Kim Jones brought Dior Men to his hometown, London, for a stadium-sized takeover of Kensington Olympia today. He gathered together a local community of young designers and students and flown-in international guests for a show based on a time-traveling convergence between his obsession with Jack Kerouac and the Beat generation and, of course, the house of Christian Dior.
“They were both pushing for youth,” Jones said. The link he made was in a study of the subversive counterculture—the birth of cool—that was being seeded on both sides of the Atlantic in the aftermath of World War II in the late 1950s. In the back of his mind was his impressionable teenage memory of being taken by his parents to see the Beat Museum in San Francisco, which holds Kerouac’s tweed jacket among its relics.
On the runway was an 80-meter-long facsimile of On the Road, originally typed in a continuous stream-of-consciousness scroll by Kerouac. “When you’re a late teen, you get interested,” said Jones. “It’s a rite-of-passage book.” Kerouac’s radical novel was eventually published in 1957, the year Christian Dior died. That was when the 24-year-old Yves Saint Laurent took over, briefly but momentously coming out with his “Beat collection,” the first haute couture show to dare to signal the rise of rebellious youth culture. His Chicago crocodile motorcycle jacket scandalized fashion critics and led to the house manipulating his exit from Dior.
But youth always wins, no matter how hard the times. The Beat generation signified being broke, antiestablishment, and the power of youth to make its own revolution through sex, drugs, drink, jazz, and inventing a style and a language in defiance of social norms. Maybe that was the subliminal message Jones had in mind for the crowd of kids spectating on his idea of bringing the freewheeling freedom of ’50s Americana up to date for today’s generation in “a suitcase that’s being unpacked every day in a different way.”
It had bias-cut checked tweed jackets and coats and ankle-cropped ’50s flood pants that flashed sequined socks over hiking boots. Fair Isle sweaters and beanies gleamed with overlays of transparent paillettes. Trench coats were hybridized with backpacks. Skinny dad ties were pinned on shirts collaged from strips of glitter and toile de Jouy. There were slouchy mélange sweaters and knitted sweatpants tucked into boots, shearling aviator jackets, and a leather motorcycle jacket painted with an image adapted from the cover graphics of Kerouac’s posthumously published novel, Visions of Cody.
Jones made it a whole night out of immersive entertainment for all: There was a surprise appearance by Grace Jones at the after-party. Also to be taken in was the one-off exhibition of the museum-grade collection of rare Kerouac first editions and memorabilia that the designer has accumulated. “It tells the story of the collection through a library, my library,” he said.
There were materials pertaining to Kerouac’s friends Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg, right up to manuscripts illustrating how his work influenced Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, and Andy Warhol. Peering into the vitrines, guests were invited to discover how Kerouac’s reading Proust and Arthur Rimbaud fit into the picture.
Voilà, the French connection. As far as the house of Christian Dior is concerned, all roads lead to Paris.