ON THE ROAD WITH DIOR. British menswear designer Kim Jones is a graduate of Central St Martins. He has worked with high profile fashion brands including Dunhill, Louis Vuitton, Mulberry, Alexander McQueen, Hugo Boss, Iceberg, Topman and Uniqlo. In 2018 he joined Dior Men as artistic director, and in 2020 was also named artistic director at Fendi, a position that was previously held by Karl Lagerfeld.
You can listen to the podcast of this interview here.
Kim Jones, your Dior Menswear Fall 2022 show at Kensington Olympia last December was inspired by the American novelist Jack Kerouac’s 1957 book “On the Road”. You won The Fashion Awards Designer of the Year 2021, but this was your first show in London since 2003. Is London really your city?
I live here. I lived between here and Paris for seven years, and then I wanted to be back here full time because all my friends are here, my life is here and my roots are here. I was born in London and then I travelled around the world with my family. I went to college in London when I was 19, and then I moved to Paris for Louis Vuitton, and then I was back and forth. I worked for my own label and Dunhill in London.
How were you able to start your own label when you were so young?
Me and my friends were looking for clothes we wanted, and we couldn’t find them so I started making them. Lee (Alexander McQueen) became friends with me when I was leaving college and then John Galliano bought a large part of my graduate collection. With that money I started doing my own label, and that became successful. I started doing all my production in Japan because I had a huge following in Japan, and it was much easier to make it there rather than import it to Japan which was so complicated. You learn on the job when you are an independent designer.
You always had a vocation for men’s clothing, but now you also work in women’s fashion for Fendi. Is this something new?
It’s really fun. Dior is working with an archive and Fendi is working with a family, so it’s two different ways of thinking and working. Fendi has been a great success commercially; to my surprise the first bag we did was a massive hit.
You are a keen collector of special editions of books. Why is this Dior menswear collection inspired by the authors of the Beat Generation and in particular Jack Kerouac’s book “On the Road”?
It’s the perfect marriage between literature and couture. Kerouac planned and did the trip for “On the Road” ten years before he went to Paris, where he wrote it at the same time that Christian Dior was alive. He had someone stitching the manuscript together while he was in Paris, and that stitching together was the echo of Christian Dior’s ateliers doing the “New Look”.
“I always think in terms of past, present and future, and I think what these things we do now will be in the future, for instance in an exhibition of Dior.”
Kim Jones, how was Kerouac dressing?
He dressed in workwear, knitwear, t-shirts, sportswear, denim, tailoring, all sorts of things. The American look was really modern for its time, they weren’t just wearing the suit with tie, they were mixing things up. They were taking something that was a new, inexpensive thing – like a t-shirt or denim or workwear – and mixing it with a nice suit. Fabrics back then were really well made and constructed. We look at those fabrics now and replicate them for Dior, because the quality was so good.
Do you care a lot about the use of sustainable material in your fabrics?
Yes, I grew up all over the world, I care about it. I do a lot of work with conservation groups around the world, to protect land and to protect endangered species, because I saw them and I don’t want them to be dead.
What can men buy from your Dior collection that resonates with Jack Kerouac?
We worked with his estate and there are lots of clothes you can wear in that collection in different ways. Beautiful coats and tailored pieces are in every single look, but then they’re mixed with modern pieces. It’s looking at the idea of tailoring, but in a more mix and match way. That nod to American sportswear comes from the time when writers and actors like Jack Kerouac, James Dean, and Marlon Brando were looking at those things. It was new then. They were dressing in jeans for the first time. They were dressing in t-shirts.
When you were growing up most people wore suits. How did you compose your style?
I’ve always had very expensive taste, something that was a real problem for my family, and I like to work in these kinds of fine brands. I understand what the consumer wants, and I never think about me when I’m working. Even though I am wearing Dior trousers they are quite casual ones and sneakers, because I wear what I am comfortable working in.
You love sneakers, don’t you?
Yes, it’s terrible because I wore them all my life and when you put shoes on, they’re just so uncomfortable.
Were you always able to afford them?
No, not at all. Me and my friends would go and do our dishwashing jobs and work in shops, and share a pair of sneakers. The ones we liked were quite hard to get in England. We looked at the youth culture in America – this big, glamorous, exciting world that we didn’t really have in the UK – Nike, Jordans, all the basketball players….
Do you still love sneakers?
Yes, but I don’t buy so many anymore. I have 400 or more, a whole wall of them, and I probably just choose to wear the nearest ones because I don’t like to think about it too much.
