Kim Jones’ ERL Collection: Don’t Call It a Collaboration

The Dior Men artistic director invited Venice, California-based designer Eli Russell Linnetz to build a capsule nostalgic for the early 1990s, but helped him merchandise it for today.

Dior Men artistic director Kim Jones tapped Venice, California-based designer Eli Russell Linnetz to create the brand's Spring 2023 collection.(BoF Team)

LOS ANGELES — Kim Jones’ uncanny ability to orchestrate blockbuster collaborations — Louis Vuitton and Supreme, Dior and Nike — helped fuel his rise to the top of luxury fashion.

Now, after a run of headline-making mashups for Dior menswear, the artistic director is evolving the approach, doing away with collaborations in his main collections and instead recruiting “guest designers” to create smaller capsules. They bring the ideas, and he helps to shape them into something that’s commercial and fitting for Dior.

Creative directors routinely tap external talent to add something new to a collection, but that work often goes unrecognised. Jones, on the other hand, comfortable in his position of power, seems enthusiastic about sharing the spotlight with his latest collaborator, the Los Angeles-based Eli Russell Linnetz, whose four-year-old label ERL is a thing of interest. (And a finalist for this year’s LVMH Prize.)

Like many of the creators whose labels are part of Comme des Garçons’ Dover Street Market Paris brand accelerator, Linnetz does far more than fashion. At 30, he has already directed videos for Kanye West, assisted the playwright David Mamet, produced music for Kid Cudi and designed costumes for Lady Gaga.

He’s the kind of person that easily makes friends with high-profile people. For instance, he charmed influential art director Ronnie Cooke Newhouse, who introduced him to both Comme des Garçons’ Adrian Joffe and Jones. Two weeks after his initial phone call with Jones, the Dior team was at his studio.

Dior Spring 2023 Men’s Capsule Collection look 40. (Dior/YANNIS VLAMOS)

For the collection, which was shown on Thursday in Venice, Linnetz zeroed in on what former Dior designer Gianfranco Ferré was doing in 1991, the year he was born, for inspiration. (“It’s interesting to give someone a platform and see how they develop it,” Jones said.)

The opening look defined the collection: Linnetz’s grandfather wore Dior suits, so Jones helped him arrange that into something inspired by the classic bar jacket, but made out of traditional suit lining and tufted to appear endlessly frayed. The sweet little logo, accented with a flower and used throughout the line, is from old licensed Dior products. “The couture version of a licensee suit,” said Linnetz, who dressed other models in skate shoes and jewel-tone corduroys, pastel mohairs, dazzling crystalised trousers and fat, gold wallet chains.

Linnetz was born and raised — and currently lives and works — in Venice, not far from the little street leading up to the Pacific Ocean where Dior staged the show. The ground was painted electric blue, with guests dressed in Dior bar jackets clutching their saddle bags and posing in front of a neon-lit palm tree motif that was set up right off the runway.

These days, the area is as well known for its tech-wealth and a growing homeless population, as it is for its eccentric canal culture. Linnetz sees the transformation of his neighbourhood — where encampments sit in front of multi-million dollar houses in a disheartening example of the wealth polarisation afflicting the US — as a reality to face, rather than a nightmare from which he aims to escape.

“I’ve lived there my whole life, so seeing all different types of people come in and out is interesting but it’s also part of what living in California is, just taking things as they come and go,” he said.

The nostalgia-fuelled setting, collection and front row — with ‘90s pop stars Paula Abdul and Christina Aguilera sitting alongside Cudi and newlyweds Brooklyn Beckham and Nicola Peltz — were all testament to how youth culture, and youth consumption, increasingly drive growth at brands like Dior.

“Kids are really into it now, it’s crazy,” Jones said. “I don’t know where they get the money for it.”