Earlier this month, a fleet of saddlebag-wearing skater boys sailed through a 30-foot-tall, nylon blue wave at Dior Men’s spring 2023 runway, in Venice Beach, California. From pearl-studded cable-knits and pastel sweaters draped over flannel coats to vintage, newspaper-printed shorts, each look was a jarring revival of a classic 1990s style, reimagined through the lens of guest designer Eli Russel Linnetz, of ERL, a California native, and imbued with a counterculture twist.
Residents of Windward Avenue, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, peered down from their rooftops as their street, lined with thrift shops and taquerias, transformed into a runway framed by VIP guests including Jaden Smith and Tony Hawk, eager to get a glimpse into the heritage house’s first show in the seaside town. The landscape and culture of California was the intersecting inspiration behind the co-branded ERL x Dior collection—hence the ocean-inspired runway set—as L.A. was both Linnetz’s birthplace and a pivotal market for Christian Dior when he first came to America.
“We started looking at the Dior archive from the year of my birth, 1991. This was during the era of Gianfranco Ferré’s artistic direction and was a part of the history of Dior that felt completely fresh for both Kim [Jones] and me,” Linnetz said in a statement. “The idea of ‘maximalism’ comes from there and from me—a coming together of chaos and perfectionism. There’s a collision of moments in time and history throughout the collection of cross generational and spatial meetings in time.”
A similar thinking rippled into the runway show’s set design, which took 48 hours to build on-site. Inspired by Escape from L.A., the 1996 apocalyptic flick by John Carpenter, the runway paid homage to the energy of California surf and skate counterculture, as well as the physical landscape of Venice Beach. A marine blue, 260-foot-long runway stretched down Windsor Avenue, while a 30-foot-tall nylon blue structure that represented a breaking wave framed the street.
Since joining Dior Men in 2018, artistic director Kim Jones has established a track record for Fashion Week spectacles. From the Looney Tunes desert for Dior’s collaboration with Travis Scott to the brand’s fall 2022 tribute to Jack Kerouac, Jones has never failed to inject a touch of cool into Dior’s elegant insouciance. This time, when handing the torch to ERL, the theatrics remained: The set’s ocean wave emitted blue laser lights and mist across the space during the finale, sensationally chaotic but cohesive in story.
The wave not only resides in the structure of the set, but is also a thematic design element in each look in the show. For instance, it echoes ERL’s signature yin-yang motif, which was reinterpreted in this collection as an embroidered wave on Dior’s first ever sweatshirt on the runway. The structure established the ethos of the collection: Repositioning Dior’s heritage couture styles in the context of L.A. counterculture.
Plus, Venice Beach was a natural point of intersection for L.A. native Linnetz and the heritage house, as Christian Dior built a strong presence in the city when his label first infiltrated the international market. The New Look was largely influential in L.A. after its reveal, in Paris, in 1947, catering to American women’s postwar nostalgia for radical femininity, sense of glamour, and rejection of pragmatic fashions. The City of Angels was also home to Dior’s first swimwear line. In the 2000s, celebrities donned John Galliano’s je-ne-sais-quoi-style up and down West Coast beaches.
Thus, L.A. was a natural spot for Dior’s most recent firsts—the collection being not only the brand’s first street runway but also the first collection designed by a guest designer. Amid a blue tidal wave, ERL democratized the runway, quite literally expanding its audience into the streets and bringing a historic couturier into the contemporary counterculture.