PARIS — Kim Jones has been vocal about his admiration for British author Virginia Woolf, but his spring 2023 men’s collection for Dior is inspired by another member of the Bloomsbury Group: painter Duncan Grant.
Jones grew up in Lewes in the south of England, not far from Charleston, the farmhouse where Grant and fellow artist Vanessa Bell moved in 1916, turning it into the epicenter of their circle of writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists.
“I first went to Charleston when I was 14 years old. It had struck me how modern they all were, each of those individuals involved in Bloomsbury who were attached to Charleston. It was primarily how they lived and worked in one place and how intense that connection was,” Jones said in a statement.
“There are parallels with Mr. Dior — and I discovered him too at around the same age,” he added.
Jones has developed an impressive personal collection of signed and presentation copies of first edition books associated with the group, including Hogarth Press editions — the publishing house founded by Woolf and her husband Leonard; objects produced by the Omega Workshops design and furniture collective, cofounded by Grant and Bell, and works of art by the two painters, among others.
In May, he took part in the Charleston Festival, talking about the role of art in his creative practice and the ongoing influence of the Bloomsbury Group on his work, in a conversation with actress Demi Moore and photographer Nikolai von Bismarck.
Now Jones has partnered with the Charleston Trust on his men’s collection, due to be presented on dior.com at 3 p.m. local time in Paris on Friday, marking the first time that Grant’s work will be featured in a clothing line.
Considered one of the major talents of his generation, the Post-Impressionist artist had a penchant for male nudes, and also experimented with textiles, ceramics and theater designs, murals, illustrations and more. Charleston recently staged an exhibition of more than 400 erotic drawings by Grant, which it received as a donation in 2020.
“We have 10,000 works in our collection. And because of our trust in his process, and his commitment, we were very happy to open our archives to Kim and his team,” Nathaniel Hepburn, director and chief executive officer of the Charleston Trust, told WWD. The designer had access to drawings which have never been seen publicly, in addition to sketchbooks.
“It’s a wonderful story for us about how our collection, and the history of our artists and the work that they produced 100 years ago, can inspire young people and creatives today. Kim visited Charleston as a young boy, and he was clearly overwhelmed by what he experienced in these rooms that are full of art,” Hepburn said.
“The Bloomsbury Group, Duncan Grant and his friends, lived a life where art was important in every aspect of how they lived, and the rooms within Charleston are decorated and designed as a complete work of art that took them 60 years to create. It’s now open to the public as a museum, and Kim has returned often to the house,” he added.
“He spends time there, continuing to explore the collections, and I think it’s a very genuine story of inspiration, of understanding what was so special about those artists who were very radical in the early 20th century. He describes them as being like punks but with beauty,” Hepburn said.
Grant was especially charismatic, as attested by a photograph of him, dated from the 1930s, sitting in the garden room at Charleston wearing a crumpled oversize suit with bare feet, and no shirt and tie — a daring look at the time.
“Duncan Grant was very modern in his approach to dress,” said Hepburn, noting that around 1970, the artist, by then in his 80s, was photographed wearing a track suit and a straw hat. “He was carefree and experimental, and he would certainly have stood out from his contemporaries.”
In addition, Jones discovered that Grant and the famously superstitious Dior shared the same birthday, Jan. 21.
“That would have been a sign that Christian Dior paid attention to — and so did we. They shared the connection to the garden and light; they both lived in wonderful houses, and had their distinct private worlds that they both used as inspiration. It just seemed the perfect thing to do,” Jones said.
Both men were gay. Grant had a number of relationships with men throughout his life, including economist John Maynard Keynes, writer David Garnett, artist George Bergen and Bell’s brother, Adrian Stephen. He and Bell, who was Virginia Woolf’s sister, also had a daughter named Angelica.
“Sometimes the Bloomsbury Group is referred to as a group of people in love with Duncan Grant,” Hepburn said.
“He was a very beautiful man and he had a charm that meant people were very close to him and loyal to him, and his lovers and friends stayed with him throughout his life. But he was also a gay man living at a time when that was criminalized in this country, and he was trying to live a life that was different, that was outside the norm,” he continued.
“And Charleston became a haven for a group of like-minded people who wanted to explore not just artistic freedom, but also sexual and social freedom. And I think that political message of Grant’s life, and Charleston as that sanctuary, is hugely important,” he said.
The Charleston Trust is working on the first major exhibition to explore and celebrate the fashion of the Bloomsbury Group, curated by fashion critic and author Charlie Porter. Titled “Bring No Clothes: Bloomsbury & Fashion,” it is due to open in September 2023 and will feature items from the Dior collection.
“Virginia Woolf talks a lot about clothing in her writing. They were artists that were artists and writers that were coming out of the Victorian era, coming out of the oppression of their elders, and trying to imagine society differently, and clothing and fashion was very important as part of that,” Hepburn noted.
“Woolf writes to invite her friends to visit and said, ‘Bring no clothes.’ And by that she means, you can come in whatever you want. There’s no sense of a dress code, you will not have to dress for dinner,” he explained.
The Dior collaboration draws from 11 works selected from the Charleston Trust’s collection, in addition to Jones’ personal trove of Bloomsbury work.
“He doesn’t just collect the books, he reads and he thinks, and he is so deeply knowledgeable about those artists and that time. That’s what makes this collaboration so special, is that it is not a passing fad. It’s not just here for one collection and one season for Kim. It is so deeply embedded in his artistic practice,” Hepburn said.
Since taking over as artistic director of men’s collections at Dior, Jones has worked with artists as varied as Kaws, Daniel Arsham, Amoako Boafo and Kenny Scharf. His recent collections have expanded the concept of collaborations to artists and writers of the past, as well as fellow designers.
“I think that there is a way of working for Kim, that is so collaborative, that maybe echoes the way that the Bloomsbury Group worked themselves 100 years ago as a group of friends, imagining life differently, thinking creatively about all of the problems of art and society,” Hepburn said.
“As a museum, as a gallery, we sit back and wait to be surprised. That is the joy of working with extraordinary creatives, it’s that you can trust that they will produce something that allows different audiences, different people to find a different way of discovering Duncan Grant and his friends, and the house that he made,” he said.