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Dior Men's show: how the designer's collection steered a younger generation towards literature

·3-min read
dior - Brett Lloyd
dior - Brett Lloyd

Government rules around quarantining have made home-bodies of those forced into temporary lockdowns whenever the need – or urge – to travel has arisen in the current milieu. However, for designer Kim Jones - an inveterate traveller since childhood now running studios in Paris and Rome (where he serves as Creative Director of Dior Men and Fendi respectively) - each 10-day layover on returning to his London base has come with a corresponding upside: time spent alone with his sizeable library.

Besides being one of our most decorated fashion designers (receiving the top prize at this year’s British Fashion Awards), Jones is an avowed bibliophile, whose appetite for collecting rare and first editions runs the gamut from the Bloomsbury Group to the Beats. Virginia Woolf’s Orlando served as inspiration for his first collection at Fendi, shown in January.

And Jack Kerouac, father of the Beat Generation, provided the source material for the designer’s Dior Men’s show in London, where a gigantic copy of his famous 120-foot manuscript of On The Road unscrolled to frame a collection that brought the novel’s restless abandon back to vivid, adventurous life.

dior - Brett Lloyd
dior - Brett Lloyd

West London might seem a wrench given the book’s hymning of proto-hipsters cannon-balling across America. But for Jones – presenting in the capital for the first time since showing his own label in 2003 – the connections run deeper than a love of Kerouac’s “breathless, dynamic bop phrases” (as a fellow acolyte, Bob Dylan, once put it). As Jones notes, the author and the founder of the house of Dior emerged as key disruptors in their respective fields at around the same time.

The Beats were christened in 1948, the year Christian Dior opened in New York and showed for the first time in London in the presence of a young Princess Elizabeth. (Today’s front row royalty included Lila Moss, Josh O’Connor and Tom Daley). And although the two men never met – On The Road was published in 1957, the year of the designer’s death – “I thought it was a nice starting point,” says Jones. “It was interesting that two different people, from a writer’s position and a fashion perspective, were changing the way people thought.”

Thus, accompanied by a low intoning of On The Road’s ‘spontaneous prose’ by the actor Robert Pattison, the collection revelled in the cornerstones of mid-Century American menswear: boldly patterned sports jackets and sequin-flecked Fair Isle sweaters, hand-painted leather blousons and checked shirts worn with tightly cinched neckwear held in place with era-correct tie bars. At the same time, Jones injected a wayward youthfulness, partnering period house details with more intrepid elements culled from the modern ramblers’ playbook, including bright yellow nylon shorts, beanie hats, hiking boots and flask holders.

Dior autumn/winter 2022 - Brett Llloyd
Dior autumn/winter 2022 - Brett Llloyd

“I wanted to mix and match up things from different periods of the archive but around the time that related to both,” Jones explains of his confident, colourful clash of counter-culture and couture. “And I wanted to dress it up – so sequinned socks with workwear trousers, sequins on the shirts – what would it be like if you were thinking about On The Road, packing and unpacking? So it’s mixed up and a bit ‘off’ – in a nice way – with that Americana, but very Dior.”

Working with Kerouac’s estate to reproduce first-edition cover designs on sweatshirts, whilst privileging denim for the first time in a house founded on its tailoring, Jones makes the generational leaps with characteristic verve, a nuanced embrace of the bookish and bohemian at once aimed at and responsive to an audience supposedly more appreciative of Tik-Tok.

Let us hope Jones’ deep mining of Kerouac’s timeless peregrinations will be picked up by a fresh cohort of young bibliophiles. In the meantime, the designer’s optimistic vision for a new Beat Generation, one that refuses to be cowed by current circumstances and looks instead for whatever lies beyond the horizon, is precisely the menswear fillip we need.