Friday 3rd May

| BY Paul Toner

The Silent Success of Kris Van Assche – From Hedi Slimane’s Assistant to Artistic Director at Berluti

Berluti AW19, shot by Jason Lloyd Evans

When Kris Van Assche chose the Depeche Mode seminal hit Enjoy the Silence to soundtrack his SS17 collection for Dior Homme, it felt particularly fitting. Not merely because the clothes dabbled in codes of new wave romanticism – the track in moments felt like a metaphorical synopsis of his tenure at Dior Homme.

To put it simply, Kris Van Assche makes great clothes. Clean cut, yet distinctive through his referencing of subcultural tribes that have been and gone – as a designer he has developed a  knack for fine tailoring that’s divorced from feeling sedated. His sleek and slender suiting never feels too ordinary as the designer has a tendency to use soft leathers and silky nylons to spruce up new life into classic silhouettes.

Assche set up his eponymous label in 2004 after initially working under Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme. Looking back at the collections now, the theatrics dominating today’s menswear schedule are evidently absent. Instead, your gaze is poised towards the relaxed styling – bare chests poking through crinkled unbuttoned shirts, trousers that swing low at the hips. This was a different time for men’s fashion.

Kris Van Assche AW08 campaign, shot by Jeff Burton

Assche’s namesake label teased with homoeroticism at times, most evidently for AW08 when the designer had his models strip into their undies before doing a final scantily clad parade down the catwalk. Things got real steamy though for the collection’s campaign. Shot by Jeff Burton, the laundromat backdrop looked more like a gay sauna, where the boys pictured where doing anything and everything but doing their laundry.

Returning to Dior in 2007, this time to take over Hedi Slimane as the brand’s leading man, Assche stayed true to his craftsmanship. The designer’s years at Dior felt like an anomaly in a period where menswear pivoted towards a streetwear heavy aesthetic. Hitting his stride in the latter part of his tenure at the house, his collections were something fresh added to luxe-tailoring conversation. There were slender waistcoats appliqued with flower pins (AW15) and overcoats styled with droopy wide-legged trousers (AW16).

Dior Homme AW16 campaign, shot by Willy Vanderperre

Yet Assche’s time at Dior wasn’t restricted by Saville Row sensibilities. His collections riffed off the codes of subcultures you wouldn’t expect to crop up at a Dior show. His AW17 Hardior gabber-rave inspired collection being a prime example, where cropped pants with flocked chains, leather jackets trimmed with turquoise fur and a grand cape adorned with moshing punks, were all the range – appealing to men of all ages.

You should never forget to recognize Kris Van Assche’s democratisation of who the Dior man can be. The designer’s choice of men to front his campaigns were sublime. Musical legends like Boy George, Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode sit next to the new guard, such as rapper A$AP Rocky and The xx’s Oliver Sim. The designer even got Kids director Larry Clark in front of the lens also – bringing cult figureheads to the forefront of the menswear conversation.

Now heading Berluti into its next chapter as Haider Ackermann’s successor, his debut offering for the luxury house was swamped with buttery leather two pieces, as well as coats, trousers and silk shirts doused in highly pigmented fuschia. One particular pattern was even made to resemble a graphite table that resides in the Berluti studios, mimicking the stained dyed blotches that habitat within them. What will Kris Van Assche’s interpretation of the Berluti man be? That’s still crystalising. What’s for certain is that Assche is set to craft a new kind of luxe, and he’ll do it without a sound.

Berluti AW19, shot by Jason Lloyd Evans