For Kim Jones, like many, Venice Beach was his first image of Southern California — and it was from afar, idealizing surfing and skateboarding, and watching “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion” and videos by No Doubt in the 1990s.
“When I was growing up in England, Venice Beach was a fantasy where all the kids were cool, and Eli is one of the cool kids,” he said during a preview of the Dior men’s collection he designed with Venice born-and-raised multihyphenate Eli Russell Linnetz of ERL.
When Jones finally did make it to Los Angeles as a teenager, it didn’t disappoint. “I just loved it, it was seedy glamour,” he said of the carnival-like boardwalk scene, where today, hucksters, hipsters, hippies and hedge funders hang out, work out and maybe grab a $16 loaf of bread at Gjusta Market.
So on Thursday night, Dior closed down a block in the heart of it all at Windward and Pacific Avenues, even adding its own “ERL Dior” letters to the historic “Venice” street sign that is the more eccentric cousin to the Hollywood sign to its east.
The “California Couture” resort collection was shown on an ocean-blue runway with two cresting waves for set pieces, a sunset and sea of humanity in the background, including colorful characters toting skateboards, Rollerblading, riding scooters with boom boxes behind them, hawking beach ponchos and more.
“The block is classic film material for me. I don’t like polished places…I do like somewhere that has culture and a variety of people, that means the good comes with the bad,” Jones said of the ocean-front, tourist-loved location, where gentrification confronts homelessness in a swirl of trendy restaurants, beach murals, tattoo parlors, cannabis dispensaries, souvenir shops and bike rental stands.
“California Couture” is a reference not only to Christian Dior’s time spent on the West Coast, and the influence America had on the growth of his business, but to the region’s rise in importance in today’s fashion landscape.
“The way of dressing in California has a huge influence on how people around the world dress. Look at Shawn Stüssy, for example, how his brand created a way we all started dressing when we were teenagers,” the designer said. “It’s relaxed, it’s about comfort and outdoor life. There’s a certain dress-up to this collection but it’s not in the classic formal sense, it’s through rich fabrications…it’s almost eveningwear,” he explained of the elevated but relaxed tailoring mixed with vivid-hued surf- and skate-inspired shorts, grunge sweaters, logo tube socks and Connage quilted high-tops. They’re all enriched with Linnetz’s embroideries, sequined and Tinseltown tinsel trims, and nods to Parisian high fashion, like elegant veiled hats and diamond riviere necklaces.
The history of Venice stretches all the way back to the early 20th century. It was founded in 1905 by Abbot Kinney as a beach resort town that drew early Hollywood celebrities, including Carole Lombard and Cary Grant, and filmmakers like Orson Welles, who used it as a stand-in for a Mexican border town in “Touch of Evil.”
Venice is also central to L.A.’s architecture and art history, where Charles and Ray Eames, Frank Gehry, Larry Bell, John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha and many, many more had studios before Linnetz was even born.
A next-gen renaissance creative himself, Linnetz, 31, has assisted David Mamet, shot his first film with Steven Spielberg’s son, worked with performers Kanye West and Lady Gaga on everything from music videos to stage designs and tour merchandise, designed graphics for Comme des Garçons and photographed campaigns for Skims.
He debuted his menswear collection at the Dover Street Market Paris showroom in 2020, has since added women’s and children’s clothing, and is now one of eight finalists for the LVMH Prize for Young Designers, due to be unveiled on June 2.
“I like his work, we have a lot of friends in common,” said Jones, comparing Linnetz’s all-American eye for photography to Richard Avedon, only through a West Coast lens. “I’ve done these big blockbuster collaborations, so it’s nice to work with younger people.”
The two met through Ronnie Cooke Newhouse, art director of many of Dior men’s campaigns, and Dover Street Market chief executive officer Adrian Joffe.
“There’s a lot of American iconography in the collection,” said Linnetz, pointing to a classic graduation robe made using suit fabric. “I love all the inside-out suits…you have a Cary Grant ‘North by Northwest’ all-gray businessman suit, but with skate shoes on, a coat that looks like it was found at the thrift store but with embroidery on the neck, and a tie that is a trompe l’oeil photocopy print of a tie. The outfit is quite chaotic, but in this amazing Dior silhouette.”
One of the most dazzling pieces is a pair of satin basketball shorts with luxe crystal wave and shell embroideries. “These were something from my archive Kim found that he wanted to bring into the collection.…Another were my gradient sweaters, and it was cool to do the Dior version,” he said of the tinsel wave embroidered mohair sweaters. “It’s a coming together of these two houses.”
The designers referenced several Dior codes, including the Bar and Diorissimo jackets that Jones has brought into the men’s vocabulary, rendered in a quilted silk, giving them a polished slouch look. Linnetz adapted John Galliano’s newspaper prints, changing the Gazette to the Venice Vanguard, and including his own surf photographs, ads from the 1970s and the 1905 municipal announcement about the creation of Venice Beach.
The Dior Saddle bag is rendered in tinsel as well as molded gold metal with a skater-boy chain handle, and the sunglasses are named after Linnetz’s dog Lucky.
“Kim is one of the most generous people I have ever met, he creates without any ego, and relies on his team. It was a cool thing to see and learn from,” said Linnetz. “He said, ‘I’ll tell you if it’s not Dior enough, otherwise, do what you want.’ He understands how to work with artists and let them discover what they want to tell.”
As for what Linnetz appreciates most about his hometown, he said, “I like that it’s quiet chaos. It can be the fog rolling in and silent or someone screaming outside your window. I like the unexpectedness of it and I feel like the collection itself is unexpected. The colors may seem bright because Kim has so much restraint and control and focus, and I’m a bit more chaotic. But there’s also a perfection to the chaos.”