The Curious Case Of Mr Jones

Louis Vuitton’s menswear director builds his global vision with a journey to our region.

BY ian loh | Jun 2, 2016 | Fashion

“I’ve been travelling since I was three months old. It’s part of my DNA,” Kim Jones says during our interview in Bangkok, having just flown in from Cambodia hours ago. Born to a Danish mother and an English father, Jones spent most of his childhood in exotic locations due to his dad’s work as a hydrogeologist. The family was always on the move, first to Ecuador, before stints in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and the Caribbean followed. This probably explains Jones’ fascination with wildlife, cultures and spirituality. And that preoccupation has translated well into his collections for Louis Vuitton, where he has sent down the runway clothes inspired by traditional Bhutanese patterns, Kenya’s Masai print, South America’s Atacama Desert and the uniforms of palace guards in Rajasthan.
“Making travel a theme helps. I think men are interested in the narrative of it. You can tell a story to make people think about things in a different way,” Jones enthuses. “Since Louis Vuitton is a travel luxury brand, for me, that’s the logical thing to do.”

In the summer of 2014, Jones vacationed in Myanmar. It was by chance that he visited a hill tribe museum, where he stumbled upon traditional clothing from the ’50s that he thought looked very much like contemporary sportswear. “That was the first thing I bought in Myanmar. It was also when I started thinking about Southeast Asia more deeply. I hate generalising, because each country and culture is very different, but it’s about taking all those things like fabrics and motifs, and mixing them up to make it concise,” Jones explains. From the bold stripes of Thailand’s Lahu hill tribe to symbolic creatures such as Indonesia’s birds of paradise, Jones’ SS16 collection tells stories with different aspects of Southeast Asian nature, in an unmistakably luxurious Louis Vuitton way, of course. “I want to take animals from each region and celebrate them, so we did the embroidery on the souvenir jackets and the prints on the silk shirts,” Jones says, “It’s the Year of Monkey, and I love monkeys. So we did it in red because it’s considered lucky in Chinese culture. And we did a version with a black leopard, which is an exotic species in Borneo.”

The five souvenir jackets with black leopard embroidery were one-offs that Jones designed exclusively for Louis Vuitton pop-up store in Bangkok, also a first for the region. A selection of pieces from the SS16 collection was also showcased, but most were snapped up on opening night, with Jones in attendance. That response was a resounding endorsement of Jones’ innate ability to translate his creativity into commercial success. “It’s about figuring out what a 60-year-old can wear versus what a 20-year-old would wear; it’s about being realistic about how big our demographic is,” Jones says.

And for the SS16 collection, he is looking at the youth. “Fashion is quite youthful. When we did this collection, I knew it was going to be popular with young people. I think we have a platform, which is very interesting, because when we put [the clothes] together, they become a fashion statement. But when we break it down into individual pieces, they are very commercial items.”

There’s a great synergy between Jones and Louis Vuitton. During his five-year tenure as Artistic Director of Menswear, he has given the collections a zing and, of course, a massive commercial boost globally. Tim Blanks, Editor-at-Large of Business of Fashion, has called him “a master intuitor of LV’s past—and a prophet of its future”, while Suzy Menkes, International Fashion Editor of Vogue, has said his collections are “not to be faulted”.

But Jones feels he owes much of his success to his team. “I have a great team, people who are loyal, and I really enjoy working with them. We laugh a lot. It’s not stuffy, it’s just real. But that’s probably quite British. I used to work with Alexander McQueen, who was a good friend of mine. Sometimes, he’d be like, ‘I’m bored; come and sit with me while I do my fittings’, and we’d just laugh a lot, as he told stupid jokes. I think that’s a British thing,” Jones grins.
Apart from Alexander McQueen, Jones also worked at Mulberry and Hugo Boss, before getting his big break. In 2008, he was named Creative Director of Alfred Dunhill, despite arguably being better known for his sportswear and streetwear influences then. Fast-forward to the present, and these are the two major trends in the menswear scene. “Look at all the key designers now—Stefano (Pilati), Raf (Simons), Riccardo (Tisci); they’re looking at what people are wearing on the street because that’s where everything comes from,” Jones says.

“Luxury is a thing that people aspire to, but it’s also a thing that people want to wear to a nightclub, a bar or a restaurant, out and about, to be seen in.”

As for androgyny, another major menswear trend, Jones offers this pragmatic view. “If you make a great coat, any man or woman would want to wear it. If you make a great printed shirt, any man or woman would want to wear it. That’s fine for some designers. But you need to be realistic about who is going to be your customer. People who love fashion will wear anything, but I think 70 percent to 90 percent of people who walk into the store will just want very nice, good products,” he observes. However, Jones readily acknowledges the aesthetics of other designers.

“Someone that I really admire is Rick Owens. He has created this really interesting world. I don’t wear his clothes, but I love the way they look on the right person. I’m able to appreciate someone who is successful at making that style his or her own. I like looking at lots of different things, but I wouldn’t necessary buy or wear them because they’re not my style. There’s nothing I really hate,” says Jones who is dressed in a white tee, jeans and a pair of Nike sneakers.
His unassuming demeanour is probably not what you’d expect from a globetrotting designer, but it is his inquisitive nature that makes him different. “I just want to do something a little bit different. Our consistency is key to what we do [at Louis Vuitton] but you can always make things a little different. I have already started designing for next season, and it will be a big surprise,” Jones intones cryptically, leaving us to wonder where he’ll be taking us on his next Louis Vuitton trip.

First published in Esquire Malaysia, the May 2016 issue.