The Beat Goes On: Richard Gray On Kim Jones’ Monumental Dior Homecoming Show

On the evening of Thursday 9 December, 2021, Dior Men designer Kim Jones revealed a new-look runway at his first show in London for 18 years.

In the few days before, Jones had released a series of Instagram billets-doux to his inspiration, the American writer and poet Jack Kerouac: it was a social media drip-feed which included teasing titbits of the writer’s epoch-defining roman-à-clef On the Road.

The Inspiration

Kerouac’s seminal novel records a year-long romp, in search of self-understanding and humanity, on an East-to-West Coast journey across post-war America, while listening to plenty of jazz records.

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road” – from ‘On the Road’.

After its release, On the Road became a must-buy for the cool, new Beat Generation of artists, poets and those inspired by them; it conjured exciting ideas in the imaginations of its young change-hungry readers. Being “beat”, the book’s devotees agreed, was to enjoy a new form of self-awareness and emancipation.

In a preview before his show, Jones told journalists of the synergies he saw between the work of Christian Dior and Jack Kerouac.

On the Road was typed out in 1951, six years before it was first published, “very much at the same time that Christian Dior was changing things in Paris,” says Jones. Was Kerouac to literature what Christian Dior is to fashion?

“The interest is still there 60 years on,” says Jones, who’d heard some of the models quoting passages during castings.

“I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future” – from ‘On the Road’.

It’s to this same Beat Generation and their libertarian and creative thinking that the designer turned for his Fall 2022 line-out and pre-show immersive exhibition. Through his very own fashion wormhole, Jones folded together the politics and uniform of the Beats with the House of Christian Dior.

The Exhibition

Into a darkened anteroom in West London, past two paparazzi pens sat either side of an entrance, walked his guests: a home- town crowd of 1990s clubland heroes, fashion press and flown- in foreign celebrities. All were funnelled past spotlit vitrines, containing rare books and unpublished typescripts borrowed from Jones’ personal library and collection – the beady-eyed spotted Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s credit card. It formed an immersive, exclusive, “one night only” exhibition entitled Nowhere to Go But Everywhere and acted as an in-depth preamble to Jones’ knockout Fall 2022 show.

Packed with extremely rare items, its curator, Sammy Jay, the literary specialist at world-leading rare book dealer Peter Harrington in Chelsea, describes the room as a chance for guests to “revel in the far-reaching multidisciplinary explosiveness of Beat culture”. And in possibly the most meta thing to happen that evening, fashion students from Saint Martins (Jones thought it would be nice to invite them to “see how you come up with the idea for a collection”) “went live” by shooting videos of the books, which were the inspiration behind Jones’ clothes.

It was a fascinating and expansive survey, fat with Jones’ personal ephemera and research; items were discussed, dated and commented on, while handwritten annotations gave an intimate glimpse into his cache of literary treasures.

For several years, Jay and Jones have worked to source unusual examples of Kerouac’s work and its related ephemera to become part of the latter’s personal library. At the last count Jones had more than 100 Kerouac first editions, 60 of which were loaned to the exhibition.

The authority and size of his collection is typical of the designer’s voracious and very personal style of fandom. Jones’ own library consists of some 20,000 books – a large section of which is given over to the Beat Generation’s authors and poets. The designer’s collection of printed matter sits in tall bookcases, which need ladders to reach them, at his incredible Notting Hill home. Anybody privy to his fashion archive, a beloved wardrobe of vintage club, streetwear and various special one-off pieces, will know the level of investment, personally and financially, he will go to in his quest to collect. Jones delved into his huge and personal library during lockdown in search of inspiration for the show and exhibition.

“But you can go on thinking and imagining forever further and stop at no decisions to pick up a bag for the thinkings. Turn your thinking into your work, your thoughts a book, in sieges” – from ‘On the Road’.

