On the Road
In 1957, Jack Kerouac began hammering out the typescript of his masterpiece, On The Road. Written in three weeks on a 36-metre-long continuous roll taped together and fed into his typewriter, the text was a poetic tapestry of open road adventure and youthful immortality that pulsated to the rhythms of 1950s American (“All he needed was a wheel in his hand and four on the road”). An archetype for the James Dean generation, the book has since represented a rite-of-passage for every free-dreaming youngster. This includes Dior menswear designer Kim Jones, who read the book as a teenager and found an enduring kinship with Kerouac that now cornerstones the designer’s incredible personal collection of counterculture books, manuscripts and curiosities.
Prior to the Dior Fall 2022 menswear show, this collection-turned-exhibition was presented to guests as the most incredible interpretation of pre-show notes. There was a copy of Allen Ginsberg’s Planet News inscribed to Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful, a first pressing of The Velvet Underground & Nico signed by Warhol, a book dedicated by William Burroughs to David Hockney, letters sent between the Beat poets and Kerouac’s mother’s copy of On the Road.
At the tip of the runway stood an XXL version of Kerouac’s seminal manuscript, and as the soundtrack kicked in, the scroll began to unravel, creating a runway printed with the writer’s words. Models walked to this beat (in every meaning of the word), appearing like beatnik characters pulled from the prose they marched upon. Hair gelled and trousers cropped, Jones said that he saw the collection like a suitcase packed for the most epic of road trips: playing with the idea of packing, unpacking and throwing on whatever is close to hand.
In checked blazers, sheepskins, Fair Isle knits, slacks and vintage wash, pleated denim, these ‘angelheaded hipsters’ (as Allen Ginsberg once penned) swapped Dean Moriarty’s Hudson Commodore for a time-warp ride, finding balance between the freewheeling undone formality of 50s America and Jones’ futuristic Dior vocabulary. Sportswear provided one bridge, as Dior-branded American football jerseys spoke both of Kerouac’s sports scholarship at Columbia University and today’s sportswear codes, while the author’s book covers appeared as prints and sequin embroidered socks and jumpers were reminiscent of those guiding stars consistently referenced within On the Road. Classic book bags were reimagined as iPhone cases, sequinned beanies worn like swim caps and saddle bags wrapped in climbing ropes. Kerouac’s words echoed across the soundtrack via pre-recorded excerpts recited by Robert Pattinson in the author’s accent.
Connections are key. The Beats emerged in the 1940s, the same decade as Cristian Dior’s trailblazing debut haute couture ‘New Look’ collection. A decade later, in Paris – just across the Seine from where Dior was working – the Hotel Rachou was populated by the Beat family – the likes of Burroughs, Ginsberg and Sinclair Beiles – between the late 1950s and early 1960s: around the corner was Olympia Press – the nearest thing to a house publisher for Beat writing in Europe. And as for the notion of travel that surges through the collection, Jones never stops. It’s these intricate connections within the narrative that root Jones’ work, sparking creativity and conversation. The Beat goes on…
GALLERYBackstage at this show
GALLERYCatwalk looks from this show