Kim Jones brings Eliot’s The Waste Land to Dior’s 2023-24 menswear catwalk

Dior’s industrious designer finds inspiration in century-old modernist poem, as well as the fashion house’s own history

Forget it, bags – a book of poetry may be the latest accessory. The literary form is enjoying something of a fashion moment. Christian Dior’s menswear show on Friday was the latest case in point: the collection was partly inspired by TS Eliot’s 1922 poem The Waste Land. Models walked in front of big screens with actors Robert Pattison and Gwendoline Christie reading the poem.

A five-section poem written after a nervous breakdown and musing on the futility of life after the first world war doesn’t immediately seem like the territory of a fashion show. But Eliot – who worked at a bank when The Waste Land was published – might have appreciated the combination of art and commerce.

Creative director Kim Jones took the poem’s water imagery and used it as a straight line to designs like a yellow fisher’s jacket, sou’wester hats and a puffer with inflatable sections like a lifejacket. There were also items that looked a little like the clothes worn during the 1920s – Aran sweaters, cardigans, trench coats and tweed jackets. Skorts – culottes with a panel of fabric at the front – were a bit more modern.

Jones has history of working with highbrow cultural inspirations. Last season he used the art of Duncan Grant, and a previous collection was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s 1957 classic novel, On the Road. Other brands have recently worked with poetry. In 2021, Virgil Abloh cast poets Saul Williams and Kai-Isaiah Jamal in his Louis Vuitton show, with Williams reciting a poem as part of the event.

In addition to mining the literary canon, Jones looked to the history of Dior itself. Yves Saint Laurent joined the brand as a 21-year-old in 1958 after Dior himself died. Jones referenced Saint Laurent’s first collection for the house, in the wide cuts of the coats and lengths of chiffon worn as scarves.

In the show notes, Jones brought the two themes together. “We wanted to look at the regeneration of the house after the death of Mr Dior, and its rejuvenation with Yves Saint Laurent – his chosen heir – drawing a parallel in literature … it’s where an old world meets a new one, in change and flux.”

Jones is one of the hardest-working men in fashion – this collection follows a December show at the pyramids in Egypt, collaborating with Supreme designer Tremaine Emory and his brand Denim Tears. The designer is also creative director of Fendi for womenswear. In all, he creates approximately 20 collections every year. In an era where designers are complaining of burnout, he’s an anomaly – one with the work ethic and multitasking skills of Karl Lagerfeld.

2023 marks five years of Jones at Dior. In that time, his collections have showcased his two passions – artsy 20th century bohemia (as seen here) and modern streetwear and pop culture. Highlights include a Dior Nike Jordan 1 trainer which sold out immediately, a collection using the art of Peter Doig and a collaboration with Travis Scott’s brand Cactus Jack. Although Dior, part of the LVMH group, doesn’t release financial figures, Jones’s designs – always wearable whatever the inspiration – are popular with customers who can afford their price tags. Speaking to GQ in August 2022, a buyer at high-end store Nordstrom described his era at Dior as “an unequivocal roaring success”.

If Eliot is a master of literary modernism, Paul Smith’s show earlier in the day was inspired by the art movement and a little more down to earth. Smith doubled down on some themes emerging at the shows. Next season, old favourites – puffer jackets, polo necks and wide trousers – will be fashionable. Reimagined in pastels and prints, they looked just the thing for winter days – and indeed the year’s crueller months.


Lauren Cochrane in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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