Kim Jones has an audacious goal: to make Dior into the number-one men’s brand in the world. And considering the impact he’s had since being named men’s artistic director of the Paris-based house last March, he’s well on his way. Before joining Dior, Jones had amassed quite a following while holding the same role at Louis Vuitton. The designer, a graduate of Central Saint Martins in London, who has also worked at Alexander McQueen, Mulberry, Dunhill, Hugo Boss and Umbro, also garnered accolades for his eponymous collection that he had created for eight years. Here, he offers a peek behind the curtain, discussing how he used to play with poisonous snakes and his enviable collection of first-edition books.
WWD: Paris Fashion Week has become the biggest, multicultural event for men in the last two years, and you at Dior have been one of the leading forces. How has your job as a designer evolved?
Kim Jones: I look at the brand first and work out what to do. When I went to Dior, I set myself a goal which was tailoring, elegance and couture. That was my brief to myself and that’s how I work. With men’s wear in Paris, there’s a gang of us: Virgil, Matthew Williams, all the people that I love who have been my friends for a long time, and we all spur each other to achieve more and more. It’s a way to make people inspired, especially young people, because it’s hard for them to go to college now because of how expensive it is, so we try to show them how to look at the market in different ways and do exceptional things.
WWD: You refer to them as your fashion family.
K.J.: Yes, a ton of designers such as Stefano Pilati and Marc Jacobs were the people I was looking at [when I started out.] Alexander McQueen was a very good friend and supporter from Day One. I listen to a lot of people and filter what I need to know. I learned not to waste time because [fashion is] very fast now — and I like that. My team is very responsive and they’re extremely loyal. I’ve worked with most of them for a long time. Lucy [Beeden] is my right hand and we’ve worked together for 14 years. She came when I had no money and, basically, we’d do all the pattern cutting on the floor in my sitting room. I had to wait for her to give up her part-time job at Liberty in London and come and work with me full-time.
WWD: You’ve worked for Umbro and Dunhill and Kanye West, had a very successful career with Louis Vuitton and now Dior. When designers go from one house to another, you often see the creative director doing similar things, but when it comes to you, you immerse your own aesthetic into an archive and it becomes successful. How do you do it?
K.J.: I work for the house. So my brief to myself is to respect the house and what the legacy of the house will be in the future. There are designers that do their own thing for the house, but for me, I think the house is first and I’m second for the time I’m doing it. I want it to be about the house because people love Dior and also, people like what I do, so it’s like getting the fusion right and making sure it has enough of you and enough of the house. And each chapter is a different thing. I like the idea of working with different codes. Like with my label. I did that for eight years and it was very successful, especially in Japan, but I don’t want to do it anymore. I work for Dior and I’ve got enough work there with a great team around me so I don’t need to do it.
WWD: People have referred to you as a streetwear designer. Do you agree?
K.J.: People always talk about me as a streetwear designer. Streetwear is so boring, it’s a stupid word. Someone who I like a lot said, ‘I hate that word, it doesn’t mean anything to me.’ Clothes are clothes. With the way people wear clothes these days, it’s much more exciting to mix things up. That’s what men do. I work for Dior and look at the archives and it’s such incredible stuff. I like to see young people wear things in different ways and I like to see a stylist in a magazine play with the clothes and make them different. You don’t have to wear something head to toe. I think that makes things very one-vision. We have five fit models that work with us that have become friends and I ask their opinions. It’s listening and conversations with everyone that you meet.
WWD: Let’s go down memory lane. You grew up in Africa?
K.J.: I grew up all over the place when I was a kid. I was born in London and the first place we lived was Ecuador, then Ethiopia and Botswana. That taught me a lot about the world and how big it was. I love [Africa] and do a lot of work over there with conservation groups. I was very lucky to see elephants walking past our camp when I was a kid. I was terrible, I really got myself in trouble because I would catch poisonous snakes and things like that. I was going to be a zoologist, but when I came back to England full-time when I was 14, I opened a copy of i-D Magazine and got caught up in that world and thought, ‘This is amazing.’ And it completely changed what I thought.
