Friday 22nd April

| BY Alexander Fury

Another Shade Of Blue: Alexander Fury Talks To Kim Jones

What Kim Jones does, what he’s known for, feels very relevant to fashion today. Not just what he does as men’s style director of Louis Vuitton – “The biggest brand,” he states proudly, of a behemoth valued by Forbes at some £18.7 billion – but what he’s always done.

Kim Jones started his career in the early 2000s, mixing luxury fabrics with sportswear shapes and finishes, creating a hybrid that felt fresh, new and arresting. He revived the 1990s, referenced rave, brought his own experiences of clubbing in London to the catwalk. Jones’s work under his dearly departed own label was, arguably, the start of this whole luxury- sportswear thing that has engulfed the entire industry.

He still does it today at Louis Vuitton: it’s usually not tracksuits, although this past spring/summer there were a few stripe-framed zip-front tops that whispered Gabicci- and Sergio Tacchini-like early- 1980s football-terrace attire. Albeit done in hyper-luxe fabrics, just like the satin souvenir jackets and skinny-skinny Thin White Duke neck scarves in Asiatic silks that made Jones’s models look like Detlev from Christiane F, with a bit of Bowie thrown in. The latter was the former’s omnipresent hero, after all.

LV 1

Jones is a voracious collector, particularly of the work of 1980s underground designers such as Rachel Auburn (not many have heard of her), Leigh Bowery (didn’t know he did clothes?) and Christopher Nemeth, a cult figure whose estate collaborated with Jones at Louis Vuitton for a sell-out range last winter. A rack of their clothes clutters up the corridor outside Jones’s office at Vuitton, although he claims he never references them. However, I’d argue the entire ethos of his work carries on their spirit, though in the hallowed halls of a French luxury-goods institution.

The hallowed halls frequently ring with Jones’s clear, strident tones. He likes to talk, and unlike many designers who get tied up in their own pontification, Jones talks a lot of sense. When you get an hour or so with him – as I did, just before he presented his SS16 collection – you click on your Dictaphone quick, because Kim Jones is always in full flow…

KIM JONES: “…this season we have got the thinnest leather ever, backed onto organza so it’s stiff. Then everything’s taped together… I’ve got a picture of it that I can show you. They’re prototypes. It’s really super light to touch and it’s reversible.”

ALEXANDER FURY: “Something that’s super graphic.”

KJ: “So it’s quite sporty and different, but it still has that thing that we did before. A packing… ”

AF: “Like a luxury pac a mac?”

KJ: “Yeah! They’ll not be super expensive, which is kind of good.”

AF: “Is that something you’re aware of? The cost?”

KJ: “I always look at prices. I always look at something and think, ‘Would I buy that?’ Because fabrics go up every year, because of what’s happening in the world. Things just get more and more expensive. We’re constantly looking, especially in the more commercial lines, to try to get that working better and better, because that’s something that I’m interested in, too. I think it’s a very difficult time in the world, but we’re still doing really well. I just want to make people aware that we think about everything like that, because things can get so expensive, so it’s really justifying that. I think that’s the next thing that’s going to be happening in fashion – really justifying those things, because it gets very, very expensive.”

AF: “Working on a newspaper is sometimes very strange, because you will show clothes sometimes, and someone will ask, ‘Why does it cost that much?’ My argument is always, ‘Because it’s worth it. It costs that much because it costs that much, that’s how much it costs to make it.’ With some things it’s difficult to argue that, but with a lot of it, it costs that much because they specially wove the fabric, because it’s made in France or Italy, because it’s made by four different factories… ”

KJ: “Some of the stuff that we’re doing for spring/summer 2016 is going to five factories to be finished – 85-90% of our fabrics are developed for the show. There are not that many houses that can do that. I think that’s the thing, as a designer, that’s the joy of being there. It’s like being a kid in a candy shop. When we do a lot of developments, we go through and edit it, because I don’t want it to be so many different things. In menswear, people want a message. They don’t want to see, like, 92 references in one piece of fabric, because it’s just like, ‘How am I going to put that with that and that?’ As a customer, I think that’s the thing that’s really important to do.”

