Kenny Scharf is no ordinary artist. Gaining prominence in New York City’s East Village art scene in the 1980s for his ambitious, cartoon-like installations and paintings and his frequent collaborations with the likes of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Scharf’s fun, colourful work is both a nod to the future and a reference to the past.
His multidisciplinary practice exists in the realm where pop culture meets science fiction, and his imagery celebrates everything from the Jetsons and the Flintstones to one-eyed creatures, mischievous monsters and doughnuts in space. From his rise to prominence at the 1985 Whitney Biennial to his recent ambitious street art survey Art in the Streets at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Scharf continues to approach his practice with playfulness and a youthful spirit.
Kim Jones, likewise, is no ordinary designer. A graduate of Central St Martins College of Art and Design, he developed a cult following for his refined, casual clothing. Alongside his own collection, Jones designed and worked for a variety of companies, including Uniqlo, Topman, Umbro (producing Umbro by Kim Jones), Mulberry, Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen and Hugo Boss, and has contributed as stylist and art director to some of the fashion industry’s most respectable publications. In 2019, Jones was announced as creative director of Dior Homme, replacing Kris Van Assche and, last year, he assumed the position of artistic director for Fendi’s women’s collection, a role formerly occupied by the late Karl Lagerfeld.
There is a huge generational divide between Scharf and Jones, as well as a completely different artistic setting — Scharf’s fame is hard won from the decadence of 1980s New York, whereas Jones grew up in the 1990s and earned his stripes designing for menswear brands just as they evolved from a loftier approach to a sartorial style, to a much more relaxed sense of cool.
Yet, the collaboration between the two is simply electric. Hyper-coloured and hyper-real, Jones’ fall 2021 collection for Dior unveils a series of captivating images infused with the acidic vitality of Scharf’s work.
Jones chose specific pieces of Scharf’s artwork to feature in the collection, such as Viva Mare Viva Mar, When the Worlds Collide and Globo Mundo, as well as a series of new commissions denoting the animals of the Chinese zodiac and transposed them onto precious brocade, Chinese seed-stitch embroidery or prints combined with fringe or metallic threads.
“The things he chose were things that I was just posting on Instagram, and those were paintings that were still wet or even in process. So, I love the fact that he was taking brand-new things immediately and making them into these amazing wearable creations,” Scharf told trade journal WWD. “There’s a thing about the human hand that I believe in because I make paintings, you know, just me and the brush. I feel passionate about the emotionality of the human touch. So, when you see the hand embroidery and the hand beading, you totally understand that a human did that. It’s not just a robot.”
Sharp tailoring, as is the case with all Dior collections, is key to this one as well. The iconic suit comes in a daring, light and elegant satin pyjama version, an ode to the gentle life, while a double-face coat enhances the silhouette with an elegantly nonchalant look, reflecting exceptional craftsmanship. Workwear pieces are belted, reinventing masculine curves, establishing an ultra-desirable symbiosis of insolence and grace. Making a case for a new casual allure, Jones reinterprets a priceless heritage and looks towards the future by playing with materials, going as far as mixing short pants, bombers and sweaters decorated with whimsical patterns reminiscent of Scharf’s aesthetics and the cartoons that inspire him.
In terms of accessories, the must-have B27 sneakers are illuminated in bright colours, from pink to blue, while mules in coloured seed-stitch embroidery are paired with tailored pieces, lending homewear unprecedented desirability. We are also partial to the leather boots in this collection, adorned with the Dior Oblique signature code punctuating casual silhouettes for an ultra-modern attitude. Completing the show’s silhouettes is a series of bags unveiled in dazzling new versions — the Saddle and Soft Saddle are reinvented with delicate jacquards and seed-stitch embroidery; and The Dior Lock, adorned with a graphic clasp engraved with the “Dior” signature, made a much-noted appearance in a variety of sizes and colours.
For a final touch, tambourine-style berets punctuate the collection’s looks like an exclamation point — the perfect reference to the unique nature of the collaboration. Reflecting extraordinarily rich savoir-faire, these essential accessories bring Scharf’s iconic characters to life, and present a new freedom of expression that echoes the spirit of the times. The collection is signature Dior and, yet, heaves with a fresh new breath and expression. But, of course, it does. Dior is no ordinary fashion house.
This article first appeared on May 31, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.