Born in September 1979, Kim Niklas Jones graduated Central St Martins College of Art and Design in London. In his early career he presented 8 collections ( 2003-2007)for his main line – the first in 2003 during London Fashion Week.
Alongside his own collections, Jones has designed and work for various labels such Uniqlo, Topman, Umbro, Mulberry, Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen, Hugo Boss and Iceberg.
The real breakthrough has came when Jones was named Creative Director of British men’s luxury goods brand Alfred Dunhill, where he comes with full wave of modernity into the heritage brand.
2011 was the year when Jones was named the new Style Director of Louis Vuitton’s men’s ready to wear division , replacing Paul Helbers.In his new role at Vuitton, Jones workes closely with Marc Jacobs – the artistic director for the luxury label.
Above : Kim Jones, Men’s Style Director under the Artistic Direction of Marc Jacobs, talk about his inspirations for the Fall/Winter 2012-2013 Fashion Show.
Kim Jones’s fourth-floor office at the Paris headquarters of Louis Vuitton, on rue de Pont Neuf, is crammed with organised clutter. Neat piles of stuff cover the floor and every surface: framed pictures – a formal portrait of an African family uppermost – are stacked against a wall, pristine white trainers line up on the parquet floor amid shoe boxes and carrier bags, intricate tribal masks hang from the full wooden bookshelves, artwork and brochures for advertising campaigns compete for space on the desk with travel books, a rucksack is hooked over a chair arm next to a printout detailing the bag’s technical specifications. It’s an enticing room. It feels like somewhere you’d like an hour or two alone to rummage round. It’s pleasing that Jones’s office is as full of ideas and beautiful objects as the collections he creates as style director of Louis Vuitton menswear.
Not too long ago, after all, luxury menswear displayed little thought or beauty, consisting, as it mainly did, of suits, suits, suits and the odd blazer. But it’s an area of fashion undergoing major reinvention, and Jones’s instalment at LV is an important part of that. Recent figures show that menswear makes up 40% of the global fashion market; men now spend £155bn a year on high-end clothes and accessories. You can’t spend that much on tweed and brogues alone, and this increase has coincided with a flurry of creativity in luxury menswear.
Ever since Marc Jacobs was installed as artistic director in 1997, Louis Vuitton’s reinvention from makers of fusty handbags to the world’s most valuable luxury brand has been phenomenal. It is currently valued at .9bn. Kim Jones has basically been put in charge of one of the strongest growth areas for one of the biggest fashion brands in the world. A position by which the 35-year-old British designer, sitting in his office dressed in grey sweatshirt, chinos and trainers, seems cheerfully unfazed.
“I started buying the brand in 2002,” says Jones. “If I’d worked and saved up a bit of money, I’d buy something by Louis Vuitton. No one else really had it, even though it’s a big brand, because everything’s made in limited qualities. So if you want something different, it’s actually a good place to go.”
Ten years ago no one would have imagined Jones would end up as creative director of the brand he saved his pennies for. Not because he wasn’t talented, it’s just that his reputation was established, straight off his Central Saint Martins MA in menswear, in casual clothing. Jones’s name was made by his skill for subverting tailoring. He took traditional cuts and reinvented them as streetwear for the fashion-conscious.
“I was thinking about college the other day,” he says. “Someone asked me how I got into fashion, and I suddenly remembered that John Galliano bought half my graduate collection. It was a big deal, I guess, but I didn’t realise at the time. I was just upset because I wanted one of the jackets he bought for myself; it was hard to make and I didn’t get to keep it.”
Jones launched his own menswear label in 2002 – which found a loyal following, particularly in Japan – but unlike other young designers keen to make their name, he concentrated on collaborating with established brands instead. The list seems almost random – everyone from Topshop to Alexander McQueen, Umbro to Mulberry. He worked on Pastelle, a label for Kanye West (who’s a friend of his). He dabbled in art direction for magazines such as Dazed & Confused and Arena Homme +.
“I like working with people,” is his simple explanation, “getting a team together of different people working in different capacities. Designing clothes is just the job I do. I’m not in this to be famous or for my name to be recognised – I don’t want that. I’ve lived with people who are famous and it’s not nice to go out the front door and have your photo taken. I like to be able to toddle down to the corner shop.”
So he worked on projects that interested him. He made imaginative clothes for British football casuals and Japanese fashion addicts and anyone who shopped on the high street. He went out, had a lot of fun. He had been part of the straight-edge hardcore-punk scene when he studied graphic design in Brighton; when he moved to London it was the club scene in Hoxton, a passion he paid homage to in his 2004 collection called Subtle Rave. Then in 2008 he surprised the fashion world when he joined Dunhill, one of the stuffier heritage brands, but the combination worked: he won the British Fashion Council’s menswear designer of 2009. By the time his appointment at Louis Vuitton was announced in 2011, the mix of Jones’s imagination and the luxury market seemed an excellent idea. He won the menswear designer award again in 2011 and he’s been nominated this year, too.