AF: “What clients want is what a lot of people talk to me about – namely, that they want newness.”

KJ: “Recently in the office I’ve had a few people waiting for the collection to come in, so we’ll be having a meeting, every half an hour, to plan the next two. I know exactly what I want to do for the next show, autumn/winter 2016, I know the music, I know the staging. Now we’re doing the research backwards.”

LV 2

AF: “I guess it necessitates that you’re working on a lot of things all at the same time.”

KJ: “I feel like switching it up. I used to do so many different things. When I had my own label I’d be doing Umbro, Hugo Boss. I’d be doing something for Topman, something with Iceberg, all sorts of different things. I’d be working on five collections, so that way of working isn’t difficult for me. Quite a lot of men’s fashion is now what I used to do – now it’s just thinking what’s selling, what really works with people. What sells is still really good, it’s just that the direction is changing. It’s become much more about luxury streetwear. This sort of luxury casual wear is really the way forward, I think. Very few people in the office really wear suits. Very few people apart from the board. After the earthquake in Japan, air conditioning has been set much lower there, so now people don’t have to wear a jacket and a tie to work, but you don’t know that if you don’t go to Japan. It’s strange that a natural disaster creates that in a population that used to be the number one tie buyers in the world. Well, they still are the number one tie buyers, but it’s strange that something like that has changed things as well.”

AF: “That tailoring-versus-sportswear thing is interesting, even today, in the London menswear collections. It strikes me that there was almost no middle ground.”

KJ: “I understand the Savile Row company wanting to look very formal and traditional, because that’s their art – they make a beautiful suit. But there’s also this reality of what else can you fulfil in that brief? I think it’s logical to mix it all up.”

AF: “That’s also really fundamental today – the breaking of the hegemony of the suit. All of a sudden, there’s space, there’s a high-fashion consumer who is looking for something other than suits. It doesn’t feel quite as limited as it did for a period.”

KJ: “But we always have a tailoring underpinning to whatever we do, because it’s just how I like to work. It’s what I think the house should have. French people are very conservative, I think, compared with English people. I never get told, ‘We want this.’ I never get told anything like, ‘We want you to do a collection for this thing.’ It’s a very free role, but you have to really think about it. I do look at all the sales figures and I look at things logically, because I think, as a designer, you have to.”

AF: “You can’t be in an ivory tower, I guess.”

KJ: “No, I can’t just be in a closed shell because it’s too big a company. You’ve got all these different people that go in store and buy all these different things and I get shocked and surprised and interested by all these different things.”

AF: “It’s also that whole idea of creating something that has a life beyond the catwalk, something that isn’t just about indulgence. Someone wanting to buy it, at the end of the day, isn’t a dirty thing. It isn’t a bad thing.”

KJ: “Especially when you’re Louis Vuitton and you’re the biggest brand. You don’t really have that choice, but you can have a lot of fun doing it. I make all these crazy little things, like weird accessories and stuff. The fact we did a Nemeth collection is actually quite bold, because he was such an underground person.”

AF: “That’s something that I wanted to ask about, because you worked with Nemeth, and you pulled in Judy Blame quite early on to do things with you at Vuitton. I was wondering, first of all, whether that was a wish fulfilled and is he one of those people that you’ve always wanted to work with?”