What is different about Dior’s sneakers?
Christian Dior created a new look. I’m sure, if he was alive, he would look at a sneaker and think this is a modern thing. He shocked the world when he started, he was revolutionary. He was really about women and youth, doing things which people don’t expect.
How can you combine the sporty trends of today with Dior, a great name that people buy for luxury?
I think people buy Dior because, number one, we always start a collection with the tailoring, and then we work around the tailoring. People want the quality, the longevity of a product. People really treasure their stuff. If you spend a lot of money on clothing, you look after it.
Would you say that clients today are as fussy about details as they were before?
The team I have and the way that I work and the attention to detail, people appreciate that in our work, and that’s why they buy a lot of it! I always think in terms of past, present and future, and I think what these things we do now will be in the future, for instance in an exhibition of Dior. We ask: What are these things now and where do they come from in the past? We look at the archive first, then we look at the present, and then we think about what there is going to be in the future.
How do you imagine the world of tomorrow?
If you think of what people thought of this world being in 1960, it hasn’t changed so much. I’m not doing a Paco Rabanne space age modernist thing. I do real clothes. We just style them and make them look cool.
“I know that my job is to sell stuff, to do my job properly and to conduct myself properly.”
Kim Jones, what did you do in the London Dior menswear show on December 9th 2021?
A lot of bias cut fabrications. The clothes are very traditional, but they have surface treatments that are different, and the way that they’re put together is different. I looked at “On the Road” and I was thinking of a travelling wardrobe and the idea of packing and unpacking a suitcase as you travel. I’m changing that outfit in different ways.
What is the most difficult thing to do? Is it the jacket, the trousers, or the shirt?
Menswear is very strict. You have rules to it. There are only certain things you can do with pieces of clothing. We can style it and make it look cool, but when you break it down, you or I could both go into a store and we’d both like the same coat, for example, because it’s a really beautifully designed coat in a really nice fabrication. That’s the number one rule for me. It has to have an appeal to all men.
Do men now wear ties less and less?
There’s a tie in virtually every look in this collection. All sorts of ties, some heavily embellished, some with sequins on. I like the concept of a tie.
Do you like the idea that the world of today is very free, that you can dress in jeans and with a tie, or without, it doesn’t matter anymore?
Not really, because when you go to school in England you have to wear a blazer and a tie every day. You would be told off if your tie wasn’t tied right. I think rules are fine. But we also want to grow up, to live our life how we want to live it. That’s the really important thing. If people don’t live their lives how they want to, it’s pretty sad.
And clothes should be comfortable?
Absolutely, yes, because you are in them all the time.
Is Dior Men based in London?
No, it’s in Paris, and I’m there once a month, but my studio is in London, by Selfridges. Kim Jones Studio is a separate company that works for different companies.
How many people work with you?
About 20, creative people. Most of them I’ve known for a long, long time.
What is your own role?
Sketching and the preparation of the research. I like to have different designers who know my taste and what I want. We have a very fluid dialogue because we worked together for so long. For instance, Lucy has been with me for sixteen years, and so if I say something, she naturally knows what I am interested in. They are my second family. There’s an instinct that we all know.
Do your clothes sell so well because you have an instinct for what people want?
I listen to a lot of information. I read things. I look at things. I love to see people in the street, that’s why I like to walk. I’ll just pick up one little detail on something and I’ll think about it all day, and then I’ll go and put it in something. It is instinctive. I don’t know how it is. If I did, I’d teach people and make lots of money teaching them.
What is the difference between a Savile Row suit and a Dior suit?
If I was going to say to you about fashion: London is a menswear city because of Savile Row, Paris is a couture city, and Milan is a ready to wear city. I am finding the craftsmanship in Italy particularly interesting, you get a different feel to what you would get from Paris, and then in London it’s very much hand made in some way.
At Dior do you dress the older or the younger man?
Every single kind of man. I’m always surprised when I see what I think a young person is going to buy and then I see a man that’s about 50 buying it; and he looks good in it. But generally it’s a very consistent overview of people that buy it.
Is your work bespoke or is it only prêt-a-porter?
Oh no, we do bespoke as well. If you come to Dior and want to buy something special, we will make it for you. I love meeting our clients, especially the ones that are very loyal to the brand and invest in the brand a lot. I like to meet them and know what their backgrounds are, what they like, what their life is.
Do you suggest what they should wear?
I don’t believe in that. I like people to wear clothes how they want to wear them. You can suggest a cut that will suit them best, but I’m not going to say: “You should wear this”, because that’s looking like a salesman, and I don’t like doing that. I would never tell you what to wear.
