Text by Kee | Photos courtesy of Dior
Dior's fall 2021 menswear collection

You can’t blame Dior’s Kim Jones for trying to put a smile on faces right this minute. In fact, we are all the better for it. Together with iconic artist Kenny Scharf, Dior’s menswear fall 2021 output is sparking joy left, right, and centre. To that, we say: Let the good times roll.

For anyone who knows their art, Kenny Scharf is a big deal. Though not a self-professed graffiti artist, his spray-painted murals on the walls and interiors of the thriving East Village scene in the ’80s was the stuff of legends. And you can’t mention the activities of that location and time period without putting his name in the same bracket as Basquiat’s and Haring’s, who became mythical figures (and brands) in their own right. After relocating from his base in Cali, Scharf became part of this New York clique that ruled the creative scene of that district (he has even shared an apartment with the latter). He embraced the energy of the city, immersing in the culture-dripping Club 57 as a pastime at night and rebooting our childlike sense of wonder as part of his day job. Scharf’s brand of art is easy on the eyes and imagination. Multi-coloured smiley-like characters fashioned in fluid shapes is perhaps a basic summary of the type of pop art-sci-fi surrealistic sensibilities that Scharf has become known for. There are arguably no malicious undertones in his art work, depending on how one views it, which is perhaps similar to how each individual perceives a clown. Scharf has constantly shed light on positivity and optimism in his art and even at one point in time saw him embed Hanna-Barbera cartoons such as The Jetsons and The Flintstones into his work. Currently based in his native California, Scharf’s re-emergence into the spotlight couldn’t have been better timed. Kim Jones, who has a knack for picking out iconic names in art for fashion collabs, sought out Scharf after being connected through the Gagosian. Being a student of the craft as well as having an intense knowledge of the subject matter, Jones spent a considerable amount of time studying the wealth of Scharf’s work to see how each piece could fit into the Dior narrative. No thanks to the pandemic forcing the entire world to work exclusively through e-mails and video calls, Jones and Scharf worked through the kinks to put out a fall 2021 menswear collaboration that romances Scharf’s multiverse of colourful characters via the richness of craft expected of the Parisian fashion house. What is perhaps unexpected is the manner in which Jones and team levelled-up on Scharf’s graphics, reproducing the iconic spray-painted art with such finesse in handicraft that even the artist was floored by the result. From traditional Chinese seed embroidery to dyed silk threads, Jones has commissioned crossovers in styles and crafts to play on the type of out-of-this-world contrasts and extremes that even Scharf would approve of (well, he did). We speak to Dior’s menswear chief on how the entire collab came together and what it was like to work with a fellow icon.

Dior's fall 2021 collection features art work by iconic American artsit Kenny Scharf

MANIFESTO: How did Kenny Scharf’s work inspire you for this fall 2021 collection?

KIM JONES: Well I looked at Kenny’s work and I just saw the pop of it, and I thought: let’s do some brights! Let’s do some energy! Let’s create something that’s going to really stand out! And that’s it. It’s this sort of intensity of his work and the clashing of colours that I thought was really interesting, and I’m particularly in love with the Chinese zodiac he did for us because it’s a unique piece, and it feels like you’re looking through 3D glasses or something.

M: Share with us examples of the highest savoir-faire of some key pieces.

KJ: We worked with several artisans across China to create some very special pieces. For example, seed embroidery, which is a very light but extremely complicated centuries-old technique, on hats, belts, shirts, bags and shoes. We used a silk tie jacquard as an outerwear fabrication, and also on trousers, and then laser-cut velvet so it felt like corduroy.

M: How did you play with tailoring in this collection?

KJ: For the tailoring part we kept the idea of lightness, a smart utilitarian look across the tailoring collection, introducing a six-button overcoat, using belts to bring in classic jackets and just the idea of creating new silhouettes and still carrying on with the idea of covered buttons from the Dior Bar jacket.

M: How did you experiment with fabric innovation here?

KJ: We used a variety of techniques moving between ancient and modern, so we have traditional tie jacquard using recycled synthetic yarns to create outerwear versions of tie fabrics. We also used brand new techniques mixing jacquard and screen printing, and artificial intelligence-guided machines that are able to make complicated and rich textiles.

M: Which pieces fully embody the spirit of this collection?

KJ: For me a lot of the shirting, the overcoats, the tailoring, and then the more lightweight outerwear really capture the collection. It’s lightness, it’s playfulness, it’s easiness of wear essentially. It’s the ease and the tailoring and the elegance of Dior that I wanted to keep and uphold.

M: The Chinese seed embroidery technique is just one of many traditional methods tapped to create the garments. Where did the idea first come about to use such methods and what were the challenges for adapting it to Scharf’s art? Or did the method come first before the art was designed around it?

KJ: We did start this collection looking at China but obviously in the age of cultural appropriation what we did was we looked at the techniques available to us and then created things in new and different ways. We wanted to celebrate Chinese workmanship and to look at the beauty of things that can be made in China that no one else can do as well as them.

M: Kenny Scharf is one of the most important references in the art industry and is the closest experience to working first hand with someone who shared the same circles as Haring, Warhol, Basquiat and the likes. You were connected via the Gagosian which is kismet. What has surprised you the most about the man’s character, talent, and vision?

KJ: Kenny is fun and full of energy and this is completely the mood of the fall 2021 collection. I like that he was one of the leading artists in New York in the ’80s, which is a period I find extremely fascinating and that I wish I’d been around to see because it was a real moment of creativity, not commerce, that was exciting in terms of music, with art, with fashion… everything was one thing, and I think that really shows in Kenny’s work.

M: How important is it to create a collection radiating such positivity at a time we’re living in?

KJ: Yes I think, especially in this moment it is important to bring fantasy into our lives. It’s a kind of hope of returning to reality in a not-so-distant future.

M: Unlike previous artists that you have worked with, Scharf has had some experience of having his art appearing on garments. Did you learn anything from him as much as he has learnt plenty from you?

KJ: Even with Kenny it was very much from a distance, because Kenny is in L.A. and we were working in London but we always had constructive conversations. He was very free with us and let us use his work however we wanted; sharing and approving everything along the way. Great collaborations can work wherever you are. Communication is the key and I’m very happy to have made this one such a success with Kenny.

Kenny Scharf

M: Which aspects of Scharf’s work or personality could you imagine Monsieur Dior appreciating?

KJ: Christian Dior loved nature and I know that this is one of Kenny’s sources of inspiration. He also ran an art gallery before becoming a couturier, which means they have the love of art in common. Monsieur Dior’s mission was to bring joy and I think that this collection in collaboration with Kenny has exactly the same goal.

M: The background visual of the show was a great mix of sci-fi and disco. You can kind of imagine it as a thematic night in Studio 54 but in 2021. Share with us the inspiration in creating these visuals and the mood you were hoping to channel.

KJ: The concept of the video to unveil the fall 2021 men’s collection came from a conversation I had with Kenny and the idea of it being in space, and the idea where we are literally in a moment in time that goes very fast or very slow depending if you’re in lockdown or not. And, then, I worked with Lady Miss Kier from D-Lite on the music who incidentally applied to be one of Kenny’s assistants in the late ’80s and I thought that was quite a fun full circle moment.


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