There's no other word for it. You could be armed with the extensive vocabulary of a Merriam-Webster lexicographer, but the first and foremost description that comes to mind when you see Kris Van Assche is that he is, simply, cool.
The artistic director of Dior Homme has had a big night. The evening before, the brand had hosted VIPs and editors from around the world at its 2015/16 winter collection fashion show in Guangzhou. In typical Van Assche style, the show was a delight and a spectacle, featuring an orchestra seated in a revolving circle set in the middle of the Opera House's stage. The post-show party went on for a while, but you wouldn't be able to tell by looking at Van Assche, who looks remarkably well-rested in his airy suite at the Four Seasons.
This should perhaps come as no surprise, given that the fashion designer is used to a hectic lifestyle. From the moment he graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1998, Van Assche has steadily risen in prominence and success, going from Yves Saint Laurent to Dior, to creating his own eponymous label, and finally back to Dior. Today, in addition to his busy role at Dior Homme, he is still managing his own label, and no sooner has one collection ended that the next one begins.
"It's an ongoing process, and every season is a new challenge," he says, explaining that the end of a season often has an impact on the following collection. "There are always things you want to improve, do better, or even never do again."
After his last collection for spring/summer, for example, which is inspired by the beach and includes no shortage of florals and prints, Van Assche has gone to the other end of the sartorial spectrum for the winter collection.
"My first idea coming into this fall/winter season was the tuxedo," he says, adding that the biggest challenge with this collection was taking something very formal and austere, and making it contemporary and relevant to the modern man.
"When you think of black tie, you think of black and white movies, something very historic [from decades ago] - I didn't want it to be like that," he says. "It's 2015, and people are very active. When I imagine Dior Homme, he's alive and he moves. The collection could have looked very costume-like and theatrical, but we managed to make them appear wearable in real life, in this day and age … and I was very happy about that."
Van Assche has always been good at transforming classic silhouettes into more contemporary versions that are no less refined than their traditional counterparts. His understanding of what the modern man needs is exactly what distinguished him when he took the helm at Dior Homme in 2007.
"When I first joined all those years ago, the suit fitting was very stiff and restrained, and sportswear didn't really exist. The most natural thing for me was to work on the suiting to loosen it up, to bring more freedom and comfort without losing the elegance," he remembers. "I think Dior has really become the leading brand where you can find contemporary elegance. Movement is a big part of it, but it's also about taking reality into account. It's about going to work, travelling, going out … it's about proposing options that [work] for other occasions."
This concept of dynamic versatility is paramount to Van Assche's design ethos, and he is careful to strike a perfect balance between comfort and the tailoring for which the brand is known.
"The centrepiece of the collection will always be the tailoring. It is the heart of what we do, it is what we know best," he says. "Luxury is about working from the inside, making sure the tailoring becomes more comfortable and that you gain in movement without losing elegance. It's about all these details, and for the last few years, luxury has been about offering more choice, the idea that there can be something for every occasion, for every type of man. Freedom is choice."
Looking at Van Assche today, it's clear that the designer perfectly embodies this philosophy. From his casual but chic attire - complete with fashionable sneakers - to his arm tattoos that give him a distinctly bad-boy air, Van Assche is the very model of contemporary cool.
The Belgian is particularly aware of the far-reaching influences of his work, and he is careful to ensure that his message is a beautiful and inspirational one.
"When you watch the evening news, there are a lot of bad things happening in the world, but fashion and luxury are there to let people dream, to be positive," he explains. "That's why I always try to add beauty and poetry within my shows, romantic ideas to bring emotion to our lives. I feel that's the role we have to play, not unlike theatre and cinema. We're just one of those cultural elements that make life more beautiful."
Born in Londerzeel, Belgium
Moves to Paris after graduating from the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts and begins working for Hedi Slimane at Yves Saint Laurent
Leaves YSL with Hedi Slimane to launch the Dior Homme menswear line
Starts his own menswear label, KRISVANASSCHE
Becomes the artistic director of Dior Homme
Opens the first KRISVANASSCHE store in Paris
Designs “techno-tailored” contemporary formalwear and floral pins for Dior Homme’s autumn-winter 2015/16 collection