Written in just three weeks on a 36-metre-long scroll, Kerouac’s single-page, single-paragraph, first-draft manuscript of On the Road embodies his cross-country journey. The style of continuous narrative is typical of the “first thought is the best thought [approach], and you don’t need to go back and edit,” adds Jay. It’s a kind of jazz improvisation approach to writing, he says, resulting in one “very long stream of consciousness,” and one very long scroll of work.

The Show

And it’s on this continuous scroll that Jones’ ever-shifting imagination was focused when he commissioned the visual backdrop to his show. As guests took their seats, an 80-metre- long facsimile of the text ran across the floor of the Olympia London exhibition centre in Kensington. When the first model walked out, the runway unfurled in front of him, as a giant lookalike typewriter rolled out ahead. For the soundtrack, Jones worked with Robert Pattinson, who recorded excerpts from the book spoken in Kerouac’s French-Canadian accent laid over a clubland beat.

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life” – from ‘On the Road’.

Think of the collection like “a suitcase that’s being unpacked every day in a different way,” said Jones as a teaser. Translated, this meant the normally sober vocabulary of jeans and a jumper got the glitz: the denim was worn on the knees and the hem flapped around the ankle; at the back this looked “trodden- on”. Fair-isle knits came with sparkle from paillettes: matching “dodgy” beanies made the boys look like the best-dressed up- all-night gamers.

“American sportswear is probably, for me, the modern men’s wardrobe,” Jones told journalists. “America was always something I looked at as a child and was obsessed by. All the films I loved came from there.”

One tweed jacket was cut on the bias and, says Jones, came from a memory of a long-ago trip to San Francisco’s Beat Museum, which has a similar jacket – once owned by Kerouac – in its collection. Shirts worn with beatnik ties were, in fact, made from strips of a fabric more common to M. Dior’s womenswear, toile de Jouy.

A pair of green panne velvet pants worn high looked good but awkward. That’ll be “good-awkward”, as in: it’s good to look awkward. There was a slightly bookish, somewhat gauche pitch to many of the trousers because they’re not only cut differently (1950s-style), they’re also worn differently, belted and pulled up high.

And then, just like that, from Jones’ “suitcase” came a chimera: a trench attached to a backpack. And the backpack just hung there, fused to the trench. This is the magic of Kim Jones. The unpacking and repacking and the clothing combinations it inspired in him took the styling on its own journey too: socks with sandals, socks with shiny shoes and shiny socks worn with hiking boots that had trousers tucked in.

The sunglasses looked like two shades fused together. A secretarial-looking cat’s-eye brow came chopped half-way and held a 1990s surfer-ish mirrored lens.

The Brylcreem-shiny “duck’s arse” hairdos will inspire a million wannabe Cry Baby Johnny Depps. Then there were bags, lots of brilliant, beautifully pitched bags. New plays on the saddle, such as the one with a climbing rope handle, which was terrific, plus a handheld “weekend-style” bag and more.

The last word goes to the ice hockey shirts, a nod to Kerouac’s French-Canadian heritage. Each came stamped on the front with a retro-futurist-style Dior logo. On the reverse was 1947, the year the Dior Maison was founded.

The Post-Happening Happening

After the show, the huge roll of text at the end of the catwalk dropped to reveal Princess Julia behind a DJ booth. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Grace Jones appeared and the crowd lost their minds.

Wearing a variety of incredible headware getups (Philip Treacy hat, Stephen Jones red helmet with LED eyes), Jones belted out the hits: “Warm Leatherette”, “La vie en rose” and “Pull up to the Bumper”. By the time she sang “My Jamaican Guy” things were reaching “seriously rowdy”.

Taxi, bed, “never again” etc. What an incredible evening.

Taken from Issue 55 of 10 Men – FUTURE, BALANCE, HEALING – out NOW. Order your copy here.


Photographer ALFREDO PIOLA
Designer KIM JONES
Fashion Editor MELANIE WARD
Hair GUIDO PALAU at Art + Commerce
Make-up PETER PHILIPS at Art + Commerce
Costume Jewellery YOON AHN
Production and direction VILLA EUGÉNIE

All clothing and accessories from the Fall 22 Dior Men’s collection

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