Kris van Assche onModern Men

Perpetually interested in modern masculinity, Kris Van Assche continues to investigate different forms of manhood in everything he does – from
his own eponymous brand, to Dior Homme, and now, in a collaboration
with Lee. We talk to him about beautiful simplicity, workwear, and how to base an entire collection on the idea
of the white t-shirt.

Interview Kira Josefsson

KRISVANASSCHE for Lee autumn/winter 2012

You just showed part two of your Lee collaboration together with Krisvanassche spring/summer 2013 in Paris. “Modern masculinity is the essence”, said the show notes for the first instalment. This is a theme that runs through your work. For you, what is modern masculinity today?

– Each show is an attempt at defining it. There is no true definition for either of those words, but what I do is all about finding a balance between different worlds. The Krisvanassche man can’t be put in a box – it’s not about sportswear, it’s not about formalwear. It’s always a mixture between those things, and it’s the balance that makes for modernity. I like there to be ‘different layers’. I always liked the notion of rugged elegance. It’s all about avoiding stereotypes.

The Lee collection, with its blue-collar theme, seems like a distillation of one of the two ideas that made up the Krisvanassche autumn/winter 2012 collection, where you combined that influence with inspiration from white-collar workers.

– Yes – I see collaborations as natural parts of the collections. I don’t see them as separate projects – they ‘complete’ my collection and I work on them with the same team and at the same time. So they are more about using the tools and methods of production that I don’t usually have access to, and about being able to enlarge the scope of the collection.

What is it about workwear that interests you?

– It’s kind of the same thing as with sportswear – it’s about balancing out the formal. Menswear is often about suiting, and while I always look for the formality of it, it gets more interesting if you break it up. But if you ask about workwear in particular, it’s interesting to me because it’s so linked to the masculine world. I’m not so fond of ornamentation, I don’t like to embellish things. I like beauty to be quite technical, so I always start with real clothes as my reference. I also like the functionality of workwear, the fact that every detail serves a purpose.

KRISVANASSCHE for Lee autumn/winter 2012

KRISVANASSCHE autumn/winter 2012

You usually use quite sleek materials, but for this collection you worked with rougher fabrics. How is it different to work with this kind of material?

– For the autumn/winter 2012 collection, which was the first season of this collaboration with Lee, I insisted on not using denim, which would have been the obvious thing to do. Instead we used a rough cotton, which is very much linked to the workwear-theme of the season. In the summer collection I just showed, I used real denim because the concept was about the basic white t-shirt and all that comes natural with it.

Using these kinds of fabrics brings a completely different feeling. Working with a jeans company like Lee offers you different technology and different tools, which is important. It is about doing the right thing with the right people. You can’t make real workwear or even real jeans with a traditional clothing company, because it will look fake, not masculine at all. You need to have access to the right tools and techniques.

What did the Lee collaboration enable you to do that you can’t do with your own brand?

– Again, it brought me the technical tools to do it in an authentic way. And then there is obviously the fact that it’s less expensive and therefore more democratic. It widens the reach of the collection.

For your autumn/winter 2012 collection, you said that the blue-collar people used to need protection gear, but that now it is bankers and white-collar people who need protection. Do you still feel that this is true?

– Yeah, that was obviously a symbol of what’s going on in the world. Bankers used to sit quietly in their offices, and then all the old banks came down, right on their heads. It’s important to me to put my collection in some form of reality.

Do you think a fashion designer always needs to respond to external events?

– A fashion designer doesn’t need to do anything. He just has to be honest with himself. Personally, I have always been quite realistic in everything I do, and I’m the type of guy who watches the news twice a day, so I’m very conscious about what’s going on. But my clothes are not a political statement. My collections are simply linked to real life.

KRISVANASSCHE spring/summer 2013

Is presenting these different investigations into masculinity on the runway a way for you to enable people to dream of different ways of being?

– Well, I think what we need is creativity, and ideas, and dreams. With my shows, I’m not trying to impose looks on anyone. I do spend a lot of time and energy on catwalk shows, doing casting and styling, because they enable me to put forth an ‘ideal’ vision. After that people should adopt and integrate it into their lives and their reality.

You just showed your spring/summer 2013 collection, and it was built around the white t-shirt.

– It’s about masculinity. The white t-shirt is the most masculine, basic piece, for any man of any age or of any provenance. Wherever he comes from and wherever he goes, he has a white t-shirt. I started with that idea, and then it just sneaked in through the whole collection – on top of a shirt, on top of jackets, on the sleeves or under other pieces.

Do you remember the moment when that crystallised as the bearing idea?

– The idea was there from the start. People wonder how many ideas you can pull from a t-shirt. But it’s more about the attitude and a type of man I had in my mind, so the process was a lot about imagining how this man would look and go about his life.

How does it relate to the autumn/winter 2012 collection?

– It relates to my whole career as a designer because I’ve always worked around this idea of masculinity, the idea of rugged elegance that I mentioned earlier. Spring/summer 2013 was probably more about sportswear than about the workwear of the autumn/winter collection, but it’s the same kind of mixture and the same type of balance that I’m constantly looking for. It’s about trying to make clothes that allow you to go anywhere at any time. So it will never be just about formalwear, or just about sportswear. That balance is what I have in mind when I think of the contemporary, active man.

KRISVANASSCHE spring/summer 2013

Now you only do menswear, but you used to have a women’s line as well. Do you prefer designing for men?

– Not necessarily. It was a very rational decision. I had to realize that I simply didn’t have enough time, money, or technical tools to do it in the right way. So I suspended the women’s line. But I’m sure I’ll end up doing women’s wear again.

How is it different designing for women and men?

– I’m not sure it’s so different. I wouldn’t say one is more or less creative than the other, I think it’s a bit cliché to see it in that way. The main difference was probably that I have more creative distance when I design women’s clothes, since I don’t visualize myself in the clothes.

On that same note, I wanted to ask how you feel that the Dior Homme and the Dior women’s collection correspond to each other. You said in an interview a couple of months ago, when Raf had just gotten the job, that the two of you hadn’t met. Do you communicate about the design at all?

– That was actually a statement that got a bit distorted. One of those interviews where you say one thing and the next thing you know 700 blogs publish a quote that you didn’t actually say. I’m a big admirer of Raf, and of course we have met. I’m actually going to his couture show this afternoon and I’m very excited to see what it’s going to look like. But we have different teams for our Dior collections, totally separate divisions; we don’t even work in the same building.

KRISVANASSCHE spring/summer 2013

You have your own brand, and you’re the designer for Dior, and you also did this collaboration with Lee. How do you keep these projects distinct?

– I don’t make a distinction between Lee or Eastpak and Krisvanassche. So for me, there are really two labels. There is Krisvanassche and there is Dior. And I’ve developed an instinct to know which idea fits which label best. It’s not a precise science, but the ways of working and developing the collections are so different that in the end a Dior collection is always going to look different than a Krisvanassche collection. When I come up with a design at Dior, I discuss it with the atelier, and there is a constant changing process where a lot of the work goes into fittings – it’s made in a very couture way. At Krisvanassche, I don’t have an in-house atelier, so a design is interpreted as if it were an architect’s idea. It needs to be made exactly as it was designed on paper, since it’s made in Italy. They are very different ways of working, both of them interesting in different ways.