Kim Jones Knows How To Keep The Fashion World On Its Toes
The capital-A artists – those rebels who manage to have staying power beyond a season, trend or era; whose work is the subject of deep, internet message board-level fandom – usually share one trait: the ability to be a chameleon.
And so it is with Kim Jones. He became one of the world’s coolest designers with his Japan-infused eponymous label, then rose to the level of streetwear king during his time with LV, dropping a slew of unprecedented collaborations in the process.
Now he’s manifested his way into a new stratosphere. A little over a year into his stint as the artistic director of Dior Men, he’s proven that he can elevate his work to new heights. Like, couture heights. Archive-worthy heights.
His first Dior show in Paris was a carefully constructed rebellion to everything that was dropping everywhere else. Suddenly, there was tailoring! Beautiful, clean, crisp lines! Hero pieces reimagined for a new era of elegance! His time at the house has already been a revelation.
One thing Jones carried with him to his new maison was a sense of theatre – a sense of grandiosity that, while totally, utterly compelling, never threatens to actually overshadow the clothes.
When GQ met Jones, on a brisk afternoon on a hotel terrace in Tokyo last November, he stepped outside bearing a Coke and a New York Times hoodie. He was about to re-introduce his vision for Dior to the world.
A little over 24 hours later, he would drop jaws all over the fashion industry, putting on a pre-fall show that was lathered in futurism and underpinned, as ever, by tailoring. It was a palette of greys and metallics – the latter informing one of the most maximalist saddle bags, ever. In the centre of the room, a sculpture created by Japanese artist Hajime Sorayama towered over the models.
Kim Jones’ second collection for Dior Men was a ’70s-inspired vision of the future, set in Tokyo
“People don’t necessarily know his name, but they know his work,” says Jones. “He was looking at these very futuristic robot people and animals from the ’70s. I thought it was interesting to look at that idea – you know the film Metropolis? – so we have a huge statue in the middle. It’s a very grand setting.”
And if there’s a man who knows about grand settings, it is Kim Jones.
Do you have any rituals before a show?
No, because you don’t have any time for yourself. You just get on with it. You’re surrounded by people the whole time, for an intensive week – and that’s fine. You just try to get as much sleep as possible.
It’s funny doing a show in a different time zone, because you’re acclimatising. It’s the first time I’ve done this. Normally, you know you’re going to go home. It takes a while to switch.
“I love working within the parameters of a brand. I think it’s really interesting. You’re very lucky to work with these archives, and with this heritage.”
You love Tokyo. You have a love affair with this city.
I do. It’s really inspirational. [Christian Dior] loved Japan, that’s why we’re doing the show here, as a mark of respect to him. And plus, I love Japan too. It’s nice to have something from the past, and something from now, collide together.
Have you had a chance to travel to the Middle East?
I’ve been to Dubai and quite a few different countries in the Middle East. But I only go for short, quick trips. It’s somewhere interesting – it’s a very informed market. People like spending money. They know what they want to buy.
The process of moving to a new fashion house, of sinking your teeth into a new brand – how do you even begin to do that?
I look at what the DNA of the brand is. And then, I figure out what is relevant for now. Then, I start putting that into the pillars of what the brand stands for.
What are those pillars at Dior?
For me, it’s elegant, it’s tailored, it’s couture.
Because [Christian Dior] was quite a forward-thinking guy, there’s a lot in the womenswear archive that applies to menswear now. I go through what I’m looking at for the season, and I don’t go too much further. Because otherwise, you get embroiled in looking at that forever.
Plus, if you’re going to maintain excitement for yourself within the house, you need to find new things all the time. So, we look at the archive. It’s looking at things that will excite people for now, looking at the way that he cut certain pieces – because the tailoring part of what he did was very important – and just really focus on three key stories for a season that we can then push into retail too.
So you have to show a little restraint, for you and the customer. I can imagine the archive is epic.
It’s so much. I have to say, it’s probably the best archive in any house – it’s phenomenal. It’s so well done.
At Vuitton, there wasn’t really a clothing archive. We looked at some of the things Marc [Jacobs] did, because they were very interesting. But it was bags and trunks – it wasn’t clothing. So, it’s just completely different.
What was the statement you were trying to make with your first collection?
The message of Dior, with my signature on it. It was three things: the couture, the tailoring, the elegance. We looked at lots of references from his childhood and his personal life and then worked with artists – because he was a gallerist before he was a couturier. He worked with Picasso and Salvador Dalí and all the big artists of his time – so I looked at people who speak to this generation.
What are the pressures like, taking the reins at an iconic house like this?
You know what, I just do things. I get on with it. I just have to do my job. I do my job, I want my boss to be proud, because I really like him, and I want to do what’s right for the brand.
The brand is before me. People like Dior because of Dior. It’s important that you have those elements that are Dior. I just have to go in with common sense.
Some might be tempted to try to make it more about themselves as an individual, rather than about the brand.
I love working within the parameters of a brand. I think it’s really interesting. You’re really lucky to work with these archives, and with this heritage. For me, I want to do that. It’s just how I work. I’m not saying mine is the right way, it’s just how I do it.
You talked about how some of the womenswear archives could inform menswear now. What was it that you saw?
It’s cuts. It’s flow. It was done in the ’50s, but actually, it’s very relevant to menswear now. Nice coats, interesting cuts, fabrications, prints, all sorts of things. The signature fabrics that Mr Dior used – he was very consistent in what he liked. It was very useful for us to see what we can use now, and how it works for today.
The menswear moment that we’re in now is very streetwear heavy. It’s what makes what you did at the first presentation in Paris so special – it felt like a celebration of tailoring, but with newness and freshness.
It was a lightness – I wanted it to be easy to wear. I wanted it to not be rigid. I wanted it to be relaxed. I think that’s what’s important for now. People want to look good and dress nicely, but they don’t want to necessarily be rigid.
Look at what we are wearing – I’m really just in comfy clothes today, because I need to be, living in that room [laughs].
And that shows in the collection – that diagonal closure, the oblique – was it informed by the moment that we’re in?
A little bit. That actually came from a show that Mr Dior did in 1955. It was just a really beautiful coat that a woman had on, but it had lots of buttons. We thought it would be much more chic to try that as a double-breasted jacket, with one button – a simplicity message. A lot of his stuff did look quite simple, but actually was quite complicated. A tailored jacket isn’t easy to make if you don’t know how to.
How have you seen menswear change over the last decade? Where have we come from, where are we now – and where are we going?
I think men are much more informed, due to the internet. People see things from all over the world. High-low dressing has taken a big step forward. People do their research. It’s evolved quickly, but the staples are still the same.
I think about what the next six months or the next year looks like – you don’t think too much further than that, because things change so fast now.
What’s exciting you the most right now, though?
Just the selection and the visibility. You can see it everywhere, far easier. Even what we’re doing here, it’s massive, it’s beyond.
Menswear has a seat at the table…
Exactly. You look at the global population – it’s half and half. [Fashion] used to be 70-30 – but in Japan, it’s 50-50. It’s just how it is now.
Do you see the idea of masculinity changing the same way menswear is?
You do, in cities, in certain countries. Things are changing, but it takes time for them to change. The world’s going in two different directions at the moment. I live in London, and it’s quite a free city, but you go somewhere else and things are being clamped down on.
I just don’t think menswear changes as fast as we think. If you dial it right back, how about James Dean in a white t-shirt in the 1950s, you know? That still looks really modern.