All the big institutional excitement around menswear—blockbuster designers like Kim Jones at Dior and Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, plus the general favorite-child status that men’s fashion has held for the past several seasons—has meant that the very methods of making men’s clothing are in a moment of pretty wild experimentation. It’s not simply the shapes and silhouettes that are changing—big puff sleeves for men, baby!—but the kinds of fabric designers are using, and the manufacturing techniques, too. Tailoring has entered a new era, but we also see designers like Jones and Abloh, plus Raf Simons, Jonathan Anderson at Loewe, and John Galliano at Maison Margiela pushing menswear closer to haute couture, that most elevated craft of making women’s clothing.
But no designer is merging his own ethos with couture codes the way Jones is at Dior Men. His Spring Summer 2021 show, revealed Monday in a two-part video by directors Chris Cunningham (he of the freakiest Aphex Twin music videos) and Jackie Nickerson (she of many Yeezy photoshoots) shows just how obsessed with technique Jones has become. He collaborated this season with the Ghanian oil painter Amoako Boafo, who paints vibrant portraits of friends in which personal style is front and center, and uses both his fingers and brushes—a tactile approach that rhymes nicely with couture’s prioritization of handcraft. Jones reproduced figures and motifs from the paintings on challenging fabrics, nothing short of technical triumph: an ivy print embroidered on silk ribbed knits, a figure’s silhouette rendered in passementerie (a decorative braid usually used as trim but here opulently used like a pen’s ink) on a brown leather jacket, and, perhaps most astonishingly, a portrait of a man’s face on a turtleneck…made of fur. Jones’s first few seasons pivoted around his sash tuxedo, which turned the lapel into a satin train and hinted at his couturier ambitions. Going to a couture house is a bit like getting a super expensive car—it takes a while for you to figure out all the features. And the suaveness of that fur piece, and really the whole collection, suggest he is now fully exercising the skills of the world’s best atelier.
Womenswear brands like Chanel and Iris Van Herpen are on the bleeding edge of reinventing women’s couture, pushing their ateliers to engineer these kinds of material feats. Although it still makes up a small part of the fashion business, its emphasis on hand labor and small artisanal workshops represent fashion at its most creative and arguably its most sustainable. An admiration for disappearing craftsmanship isn’t enough to keep couture alive in the 21st century—that requires a very modernist obsession with invention and innovation not unlike that seen in the tech world. Jones has adapted the approach to make it particular to menswear.