WWD: Talk to me about the punk scene.
K.J.: I’ve never been a punk, but I’ve always been into rebellious communities. One of my big passions is the Bloomsbury group: Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf, Duncan Grant. They lived the way they wanted to live and something I was very passionate about from a very early age. You make life the way you want it to be and you know there are choices you have to make and I’ve got a very good work-life balance now where I’m free to meet with these amazing people. We did the collection with Ray Pettibon, who was a very subversive artist, and the idea that you can make that into a couture shirt is, for me, very exciting.
WWD: Let’s talk about your art collaborations.
K.J.: Christian Dior had an art gallery for 15 years and he worked with the artists of his time: Picasso and Dali. He did his couture house for 10 years, he was a lover of nature — there are a lot of things I relate to in his life and I want to bring that all in so I can celebrate the man as well as his house.
K.J.: Not every single one. The next one will not be with an artist, at least not one you would consider an artist. They work in different mediums. But what I like when I work with an artist is their confidence. When you watch an artist paint in front of you — I love and respect that. I have a lot of young kids who always message me and come to my house and they’re into analog films and creating sketchbooks and I encourage them because they’re going back to a form of craft that I find very refreshing. We have people who come to us for work experience and when they’re really good, I find a way to keep them because of their discipline and intellect. It’s very interesting to have that feedback.
WWD: You’re an obsessive collector. You have an incredible library of books and punk clothes and other things.
K.J.: I recently moved and got all my collections together in one place, which is the first time in nine years, and I realize there is a pattern to the things I like. I have a big art collection and a lot of Virginia Woolf first editions. I like that you can go to the direct source of things. It inspires me and I really enjoy it. They were the punks of their days, so to speak. Virginia Wolff’s relationship with Vita Sackville-West is an interesting thing to look at. I like people who were brave. I let other people see [my collections]. I’ve had young designers like Charles Jeffrey, who I like, come to my house and he couldn’t believe he could touch these things. I do that quite a lot. My father and uncle were collectors and they both had very good taste and that inspired me.
WWD: Is there any first edition you want to own that you haven’t bought yet?
K.J.: Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited.” I’m trying to find a good one that is inscribed. It’s very hard to find. There are books that I love reading but they’re also objects that speak about the time and how they were made.
WWD: Let’s talk about the LV Supreme collaboration you did which was groundbreaking at the time. What are your thoughts about the tension between commercial and creative.
K.J.: I’m not afraid to be a commercial artist. I like to see people wear what I do and enjoy it. The Supreme thing came about after I was having a conversation with Michael Burke, who is the ceo of Vuitton; we had a very good working relationship. He called me for James Jebbia’s number and I worked for a company called Give Me Five when I was in college that imported Undercover, A Bathing Ape, Supreme, Stussy — all these brands that were very hard to find…all these really amazing people. The attention to detail that they had and the way they made clothes was very different. So Michael said, ‘Can I get James Jebbia’s number?’ and I said, ‘If we can do a collaboration.’ I’d worn Supreme since I was a teenager and thought it would be fun to mix that up. People really loved it or hated it. Nice is boring so you don’t want to be in that middle thing. You want to be loved or hated.
WWD: That seemed like a personal thing and a turning point for you.
K.J.: The more personal I made things at Vuitton, the more they sold. We were going to do a series of collaborations because I like to work with people and see how they interpret things. Each artist you work with inspires the whole team. I ask everyone to sit down with the artist, tell what they’re working on, have a discussion. Autonomy makes people want to stay and work with you. If you control people, they get bored. Freedom is really important in the workplace, that, and discussion and conversation.
WWD: One thing you’re credited with is bringing the suit back to the younger generation. And the suit business is really growing for you.