DIOR MEN’S FALL 22 EXHIBITION SCENOGRAPHY BY ADRIEN DIRAND
DIOR MEN’S FALL 2022 FINALE BY ADRIEN DIRAND
DIOR MEN’S FALL 22 – LOOK 34
DIOR MEN’S FALL 22 – LOOK 12
DIOR MEN’S FALL 22 – LOOK 18
DIOR MEN’S FALL 22 EXHIBITION SCENOGRAPHY BY ADRIEN DIRAND
“I’m very decisive myself, but men get very indecisive buying clothes, and a lot of them find it quite stressful.”
Kim Jones, now that you also work with womenswear at Fendi, in your experience are men as vain as women in their choice of clothes?
Probably more vain. I have a team when I work with Fendi. I have Silvia Fendi, Delfina Fendi, Amanda Harlech; and I have Lucy Beeden who’s my right hand who also works with me at Dior. Watching how women gravitate towards things is very different to how men do it. It’s much more emotional. Women all love the same thing, and they wear it in a different way.
I’m very decisive myself, but men get very indecisive buying clothes, and a lot of them find it quite stressful. Women see women in magazines and they see something on someone and they want it because they think it looks cool. Men don’t really have that thing, but David Beckham, for example, can sell a suit – because he looks great in a suit. When David comes into the fitting, he knows exactly how he wants that suit cut. He knows how it makes his legs look good, he knows how it makes his shoulders look good, because he’s tried on lots.
People don’t wear heavy suits anymore, they like lighter new materials?
Yes, it’s because of the climate. Nine or ten 10 months out of the year it’s hot nowadays, and then we have these very cold months now. I like the cold months, because you can wear clothes that you love to wear. I have a beautiful vicuña coat, and then I have a black one.
Can men wear shorts in the city during the summer?
Look at how hot cities are now! If you are in London or New York in the summer you don’t want to have fabric stuck to your legs all day. You can look smart in a short. I don’t like rules for men.
What is your favourite colour?
I always wear black, just because it’s easy. When I go to work I wear a uniform. Normally it’s a black top and a black pair of trousers.
Is it different to dress a Chinese, an American, or an English man?
No, because men around the world have similar sorts of demands, and I’ve seen that. The one thing I miss about Covid is I don’t get to go into every store in every city and talk to the people that work in there. I haven’t been to Japan for two years and I used to go every two months. I haven’t been to China for two and a half years, and China is a really interesting country because it changes so rapidly. Each time you go, there’s something new. They understand the future and they want it fast.
When you do occasionally wear a suit, what is your favourite?
Something in flannel that’s quite easy to wear, in black or navy, unlined, light, easy, but that still has the structure. I like a single breasted suit and a double breasted coat. I like a white or classic blue shirt, with a little bit of stretch.
What are you wearing today?
A sweatshirt, and then a t-shirt underneath – I always wear a t-shirt – and tailored trousers and sneakers.
But then there are t-shirts and t-shirts?
Are you a happy man who did what you wanted to do?
Yes. I have bosses, and I listen to what is wanted, but I do what I think is right – and it works. I’m very left alone in the sense of doing what I want to do, because they respect me and I respect them and I work for them, and I know that my job is to sell stuff, to do my job properly and to conduct myself properly. And that’s what I do. I’m always working, but if you love your work, it’s easy.
Do you still go to Africa?
It’s my place where I feel I am switched off from work, because it’s the times in my childhood when I was really happy, wandering around and seeing animals, catching snakes and lizards. There’s nothing I like being more than in nature, surrounded by wildlife and being away from everything. It helps you, recharges you. When you do a collection to go away and be away from everything is like the full stop after you have written the sentence.
I believe your strong knowledge of Africa includes Ethiopia. Are the Ethiopian people very elegant?
Yes, super chic. It’s a country of so many different contrasts; the relationship to Haile Selassie and the emperors and Christianity. It’s the only place in Africa that was really like that pre-colonialism. They were a huge powering force that wasn’t colonized. They beat the Italians at the Battle of Adwa.
Do you have animals in London?
I’ve got dogs. I’ve got Miniature Pinschers, I’ve got a mix and I’ve got a Pomeranian that owns everybody. They’re in London, my studio is in London, my city is London, and my satellite cities are Paris and Rome.
Thank you very much.
Portrait of Kim Jones, Winter 2021 2022, by Jackie Nickerson
ENJOY THIS INTERVIEW? SHARE IT WITH A FRIEND.