FRONTPAGE is Highsnobiety’s weekly online cover story exploring the people, moments, and ideas shaping culture today. For the ninth edition of our series, Thom Bettridge attends Dior's Pre-Fall Spring/Summer 2020 and speaks with Kim Jones to learn about the house's collaboration with Shawn Stussy.
“He’s an artist to me. He has the confidence of line [work] that every artist we work with has,” Dior Men's artistic director Kim Jones says in the hour before his Fall 2020 runway presentation. The man he is referring to is Californian designer and modern-day folk hero Shawn Stussy, whose signature handstyle has graced countless T-shirts.
As he says these words, Jones is standing backstage in a fitting room stacked with luxury items adorned with a “wave print” created in collaboration with Stussy (the man, not Stüssy the brand, which he parted ways with in 1996). Leather totes. Saddle bags. Airpod cases. Even a grosgrain ribbon stretched across the toes of a pair of clear jelly sandals. In the room next to us, in a hangar-like amphitheater in Miami’s Arts District, hoards of art-goers and fashion folks alike are gathering underneath walls bedecked with the screaming word “DIOR” written in this very same handstyle.
Among many other things – including the unveiling of the mythological “Diordan” – this is Shawn Stussy’s debut as an artist.
“When Kim approached me to have the talk and the option for my type of loose, organic, human artwork to be taken to couture levels of technique, [that] was kind of intriguing,” says Stussy of the partnership. “It's a really tight little family for such a big business… I even hang around surf companies that are way less group-oriented than this. It’s trippy.”
“In this great future / you can’t forget your past” is a Bob Marley lyric that's often referenced by Stussy. In a story that’s been told a thousand times, a Laguna Beach-based surfboard shaper teamed up with a CPA to create a clothing brand largely based around his famous signature handstyle, a rough-around-the-edges scrawl that no typeface can accurately recreate.
Some of Stussy’s earliest graphics – the crossed “S” monogram and “Stüssy No. 4” – are obvious homages to luxury fashion house Chanel. Similar to what Dapper Dan had discovered in his Harlem atelier, Stussy also recognized the power of the logo as a status symbol, and wanted to reconcile the inaccessible, locked-door boutique attitude of high fashion with the vibrant youth culture he saw happening at the street level.
By 1990, Stüssy had become a $17 million clothing label. That gave the young Shawn Stussy the opportunity to travel around the world, and he found a ton of like-minded people along the way. In London, there was Michael Kopelman and Fraser Cooke. In Tokyo, there was Hiroshi Fujiwara and Tomoaki “NIGO” Nagao. In Milan, there was Luca Benini. What they shared was deeper than a similar taste level – it was a common value system and certain codes. The bond between them was more than a crew, but less formal than a gang (although they did rock some sick personalized “I.S.T.” varsity jackets). So the moniker of “International Stüssy Tribe” seemed the most appropriate.
Six years later, Stussy walked away from the brand he helped create. But he’d already planted the seeds for a global movement, and it was well in bloom. James Jebbia, who helped open the Stüssy flagship store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, was focusing his efforts on a plucky new skate shop called Supreme. Fujiwara was transforming Tokyo’s Harajuku backstreets into a shopping mecca. And in Europe, Kopelman and Benini were revolutionizing the retail scenes in London and Milan, respectively.
For Stussy, it was a pretty easy decision to leave it all behind. His fun project had turned into a real company – even worse, it began to feel like one. “I've been away 20 years, not worrying or thinking about it,” he tells us about his early retirement.
As Stussy returned to his first love of surfboard shaping, Jones was diving headfirst into the world of streetwear. He worked for Gimme Five, a London distributor of brands like Stüssy and Supreme that was founded by Kopelman. Decades later, Jones made fashion history when he engineered an unfathomable collaboration between Supreme and Louis Vuitton. But now, for Fall 2020, he pays proper respect to an originator.
"It’s been 40 years since he started his line; I think it’s nice to celebrate that now,” says Jones backstage after the show. It’s Dior’s first in America, and it’s not hard to imagine how the venue’s beachside vibes brought Shawn Stussy to the forefront of Jones’ mind. He wanted to merge Stussy’s free-flowing aesthetics with the opulence of Yves Saint Laurent-era Dior’s Soirée Fleury motifs from the 1960s.
Stussy designed several iterations of the Dior logo, which have all been implemented into a pattern called the “wave print.” Along with five or six reinterpretations of Dior’s signature bee logo, he also designed two all-over prints recalling the psychedelic “Tom Tom” and “Daisy Age” patterns from Stüssy’s heyday, referencing new wave band Tom Tom Club and hip-hop legends De La Soul.
Of course, this isn’t exactly Shawn Stussy’s first time making new gear. There was S/Double (two S’s, get it?), a line of more grown-up graphic tees, custom Gitman Vintage shirting, and the kind of casual sportswear, workwear, and military-inspired gear he was known for. But here in Miami, at a repurposed warehouse across the street from the Rubell Museum, it feels like his work is finally where it belongs.
“It was a true collaboration. I turned it in and they colored it up,” Stussy says. “They already had their palette in mind. They knew it was Miami, and they saw these kind of psychedelic colors. So it was interesting to see my black, felt-pen line work turn into what you see tonight.”
The venue is wrapped in a yellow-backed rendition of Stussy’s Dior logo print, originally made on A4 paper and outlined with a Sharpie. What amazed him the most about working with a luxury house was the amount of resources at his disposal and the amount of craft that goes into an entire collection.