K.J.: I can’t tell you figures, but it’s grown a huge amount. We have an incredible atelier who knows how to construct suits so well and I want Dior to be the best place to buy a suit. A lot of the models that come in for fittings are 18 to 22 and they save up to buy a suit for graduation or for going to that special event. When I go to the stores, I talk to everyone and ask questions. Like at the SoHo store, a lot of kids from NYU are saving up to buy a suit for graduation and will put a deposit down. So it’s nice to know that it’s appreciated. And that’s what Dior is: tailoring, elegance and couture.
WWD: You’ve said in the fashion world, you make people you work with family. You brought in Yoon Ahn from Amush and Matthew Williams from Alyx, one to work on jewelry, the other to work on hardware. These are established marquee designers in their own brands.
K.J.: I think Matthew Williams is extremely talented and Yoon Ahn is a very hardworking businesswoman. And I love having a fresh approach. Christian Dior had an American publicist when he started back in 1947 which was very forward thinking and progressive for that time. We are a French house, but we are a global brand and people live in a faster world so I think people relate to what I do and understand why I do things. And I think that’s part of the success.
WWD: Are you going to bring new designers in?
K.J.: If I find good ones, yeah. I don’t go with a closed mind. I like a lot of designers. I used to work at Vuitton with Demna. I don’t know him particularly well but I’ve always respected him and I love what he does and I buy his clothes. I buy a lot of Prada because it fits me very well — I think everyone loves Miuccia — I like Craig Green, Grace Wales Bonner, Charles Jeffrey. I love all the young kids in London who are doing stuff because I came from that. I’ll support people and give them fabrics or pay for their show if I think they’re good. I’m just lucky I did it when you didn’t need much money so I’m happy to write a check and give it to someone if I think they’re going to be successful. I don’t want them to miss a season. I want them to carry on. People were very good to me when I was starting out and I think it’s important to share that.
WWD: A lot of women wear your suits, too. Do you think the fashion industry is too entrenched in an old-fashioned idea of gender?
K.J.: I really appreciate when women wear my clothes because I think there is a part of everyone’s wardrobe that is mixed between what men wear and what women wear. I wear women’s wear if I like it — a suit or a jumper. Sometimes when I go into stores, I think there can be a rack that is for everyone. When I go into Prada, I don’t think about whether it’s men’s or women’s, I just like it. It depends how a brand is structured. Some brands don’t work well like that and some do. The shoes I’m wearing, lots of women wear them and we make them in smaller sizes. I love the boots Maria Grazia [Chiuri, Dior’s artistic director for women’s wear] makes, and I wear those all the time. The bag she designed I use all the time, too. I think it’s great there’s a mix. We all work for the same brand but there are different needs in different houses.
WWD: You just released a photo book, The Dior Sessions. tell us about that.
K.J.: We did the book with [photographer] Nikolai von Bismarck and we got all the people that we knew together to do it for this charity [The Teenage Cancer Trust]. There is a huge number of special and unique people of different backgrounds wearing [our] clothes in a kind of elegant and timeless book that you can look back on in 20 years and see that as a moment.
WWD: How did you decide on the people to highlight in the book? It’s a unique mix of photographers, writers, dancers, etc.
K.J.: We went to people we knew and asked if they’d be in the book. Then we went through the approval of the images with them. It was just a mix of friends, people we admire, people we know. The thing about Dior that I find very interesting is that people really love the brand. There’s a passion there and people respect the history and love everything about it so it was quite an easy thing to [get them to participate]. It was not as challenging as we thought. It was just working out the logistics in the time that we needed to do it.
WWD: You said you want to make Dior the number-one men’s brand in the world.
K.J.: Yes, that true. Pietro Beccari, Dior’s ceo, always thinks big, and I think big. That’s why when I started out, I was showing in London but went to Paris very quickly because what’s the point if you don’t think big. My people are behind me and push me to do that and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be. I’m very logical and pragmatic and it deserves to be number one.