When Jones was interviewed in 2008 about the Dunhill job, he used a nice turn of phrase for the state of many luxury brands at the time. He said they were “important in duty-free”. It’s a good way to describe those expensive labels that are kind of nice, but you only really buy them when they’re discounted and you’re bored, waiting to be somewhere else. Travel preoccupies Kim Jones, and at Louis Vuitton it’s his theme. Not kicking-your-heels-in-the-departure-lounge tedium, but transcontinental, international culture.
“Louis Vuitton is about deep-seated, proper luxury. In every old romantic movie they have Vuitton luggage. Look at Liz Taylor’s collection, the Duke of Windsor’s. I think it still maintains that ethos.” His first three collections have been inspired by different countries and their art and lifestyle. It’s a concept that works for a brand that needs to feel cosmopolitan. “When I first talked to LVMH, my presentation was all about travel and explorers. After all, it’s a travel brand that started with a trunk.”
His debut for spring/summer 2012 was about Africa, where he spent his childhood, and the influence of 1970s fashion and wildlife photographer Peter Beard meant that club ties and suits appeared alongside scarves inspired by Masai blankets on the catwalk. Autumn/winter 2012 looked at Paris and Tokyo, examining the 19th-century European craze for Japonisme – something which influenced the LV logo – and the work of fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez, who lived in Tokyo in the 1980s. Elegant double-breasted suits featured traditional kimono silks. Lopez’s feather-and-arrow motif appeared on bags and as pins. Next summer’s collection (which showed in June) is all about water and boating, specifically yachting as enjoyed by Yves Carcelle – the CEO of Louis Vuitton who is cited as an influence in the show notes. Jones reworked the cliché of the nautical theme with rubber-duck yellow anoraks, outsized rucksacks that looked like lifebuoys and dapper yachting blazers. All three collections show wit and skill and a voracious interest and insight not just in fabric and fit, but also in the art and cultures that informed Jones’s work.
“I wanted to inject fun into the brand,” he says. “It has an optimism. Like with the last collection, it’s the idea of a really rich guy on his yacht – having it.”
The idea of travel and moving between worlds comes easily to Jones. It’s what he’s done his whole life. His English father met his Danish mother in the Canary Islands, and though he was born in London in 1979, the family moved to Ecuador when he was three months old. He spent his childhood in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and the Caribbean, moving on as his father’s job as a hydro-geologist demanded. (His uncle is Colin Jones, incidentally, a photographer for the Observer in the 1960s who also worked for National Geographic and Life magazine.) “It’s amazing when you’re a kid to have a great time out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by animals, to see how big and beautiful the world is and be excited by that.”
His first memory of clothing is of his favourite T-shirt when he was five in Botswana. It had to be washed each night so he could wear it every day. It was emblazoned with a lion and the word “lion” was spelt out between the beast’s legs, which he thought was very clever. The Africa years gave him a life-long love of animals; his hero is David Attenborough. Even though he’s “the coolest man on the planet”, the naturalist will, sadly, never inspire a collection because he only wears blue shirts and chinos. To replicate that on the catwalk would be too conceptual.
His big sister Nadia lived in England (their parents split when he was five) and he stayed with her as a teenager. Nadia was creative director for high-street brand Oasis for 14 years, then worked with Lily Allen on her Lucy in Disguise clothing line. She encouraged him to go into fashion, giving him her collection of The Face and i-D magazines when he was 14. “I loved looking at the people in them, how cool they were. Now I know most of them.” Emma Hill, head of Mulberry, is his sister’s friend and she used to babysit Kim when he was a kid. “It’s funny, this little world of fashion.”
When we met in July he was heading off on holiday the next day. “One of the nice things about working at Louis Vuitton is that you get five weeks off in the summer, just like school.” He’s heading to Nepal, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar then Suffolk. Will he miss Paris? He thinks for a bit. “I have a lovely place and the team at work is brilliant. And now I know where I can buy Heat every week, and I’ve found Marks & Spencer for food – that’s made a difference.”
He may like his British comforts, but it sounds as if Jones will be in Paris for some time. “I can’t say often enough how great this job is,” he reminds me. “It’s my dream job, and I’ve got it just 10 years after I left college.” When you get what you want so quickly, don’t you have to wonder what’s going to come next? Jones doesn’t think so. He’s got enough to keep him busy here. “When travel is your resource, you can do anything. How many countries are there? About 200? Well, that’s 200 collections, right there. I can go anywhere in the world from here.”
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