KJ: “They were my heroes growing up, I guess. You’d see them in magazines all the time and think, ‘Wow, they’re really, really cool.’ I was going to be a zoologist until I was about 14, then I got given a stack of magazines and I was like, ‘I don’t want to work hard, I want to do something like this! But actually it’s probably harder work. I remember there was a thing about Nellee Hooper in i-D, he was wearing Nemeth. And Judy was in multiple things. I met Judy when I was about 16. The Nemeth family asked if he could work on it, and obviously I wanted to be very respectful towards them, because it’s a living thing. Judy knew a lot of facts about it that I didn’t know, he brought me a lot research material. So we were just like, ‘Let’s do some jewellery together.’ It seemed like the most logical step forward. It was organic, everything was organic. When I look at London, I think of what young London is now and what old London is, and Christopher Nemeth was the perfect balance between that, because it was tailoring done in a unique way. And The House of Beauty and Culture, that was the coolest thing back then. Obviously there was Westwood and McLaren, but they were of the old school then, for the young kids. I was just thinking about the youth element of it all, getting out and just doing stuff. Nemeth wasn’t trained as a pattern cutter, but his pattern cutting is incredible. I wanted to get everyone involved who worked with Nemeth. Otherwise, people can be like, ‘Why are they doing that?’ But if it’s done properly you think, ‘It’s authentic.’ Authenticity is always important, with everything.”

LV 3

AF: “Is there a sense of bringing London to Louis Vuitton? Is that something you are aware of bringing? That sounds sort of naff, but do you know what I mean?”

KJ: “London is quite exciting at the moment for design, because it is on its own and it’s people doing their own thing. I don’t think of it necessarily as London, I just think of it as something different. I think that things work really well with Vuitton when they’re unexpected – it’s a surprise for people. A lot of our customers do want people to know they’re wearing Vuitton, so to put the Nemeth rope on something, lots of different scales, that’s saying it without saying it. My sensibility is London, but I think London is the menswear capital, France is the couture capital, Milan is the ready-to-wear capital, so I take that part of my background from London and put it there.”

AF: “Talking of couture, I always think that what you do at Vuitton is incredibly refined. We talk about Nemeth prints, but a lot of it wasn’t prints, there was a lot of needlepoint.”

KJ: “There was a huge amount of fabric development for that. I think it was probably one of the most intense that we did, just because if we were going to repeat that print over and over again, I didn’t want it to be boring. Nemeth was quite artisanal, so is Louis Vuitton. With the shows you can do whatever you want completely. For me it’s showing the craftsmanship, the luxury, of all the different pieces we can use and the people we can work with.”

AF: “You use the word luxury, which obviously I’m going to jump on because I always find it really fascinating, but different ideas of luxury. What is it that you do at Louis Vuitton, how would you express that idea of luxury?”

KJ: “It’s really just finding all the best components and finding the best fabrics and finding the best people to make them. Our quality control is really hardcore. Actually, quite often when I can’t understand the price of something, it’s because it’s gone through so much testing to make it work and make it last. I try to make things that are timeless. Luxury for me is time. This jacket [He tugs at his own.] is from 1950 and I spent ages looking for one that fitted me, for about 15 years. I found my perfect pair of jeans in Japan, which were 501s from 1932, in amazing condition. Then I can wear them with Vuitton. I don’t only wear Vuitton, I mix and match it. I feel weird wearing all the clothes that I work on.”

AF: “What about the idea of exclusivity? How important is exclusivity? And how do you maintain exclusivity?”

KJ: “I look at layers of things. Obviously you’ve got the mass… Anything from the show is limited, compared to the more mass stuff, so I always say we’ve got apex customers – who are the exotics – and then we’ve got the fashion customers who come in and they want something that’s not going to be everywhere. Then you’ve got this guy who is a really successful man and… ”

AF: “He just wants something that’s really beautifully finished and originally made.”

KJ: “Exactly. There are always levels. Whenever I’m in a meeting and they ask me, ‘Why have you done this, why have you done that?’ I just draw that this is for him, this is for him, this is for him.”

Text by Alexander Fury
Photographs by Alessio Bolzoni, fashion editor Hector Castro. Models wear Louis Vuitton SS16
Taken from Issue 43 on 10 Men, THE DARK LANDS, on newsstands now…