Mr. Van Assche, as the creative director for Dior Homme you deal with beauty all the time. Do you remember the first time you recognized beauty?
No, but I do know that as a child beauty was a big part of my upbringing because my grandmother was a real aesthete and I used to be really close to her. When I was a kid she was making her own clothes and at one point started making clothes for me, so it was already a big part of it when I was like 10 or 12 years old.
What does beauty mean to you?
I don't really differentiate beauty according to where it comes from. Making a nice table for a nice dinner is nicer than just eating food out of a plastic plate. It's always been about that little extra effort that makes all the difference. And I think that's true in all aspects of life.
Did you always know you wanted to become a fashion designer?
I've known from a very young age that I wanted to be a fashion designer, but I did hesitate at one point and considered becoming a florist. Which is kind of similar in the way that it is so unnecessary, but essential in a way. Ultimately fashion just seemed to be much more exciting and much more creative, so that's the way things went.
How did your parents react? You are from a small town in Belgium where that is probably not the most common career choice.
My parents were really conservative and they didn't get it, but they didn't stop me from trying anyway. I had been a really good student before, so they thought I deserved a chance. My parents were the types to say, "Let him try for one year. He'll get bored with it and then he'll do something serious." So that's kind of how I got allowed to go to study fashion. And then they learned about fashion designers actually making a living and all that, so they kind of grew into it. And then by the fourth year of my studies they were really proud. So they made a lot of effort.
Do they come and see your shows now?
They haven't missed any shows. They've seen 25 Kris Van Assche shows, like 20 men and 5 women, and they've seen 15 Dior Homme collections.
We talked to Raf Simons a couple of years ago and like you he grew up in a small town in rural Belgium. He said that the way he got exposed to culture was through music and album covers. You are a generation younger than him, what was your gateway to the larger cultural world?
I really was a lot about fashion magazines. It was really quite direct. Even though my grandmother was a very elegant woman, it was not about high-end fashion design or conceptual fashion design. So I discovered fashion through fashion magazines. In the beginning it was all about these very loud fashion designers coming from Paris or Milan and then I learned about Antwerp, which was pretty close to where I grew up, so that made it more accessible in a way.
Then you ended up studying fashion design at the famous and demanding Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp where designers like Martin Margiela, Dries Van Noten, and Haider Ackermann also studied.
Well, there are a lot of people that try to get in the school through the entrance exams - at least that was the case 20 years ago. At that time there were several hundred entries and only 65 would be able to start off in their first year. And then four years later when we graduated, I guess there were only seven of us. So…that's a tough selection.
You were also the youngest person to ever enter the school at that time, right?
Yeah, technically it was impossible to do it at a younger age. I was 18 when I got there.
It seems like a lot of pressure for an 18 year old.
Yes, but there is also something to be said about youth and the enthusiasm you have when you're young and this belief you have in the fact that everything is going to be all right. I have said before that I regret having done the Academy at such a young age and I do think that if I would have been a little older with more experience I probably would have evolved in different ways. But I was still one of the happy seven, so I don't really have any regrets there. Fortunately I made the right decision to be an assistant for a very long time after and that kind of continued my education - in a very tough way! But real fashion life is difficult as well, so that's no different.Read more of The Talks with Kris Van Assche.