'Storm' was the title Kris Van Assche gave to his latest collection - and given both the sheet of rain currently enveloping Paris, the worldwide financial furor still raging and, on a more personal level, the alleged dark cloud that hangs over his position at Dior Homme, it seemed extremely apt. As Hedi Slimane's assistant and then heir assumptive (if not presumptive), Van Assche's womenswear has always had a somewhat expected and certainly integral touch of androgyny, and in a season where hard, spare graphic tailoring with a masculine bent seems a prerequisite, it was Van Assche's turn to shine. His brief suit jackets, sliced above the hip, wrapped around with whipcord ties and occasionally traced with reversed seaming, were perfectly fitted both to the models' bodies and the mood of next season.
Van Assche has been working an unconventional trouser for some seasons - just look at his quadruple-pleated grey wool offerings for his first Dior Homme collection (on second thoughts, maybe don't). This season, however, Van Assche finally ironed out the lumps and bumps (sometimes literally) and sent out a parade of intriguing wrapped, lapped and strapped trouser shapes that may go some way to dislodging the eternal skinny. Trousers were layered over each other in light-weight wool and silk crepe, bound into the legs and flying in sliced panels around the form, while those short, firm jackets in crepe or felted wool kept everything taut, tight and light up top. We may have mocked his 'Hammertime' dhotis a few seasons ago, but this new, fuller shape, wrapped of ankle and billowing around the thigh, suddenly looks perfect for now - particularly with Van Assche's dab hand behind it. Sensibly, while Van Assche let loose with material, he reigned in the colour, thus this was yet another Autumn/Winter collection of predominantly inky-black tones, with a splash of monochrome print and a hint of the very, very darkest navy the only relief. There was a faint air of Africa to some of his offerings: the swagged and swathed belts swaddled around the waist like Nairobi tribeswomen for one. Slightly less successful were the schlock styling tricks of ash-swiped foreheads and the tubular tribal jewellery piling up around necks and wrists, while an opening of half-a-dozen billowing silk-crepe kaftans may have read 'Warrior Princess' to Van Assche, but managed to make even the sveltest of models look like a heavy Princess Margaret making merry in Mustique. But lets not quibble - few slip-ups aside, this was undoubtedly his most refined and focused womenswear to date.