Tuesday 14th July

| BY Claudia Croft

Dior: Menswear SS21

Some designers are more adept at navigating uncertain times than others, but Kim Jones’ instincts have always been impeccable. Is he part shaman? The Dior designer has an uncanny ability to read the culture and see the future just before it happens. He then feeds that insight into his work. For SS21, Jones has worked with the young Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo, who’s vivid portraits of black people – rendered in bold, gestural finger strokes and smooth brushwork – have made him one of the most celebrated African artists of his generation. Jones, who spent much of his childhood in Africa (his father was a hydrogeologist and the family lived in Botswana, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya), said that it has been a long term ambition to collaborate with an African artist adding, “african art has always been important to me.” When the pair met for the first time, in November last year at Jones’ Fall 2020 show held at the Rubell museum in Miami, they hit it off immediately. Jones had long admired Boafo’s work and the artist, it turns out, loves fashion, often choosing to paint a subject because of their personal style. It made for a timely collaboration that will reverberate beyond the fashion bubble.

Jones is turning the bright, Dior spotlight on African creativity after a spring of Black Lives Matter protests and at a time when growing anger about racial injustice is reaching critical mass. In turn, Boafo refused a royalty for his collaboration. Instead Dior is donating to his foundation which aims to lift up and support young artists in Africa. This virtual Dior presentation was in two halves. The first film by video artist Chris Cunningham, focused on Boafo as he worked on portraits in his studio in Ghana. Surrounded by a group of friends wearing his Dior collaboration, it was a sociable scene. Boafo, pulling on on a pair of blue latex gloves, then showed his distinctive fingerpainting technique. “I have my colours and I do magic with it,” he explained as the camera panned onto his characterful portraits. “The interesting part for me, working with a fashion house, was how they were able to transfer my fingerpainting technique onto clothes.”

Leave that to Kim Jones and the virtuoso atelier at Dior as the second film, directed by Jackie Nickerson showed. The Dior monogram was rendered in the artists signature finger strokes, and the vivid yellows and pinks and patterns in Boafo’s work were made real by the Dior artisans. An ivy print first used by Monsieur Dior in the 1950s was resurrected for a man’s shirt after Jones noticed the similarity between it and one worn by one of Boafo’s subjects. Dior’s embroiders re-created a couture-level rendition of a Boafo portrait on a knit – magically mimicking his texture and energy. Meanwhile, Jones’ obsession with Dior Couture silhouettes shone though in the sharp cut of the little tailored shorts or the billowing hem of a swag-neck cagoule. Jones is the consummate showman but he’s adept at storytelling in the virtual space. The atmosphere of the films was intimate. It mirrors the feel of this collection, with its joyful colours and deep connection to Africa and his childhood. It came from a personal place and it came from a happy place.