashion Group, overseeing brands like Céline and Kenzo).

Together, Pietro Beccari, the chairman and chief executive of Christian Dior Couture, and Jones represent an entirely new administration, at least as far as menswear is concerned. (On the womenswear side, Maria Grazia Chiuri has been artistic director since 2016.)

“I don’t tell you something new to tell you that the men’s markets are developing probably at double the speed of the women’s," Beccari said. For a global brand like Dior, which does not disclose its revenues but whose total sales companywide are widely understood to be in the low billions, that means, simply, “You’ve got to make sure you’ve got everything for everyone everywhere,” as Jones gamely put it.

“Kim is very attentive to what’s happening and what’s not,” Beccari said. “He wants to do fashion that sells.”

That must help you sleep at night, I said.

“Well,” he said, “it does.”

Jones, at the moment, sleeps a little less. “Bit tired, I must confess,” he said in the studio, 72 hours before the show. “You don’t sleep at this time, do you?” (Jones has the sly, polite and very English habit of posing many of his pronouncements as questions.) At 3 a.m., Diplo, who is working on the music for the show, had sent through a new mix from Los Angeles, so he woke up to listen to it for an hour.

Despite the popular perception — part myth, part hope — that the work of fashion takes place amid tantrums and rages, high-strung and fabulous, as often as not, the reality is more workmanlike. The studio was a quiet hum of murmured French and English, punctuated by Beyoncé on the speakers.

Melanie Ward, Jones’ stylist, was making measurements of the precise length of a pant cuff from the floor. Jones’ 13-year lieutenant, Lucy Beeden, who came to Dior with him and four other former Vuitton designers, was tapping away at the computer; assistants were taking the innumerable instant photographs of models that become the paper trail of fashion.

Does this feel different to you, I asked Jones.

“I think it’s different, but I think it’s very me — from my old times,” he said. “If you look at my old collections, you see all that.”

Do you worry about how it will be received?

“I do, of course I do,” he said. “You always get someone who hates it. That’s what you dread, isn’t it? I’ve had quite a lot of people trolling me for taking this job on Instagram.”

I was surprised, and told him so. Trolled for taking the head job for men’s at the house most identified with French fashion? Some had trolled him for his Supreme collaboration at Louis Vuitton, I knew.

“Yeah,” Jones said. “Trolled me for it and then asked for it.”