As fashion stakes a claim on the rarefied world of fine art, designers are constantly looking to artists as potential catalysts for the next big trend. Trinidad-based painter Peter Doig, who is steadfastly unconcerned with the commercial, was avoiding such attention though, until Dior approached him to collaborate on its autumn/winter 2021 men’s collection alongside artistic director Kim Jones. In this Dior meets Doig world, fashion may be the lure but it is the art that shines.
Doig’s use of lurid colours and figurative narration moves away from recognisable forms but his artistic expression will be evident to the trained eye even if it has been sculpted into three-dimensional wearables. The bright yellow jersey worn by a helmeted hockey player from his masterpiece Two Trees — a grave picture of our catastrophic age inspired by the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia — has been manifested into a camouflage sweater. Meanwhile, the roaming rose-toned lion in Rain in the Port of Spain now paces the surface of an Angora sweater and a series of bowler hats as well as berets that have been created with British milliner Stephen Jones.
Doig is a virtuoso of unpredictability, and it is precisely this reason that triggered and brought out the fanboy in Kim Jones. The cultural zeitgeist behind Dunhill and the trailblazer who brokered the smash-hit sellout collaboration between Supreme and Louis Vuitton eschews hackneyed ideas by basking in the joy of plumbing archives with a scientific interest. Jones’ personal relationship with Africa, having spent his childhood in the likes of Ethiopia, Botswana and Kenya, resonated with many of Doig’s works that borrow similar narrative and cultural aspects from that part of the world.
Their intertwined fate does not stop there. Doig also studied at Central Saint Martins in the 1980s with Stephen Jones, who has teamed up with Kim Jones for more than a decade. Collaborating with Dior this time around was more of a done deal when Doig discovered that the man who established the fabled brand in 1946 was once a gallery director who worked closely with the prodigiously talented French illustrator Christian Bérard. Coincidentally, Doig is a huge collector of his works.
Since arriving at Dior, Kim Jones has professed a dedication to transforming time-honed crafts into menswear representative of “contemporary masculinity”, and Doig’s repertoire immediately fit the bill. “His work is autobiographical. We looked at his paintings of men, of skiers, ice hockey players, and the night sky. I think he was fascinated by how closely we could replicate his brushwork onto textiles and knitwear,” Kim Jones said.
True enough, subtle merges of casual and luxurious street outerwear in the form of embroidered coats, sweaters and military-influenced buttoned suits trickle down the runway of Dior’s menswear show. The collection may be dominated by a palette of muted blues, navy, musky mauve and grey but vibrant hues pop stealthily under collars and through embroideries to express joie de vivre. Doig’s painted realism has broken out of its gilded frame to be transported onto trendy fabrics.
Dior’s fashion hook-up of the season frees the modern man by giving them permission to be different in a world where everyone else is trapped in leather jackets and tailored trousers. Doig’s expansive oeuvre has nudged Kim Jones to venture further afield, creating a perfect mirror of the culture that menswear now takes place in while contributing to the conversation of a fashion-forward future. But wherever the Dior designer goes for inspiration, rest assured that this global compass of cutting-edge cool will craft the garments that are worthy of putting on your back.
This article first appeared on Sept 20, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.