Top image: Dior Homme FW16 | Portia Hunt for HERO Magazine
Originally arriving at the house in 2001 to work under Hedi Slimane, when Van Assche took over the creative helm six years later there were big boots to fill and, as a relatively unknown name, many questions to answer.
In the eleven years since his debut collection, the Belgian designer has answered those questions with bold panache, bringing a new, contemporary dimension to the French fashion house while developing signature tropes: minimal black suiting; an affinity for 80s subculture; blockbuster campaign stars; and his integration of sportswear into the established codes of the house.
With former Louis Vuitton designer Kim Jones poised to succeed Van Assche, we’re celebrating the Belgian designer’s prolific tenure at Dior Homme: from his 2007 debut to last season’s time-splicing rave utopia.
It’s common knowledge that Van Assche walks to the beat of 80s new wave. A fervent passion for the genre and its sensibilities has been a recurring sources of inspiration for the designer, offering glimpses into his teenage years growing up in late-80s Belgium in awe of pop stars such as Dave Gahan, Boy George and David Bowie.
Capturing this musical rush and filtering it into his work, when attending one of Van Assche’s shows it’s always worth having Shazam on call to locate those sonic gems. Rattling the speakers with belters from one catwalk to the next, musical odes to youth culture and rebellion have come courtesy of Soft Cell, Radiohead, Depeche Mode and New Order (and many more).
And this influence flows directly from the speakers to the clothes. “There will be noise complaints,” and “They should just let us rave,” read the designer’s FW17 show notes, a call to arms reflected in the gabber-influenced collection – think straps, suspenders, metal accessories, safety pins and raver sunglasses – while his SS17 collection was a major nod to Manchester’s legendary Haçienda nightclub – Tony Wilson’s hub for anyone looking to lose their heads on the dancefloor, from Manchester scallies to international club kids – and FW16 saw Van Assche bring the Berlin New Wave to Paris.
Throughout his time at Dior Homme, Hedi Slimane set the standard for showmanship – a trait he only reinforced at Saint Laurent – so when Van Assche took the helm, expectations were set to ten. Rising to the occasion, Van Assche has served up many memorable sets throughout his time at the house. There was SS16‘s labyrinth of 2,000 Fée de Neiges rose bushes – that took the crew a whopping five days to construct – FW16‘s neon-lit skate park, SS17‘s industrial Fun Fair, and SS18‘s epic garden party-cum-outdoor rave, with vinyl fringing overhead and an immaculately laid turf underfoot.
But no matter the venue or set, with Van Assche there’s often a recurring club culture theme. Regularly filling his venues with strobe lighting, heavy-set fog or Studio 54-esque glitz – a Van Assche Dior Homme set is always a place you want to stick around.
More often than not photographed by Van Assche’s friend and longtime collaborator Willy Vanderperre, cultural iconoclasts such as Larry Clark, A$AP Rocky and Robert Pattinson have all been recruited to represent the brand. However it’s Van Assche’s love of 80s music (as previously mentioned) that has informed his most memorable imagery. Tapping his teenage heroes, from Pet Shop Boys to Boy George through Depeche Mode, Van Assche’s Dior Homme imagery manages to bridge the gap between genres and cultural epochs while weaving a dark subversion throughout. Taking past influences and twisting them into future pointers? That’s the M.O. of any great designer.
At Dior – a house built on womenswear and couture – there was no default menswear setting until Hedi Slimane came along and famously reduced the men’s silhouette to razor-sharp proportions that ultimately defined the look of the ’00s. So, in 2007, when Van Assche was tapped as Hedi’s replacement, he was able to frame his menswear collections in tune with his own sensibilities, taking his predecessor’s revolutionary design codes as a springboard and jumping into the deep end.
His debut offering for the house saw him set out his stall early on. An homage to Dior’s famous atelier,the designer presented tableaux vivants showcasing various combinations of white shirts and black trousers, from high-waisted, narrow cut versions to billowing, voluminous translations. Very sleek, very 80s and extremely good.
From that point forward Van Assche has continued to reshape, revamp and rejuvenate Dior’s storied design codes. Infusing streetwear tropes into the luxury house’s atelier and splicing formal and sports codes, Van Assche inserted sweatshirts, pleated pants, deconstructed suiting, bomber jackets and his own take on the “dad shoe” into the house’s design line-up. Elsewhere he updated blazers with bondage straps, spliced “hardcore” into the traditional Christian Dior logo and introduced subversive logos such as “harDior” and “newave”.
Gallery: Dior Homme FW18
It was in Granville, in the gardens of the seaside villa belonging to his parents, that Christian Dior acquired his unique horticultural knowledge and love for all things floral. It’s a fascination much shared by Van Assche and one that has become a recurring motif throughout his time at the house. Scattered throughout his collections, campaigns and sets, florals have appeared as botanical insignia (SS17), stitched across knits (FW17), encased in plastic and worn as badges (FW15), and – in the case of his SS16 collection – as a contemporary jardin full of flowering white rose bushes.