The remarkable journey of Kim Jones has taken him out of Africa and into the heart of French fashion dynasty Louis Vuitton, writes Josh Sims.
Kim Jones has rather unexpected plans for an alternative to his career in fashion. He would, he says, “have to do something else entirely - conservation maybe, working with animals”.
Perhaps that stems from his childhood - his father’s job meant he spent much of it in Africa. Unfortunately, at the rate he’s going, his David Attenborough moment is unlikely to come.
He is, after all, 2011’s winner of the British Fashion Council’s Menswear Designer of the Year award, for the third time; his CV now spans work for his own label, as well as the unlikely mix that is Mulberry, Umbro, Uniqlo and Alexander McQueen, and the creative directorship of Alfred Dunhill; and he is also now the new head of menswear design for Louis Vuitton.
“Nowadays fashion is all about big brands and that means, as a designer, you have to be adaptable - I have a broad perspective on menswear because I’ve done so many different types of things,” he says.
“It’s also a huge demographic I work with now - from super-rich kids of 16 to more traditional 80-year-olds who could be buying the same product.
"Of course, you can style it up to give that sense of power that some brands have. But it’s just as much about detail and craft. These are very real clothes. And they should be. The job is to provide people who work really hard with things they can invest in and then enjoy and appreciate - it may be a €5,000 leather jacket but it will last a lifetime.”
OK, so the spring/summer collection’s ties shot through with 24ct gold silk, cafe racer jackets in alligator skin, or the famed LV monogram on scarves and bags may not be top of every man’s shopping list.
But the louche suiting, comfy pyjama pants, desert boots and safari-style clothes, or the new collection’s baseball jackets and kimono shirts as well as technical clothing given a luxury spin and preppy classics given a technical one, could well be.
It is clever stuff too. Silks, for example, are triple bonded to be breathable, while pockets are edged with performance tape. It is a properly grown-up collection from a line established by Louis Vuitton only in 2000.
“I just like the kind of clothes you can take on a plane and which won’t crease up too much,” Jones explains, somewhat undercutting fashion’s usual love of fluff with a solidly everyday consideration.
“As a designer I like to think about how products can make a stressful life less stressful. How can a customer get the most they can out of a jacket? Because a jacket at this price has to pay its way. And the technical capability of a company like Louis Vuitton is just beyond. That’s really where the progress comes from - in fabric development and materials. I’m a fashion designer but here you can’t help but get more product designery.”
For all that Louis Vuitton has been somewhat tarnished by the luxury world’s love of glitz, smart design is really what it set out to be about. Louis Vuitton the man’s original remit was officially catering to the needs of Empress Eugenio de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III.
Vuitton’s idea for a flat-bottomed trunk - which he introduced in 1858 - allowed them to be stacked; they were constructed in such a way, using unusual materials the likes of grey Trianon canvas, to make them strong but lightweight and airtight.
The branding only came 18 years later, as a step to combat the widespread ripping off of his design. Jones certainly travels a lot himself - indeed, travel is where he gets a lot of his ideas, and travel remains the underpinning of the Louis Vuitton world, Jones suggests.
He visits Africa every year and makes an effort to travel to as many new places he can, especially now that his new contract includes one of those generous five week summer vacations beloved of the French - “which is like being back at school,” he jokes.
“And, like the shockingly rude taxi drivers here, it’s all very French too - it’s complete switch-off. You don’t even get an email.” But one eye is always on work.
“I went to Mongolia last year,” he says. "And there’s a Louis Vuitton store there. It’s pretty crazy. Travel makes you realise how many different types of customer there are and how they all shop differently.”
As for getting in some clothes shopping himself, that’s unlikely. Like a lot of designers, he claims that “when you’re looking at clothes all day, you get to the point where you really don’t want to think about what you’re wearing yourself” - and, when he does buy, takes the rather unimaginative, very male approach of buying in multiples to keep stocks up for his “usual uniform of shirts with jeans or chinos”.
He is, in other words, refreshingly unfashiony, which, one suspects, is one reason why he got the job.
“No, I’m not that fashiony,” Jones agrees. “I don’t go to the parties. I have a cosy apartment here in Paris and do a lot of cooking. Tonight I’m staying in and watching a DVD - something dumb. But I’ve never wanted my name on anything, so a position like this one suits me well. I’d rather just have respect from people in the industry.”