In terms of metaphors, let’s forego the Greek, the mythological, the high culture and assess things in terms of the American high school movie hierarchy. There is always The Popular One - your Cher Horowitzs, your Regina Georges, your Freddie Prinze Junior in She’s All That; casually caught on a wide-tracking lens, lithely slipping out of their parent-bought car, flagged on either side by an identikit devotee and pounding down a locker-bordered corridor. They nab the best seats in the canteen, a crescendo of cool amidst the geeks, the mathletes, science kids and drama divas.
And then there is The Quiet One. Your Cadys, your Rachael Leigh Cook in She’s All That: introspective, elusive, individual. Never ignored but never at the forefront, pursuing a path of quiet, determined perseverance.
Then, inevitably, comes The Prom. Outcomes vary. Sometimes it’s The Jock and The Plastic hitting the heights of high school elect; pitch-perfect veneers crowned King and Queen. Nine times out of ten though there’s the triumph over adversity. The underdog takes it, moving in a ninety-minute timeline from long-shot to much-loved. To pitch this into a fashion context isn't a) difficult, or b) misguided. Consider the canteen seat dilemma as akin to the front row tussle, the corridor march to the Jak and Jilcaptured Tuileries where street style celebrities are birthed and made. Now, let’s consider Kris Van Assche, a man in the midst of his Prom King moment.
Born in the Belgian town of Londerzeel in 1976, Kris Van Assche headed to the Antwerp Royal Academy of Arts in 1994 determined to escape his “boring” village, and conservative parents whose one big definition in life, as he once confided to Rick Owens in Interview Magazine, was not to “get noticed” but to “be normal, that’s weird enough”. In a characteristically quiet revolt against this pressure, he graduated in 1998 and headed straight to Paris where he first assisted Hedi Slimane at Yves Saint Laurent menswear before moving, with Slimane, to Dior Homme.
Enough has been noted about Slimane’s time at Dior Homme (particularly in light of recent events) that negates mentioning it again. What is worth lip service is that post-departure, Dior chose not to elect a sensationalist replacement but, much like Sarah Burton’s ascent at Alexander McQueen, went logically with the silent partner and, alongside continuing his own eponymous label in 2005, Kris Van Assche was made Creative Director of Dior Homme in 2007. Whether he wanted it or not, the spotlight was now his.
It was, and has been, an expectedly tough gig, as Van Assche himself stated: “In the beginning everybody was just gonna hate it, and so there wasn’t much to lose.” Rather than overthrowing Slimane’s signature, he eased himself into the role, his first presentation a collision of tight white, Slimane- era shirting and full, voluminous harem trousers that carried the now characteristic KVA handwriting. In a strict palette of black, grey and white, it was Dior Homme with a different intent.
Gradually the lithe, lean rock star lines of the skinny Slimane days slipped away, Van Assche’s work at his own label influencing a quiet, armored precision, focused not upon the fizz of glitter and glam rock but of practical, functional utility and the redefinition of the modern, masculine wardrobe. Distinct yet similar, behind both Dior Homme and KRISVANASSCHE lies an interchangeable focus upon menswear in its most, traditional, capitalised sense. Van Assche’s muse isn’t the unattainable David Bowie but the actual Everyman, with blue and white collar workers, sailors and surgeons, soldiers and mechanics invoked as regular influences. His is a focus upon basics reworked, as Style.com’s Matthew Schneier once stated: “Under the laser of his [Kris Van Assche’s] focus, everything unnecessary falls away.” For S/S 13 it was the simple white T-shirt at his eponymous label and pared back nautical and tailoring influences at Dior Homme; the former cut and spliced into jersey backed shirting, sleeves jutting over suiting, the subsequent driven by pure reductionism as blazers moved from strict, navy variations to virtually invisible in mesh.
Earlier collections have seen aprons re-purposed as trousers, tailoring turned inside out, floor sweeping military greatcoats and pristine white shirting peppered with oil and coal and ashes. Colour is deemed indulgent in tones of stone, navy, olive, black and white, and though there have been exceptions to utility - think wide-brimmed Amish hats and Kimono-style vests - what Kris Van Assche promotes is an idealised vision of the everyday, elevated with the finest techniques, materials and craft that he has at his disposal. Key collaborations (bags with Eastpak, denim with Lee) have built upon this intention and typically consist of slightly tweaked plays on the classics; jeans slimmed to a perfectly straight leg, pockets removed from denim jackets so as not to distort the all-important line.
Unsurprising given the rigour and control of Van Assche’s design, his attention-to-detail extends to show music. “Music to a show is as important as sound is to a movie - it establishes a mood, an energy, an emotion,” he once said. The Dior Homme S/S 13 show came accompanied by Koudlam’s ‘Love Song’. Think Bauhaus transplanted into now, a flickering X-Files intro ebb and flow giving way to a disembodied ‘She’s In Parties’-style vocal; a grinding, grating guitar riff the perfect aural compliment to a collection of stripped-back suiting, leather and grey accents.
Likewise A/W 11-12’s meditation on the Amish - we’re talking wide-brimmed hats, robe-style outerwear, accents of red amidst inky black - stalked the catwalk to the strains of ‘Eisbär’ by the Swiss New German Wave band Grauzone, and ‘Warm Leatherette by The Normal, the tag-team duo of cold, industrial brutality acting as a militant foil to fluid, flowing garments.
Put the above three songs on a playlist and what pertains is a steely, determined march indicative of Kris Van Assche’s rise from the silent sidelines. Whether he welcomes it or not, ladies and gents, jocks, geeks and mathletes, we’ve got ourselves a new Prom King.
WORDS: LUKE RAYMOND
PHOTOGRAPHY: THOMAS COOKSEY
FASHION: JOHN COLVER
SET DESIGN: ALUN DAVIES, HAIR: TEIJI UTSUMI @ TERRIE TANAKA MANAGEMENT, MAKEUP: VALERIA FERREIRA @ CAREN,
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT: JAMES BRODRIBB, FASHION ASSISTANT: LUKE RAYMOND
MODELS: MAX BALE & SAM MELLEN @ PREMIER, RETOUCHING: ART MEDIA PARTNERS
SPECIAL THANKS: PROLIGHTING, CYRIL & TEAM @ KRISVANASSCHE, CALLIE @ DIOR HOMME, MAX & OWEN @ PURPLE.