Two years after unveiling the first collection for his self-titled label in 2005, then-30-year-old menswear designer Kris Van Assche was hired as the creative director for Dior Homme, where he once assisted his mentor-predecessor, Hedi Slimane. “I wasn’t naïve,” says the 35-year-old Belgian of replacing Slimane, who’d become a sartorial demigod for his tapered aesthetic before unceremoniously parting ways with the fashion house. “I knew what I was getting myself into. The fact that I am still here, and that I’ve created this new storyline for Dior Homme, proves I must have done things right.”
Inspired by a recent trip to Los Angeles, the KRISVANASSCHE Spring 2012 collection—a mix of fedoras, elbow-length polo shirts, and hyper-hemmed pants that would make Thom Browne proud—takes a cue from cycling culture. Outdoor sports, however, didn’t occupy much of Van Assche’s youth, a good deal of which he spent on his own. Despite being a self-described loner during his formative years and, later, welcoming a world of vitriol by accepting the job at Dior Homme, he insists he’d do it all again. “There’s nothing that I precisely regret having done,” he says. “Just lots of things I want to do better.”
BULLETT: What were you like as a kid?
KRIS VAN ASSCHE: I was a solitary teen. I had some close friends, but few, and I spent most of my time alone in my room “being creative.” I grew up in a small town called Londerzeel and I couldn’t wait to move to a real city. It was only when I moved to Antwerp at the age of 18 that I started feeling at home.
You’ve said in past interviews that your parents encouraged you to “be normal.” When did you rebel against that?
Ever since I can remember. Being normal meant becoming an accountant, or a banker or a lawyer or something, and that just didn’t feel right for me. But my parents only wanted what seemed best for me, and they had no idea one could make a living out of fashion.
When you took over at Dior Homme in 2007, you were also returning to the brand where you once worked under the direction of Hedi Slimane. What design elements did you want to keep and which did you want to update?
That was the million-dollar question. When people take over a fashion house, it’s usually because the brand is dying—or dead. When that happens, it’s easy to start over from scratch, but that was not the case at Dior Homme, where I needed to make sure that the clients would “evolve” with me toward a new vocabulary. I realized that the real heritage at Dior Homme— knowing that Mr. Dior never touched menswear—was in its know-how and craftsmanship, rather than in a silhouette. Dior’s priority was beauty mixed with craft. I now like to think of my work for Dior Homme as a balance between creativity and luxury.
In what way does the KRISVANASSCHE label complement or clash with Dior Homme?
They coexist without a problem. I mix both without even thinking about it.
Is KRISVANASSCHE more reflective of your own personality?
Each brand reflects different parts of my personality. What I do for the KRISVANASSCHE label is obviously very personal; since the product is going to have my name written on it, I make a tight selection. But I wouldn’t say my work for Dior is less personal. It is a broader view on fashion as a whole, a personal view of what I feel is right for the house.
How do you react when you pass by a slob on the street?
I don’t react. Freedom of expression, of course encouraged you to “be normal.”
Who has been your greatest critic?
I am, but also my lover, who wants what is best for me.
What’s been the most meaningful compliment you’ve received for your work?
When someone recognizes my clothes without a logo.
Where do you go to be alone?
What band have you recently been playing on heavy rotation?
What is your biggest fear?
Tea or coffee?
Coffee in the morning, green tea in the afternoon.
Boxers or briefs?
Depends on who’s wearing them.
Who do you wish were sitting next to you right now?
I’d love a chat with God.
What is the most overrated virtue?
What is your favorite swear word?
Godverdomme. (It’s Flemish).
What’s your current obsession?
Finding a new apartment.
What is your favorite smell?
What do you wear when no one’s looking?
Huge jogging pants and a hoodie.
If you could describe the youth of today in one word, it would be?
Photo courtesy of Patrick McMullan.