For someone used to seeing his work screen-printed on T-shirts and hoodies, the ability to have your graphics turned into Indian hand-beaded sneakers, intricately marbled textiles, and prints transformed into beautiful woven shirts by a manufacturer that makes Japanese kimonos might hit much differently.
But if you think about it, there are more similarities between Shawn Stussy’s craft and Dior’s couture heritage than may seem at first glance. For instance, his honed handstyles certainly have an artisanal quality to them, and the fact that he splits his time between Hawaii and the south of France cemented the collaboration for Kim Jones.
“He’s a really smart, intelligent guy, and he’s kept up to date on everything,” says Jones. “He knew a huge amount about Dior, which I really loved.”
Speaking of collaborations, one that almost stole the entire show was the footwear worn by many of the models. Jones and Nike have been working together since 2016, when he reinterpreted 1995’s LWP runner into a sleek, modern sneaker. Before that, he was scooping up silver Vandals in his teens, and even featured high-top Terminators in the “Hoya” colorway (nodding to the university that dominated the basketball court in the kicks) in his eponymous graduate collection. But his self-proclaimed sneaker grail has always been the Jordan 1, and this season, Jones further flattens the worlds of covetable kicks and couture.
A year in the making, the Air Jordan I High OG Dior marks the second significant partnership between a luxury house and a storied sportswear company. Hot on the heels of adidas’ collaboration with Prada, this collab takes the idea that statement sneakers are It bags for men quite literally.
Blending Italian leather and manufacturing with details like hand-painted edges and the same quality oblique print you’d find on the maison’s famed saddle bags, the limited-edition shoes (only 8,500 pairs of the high-tops will be made, owing to the Jordan 1’s 1985 debut) also channel Mr. Dior’s Granville hometown in its signature Dior Gray colorway. A low-top iteration is supposedly even rarer – only 4,700 were created, referencing 1947, the year Christian Dior debuted his “New Look.” 72 years later, Kim Jones, Shawn Stussy, and Peter Moore (the designer of the Jordan 1) have given Dior Men a new wave to surf on.
Backstage before the presentation, in front of a board covered in looks from the collection, Kim Jones explains the psychedelic continuum between Miami Beach, Air Jordans, Yves Saint Laurent, and Shawn Stussy to Highsnobiety editor-in-chief Thom Bettridge.
What was at the forefront of your mind when you were planning this show?
Dior. Miami. 1960s. Yves Saint Laurent was working with Dior at the time. Miami nights. So I looked at this point in time, looked at the colors, looked at the Dior archive, and then I thought about the fact that we were showing by the sea. I was thinking about Shawn Stussy a lot, the idea that he’s a surfer and started this brand in ’98, writing his name on a board. He’s an artist to me. He has the confidence of line [work] that every artist we work with has. Doing our first show in America – to me, Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, and Shawn Stussy, are the most important American designers, along with James [Jebbia] at Supreme.
Did you first encounter Stussy at Gimme Five?
I’ve known him since the age of 14. We’ve been in the same social circle for a long time, but we never really sat down and talked until we got to Dior. That was cool. It’s been 40 years since he started his line, so I think it’s nice to celebrate that now. Intentionally, we had him do the artwork for us. I commissioned him as an artist to do the graphics. Then, we colored them up in the style of Dior in the ’60s. It’s a bit of a psychedelic thing that we are calling the “wave cringe,” and you got crazy patterns, knitwear, beaded items, and cashmere.
Is this idea of travel in the collection different for you than the idea of travel you played with back at Vuitton?
This is time travel. That was travel in the actual sense of travel.
What did Stussy say when he approached you about all of this?
He’s a really smart, intelligent guy, and he’s kept up to date on everything. He knew about my work, and he was very, very into working with me. He knew a huge amount about Dior, which I really loved. He’s living between Hawaii and the south of France, so it made complete sense. He has a lovely life; he chooses what he wants to do. He’s been very comfortable ever since [he left Stüssy]. I love it when you see a success story in someone living how they want to live.
What is it about this Southern California thing for you – the stuff you did with Raymond Pettibon kind of touched upon this idea as well.
That’s something I didn’t even think about. But being a child, we were looking at kids in California, being like, “Oh my god, I want to be you.” I used to have pen pals in America, and we’d talk about the toys we were buying. So it’s just part of nature.
Can you surf?
I’m not very good, but I’m a water baby. I swim all the time, but I’m not a surfer. I like that thing Diana Vreeland said about surfers and skaters, that water is a tranquilizer and surfers are the best thing in the world because they ride it and they live it.
What was it like making this Jordan 1 happen?
That took a year. It’s my favorite sneaker of all time.
You were wearing blue ones the last time I saw you.
The fact that I can work on my favorite iconic shoe ever is an honor. I’ve had a contract with Nike for a while, and I now have my contract with Dior, and thought that to fuse those two things together and to make a sneaker the way you would make a bag at a fashion house is very cool. So you have the edge painting. You have the oblique [pattern] made specifically for the shoe, with different sizes for different sizes of feet. I’m a classicist. I’m not going to make it funky or weird. I wanted it to be that thing it is, but in a super luxurious way.
Where did the gray come from?
The gray is Dior Gray. Dior lived in a house in Granville when he was a child and the sky was gray and the walls were pink. That's where Dior Pink and Dior Gray comes from.
I love how far you’ve made this idea of Christian Dior travel. Do you feel as though you’re going to keep on with this tradition of having a collaborator for each show?
No, not every time. Next time it’s going to be very different. It’s going to be a journey dedicated to someone I love.