Kim Jones on creating an 'instant archive' at Dior
It’s difficult to think of a harder working designer in fashion today than Kim Jones, creative director of Christian Dior’s men’s division; inveterate globetrotter; uber collaborationist and even, most recently, magazine editor and model.
Last week, he staged his third runway show in Paris for Dior, one of the standout collections of the French catwalk season, whose wellspring was a partnership with architectural deconstruction artist Daniel Arsham.
This month also saw the launch of the latest A Magazine Curated By, which Jones edited this time, in a swirling tour of his life, friends and influences.
Jones was given the reins at Dior in 2017, after a well-applauded seven-year stint at Louis Vuitton, though his work and creativity has reached a new stage of sophistication at Dior, historically one of the Big Three French fashion houses, along with Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent.
So, we caught up with Jones for a closer look at the Dior 2020 collection and accessories; a discussion of his aims and dreams at Dior to create what he terms “instant archive,” and some insights into the increasingly artistic twist he has given to Dior Men, as it is now known officially.
“When you work at Dior you adapt. You don’t just use the same formula. It’s about challenging yourself. Vuitton was essentially a luxury leather goods travel brand. So it’s a different brief, and wherever you go you respect the house codes. The brief for ourselves here is couture, tailoring and elegance. And then work with that,” says Jones, in a pre-show tour of the board containing photos of models in their looks.
Pointing to one of his favored suits this season, a slim double-breasted one in pearly gray, Jones comments: “It’s the same silhouette that worked very well before we came, we’ve just updated the styling. And the sales have been phenomenal, everything has been flying out of the stores. Everything!”
Underlining his goal of “an instant legacy” for Dior, he worked with Arsham, who designed four giant broken concrete DIOR letters for the catwalk, and even developed a cracked concrete clock for the show entrance, like one they saw in a photo of Monsieur Dior’s office.
“I have always liked Daniel’s work. He was a friend, and then I saw the potential and the way it could work and relate to Dior. And I liked the way he was looking at it in the context for the now. And how it was a legacy, and that’s the way I think. You know, Christian Dior owned a gallery for a lot longer than he was a couturier, so I think it’s very nice to have that. Dior was working with Picasso, and Dalí and Max Ernest,” underlines Kim, with raised hands and shoulders.
Jones splits his time between homes in London and Paris. Dior has wisely set up a design studio for him in Cavendish Square, Marylebone, just 10 minutes south of his main UK home. When he entered Dior, he also rejoined Pietro Beccari, the Dior CEO, who was marketing and communications director at Vuitton, when Kim first arrived in Paris.
“I love Pietro. We don’t just work together, we are mates. When I think of Dior, it’s the craftsmanship, the respect for the house, and how it relates to the time and legacy when it was there. All those different things.”
So, for this spring 2020 collection Jones varied the offer from arty ideas, like micro-fiber knit that looked like it was made of plaster, Arsham style, to smooth satin suits to couture-worthy looks –a jumpsuit in Toile de Jouy, the fabric which has also been central to his colleague Maria Grazia Chiuri’s work for Dior’s women’s ready-to-wear and couture.
“Dior is a couture house so you need to show that when you do a show. Beautiful satins, like this eggshell blue was one of Monsieur Dior’s favorite colors and it’s one of Kim Jones’s too. This particular guy is one of the 10 people in Tokyo who still handpaint kimonos. We had to book him way ahead as he only makes 10 a year!”
Working with Arsham, Jones interspersed his work with disheveled, calcified Dior tie clips; or techy metal brooches shaped as Lily of the Valley, Christian Dior’s favorite flower. Even trouser chains; link wristbands; key chains; and double-finger rings are done in a light concrete hue. Plus, Jones is not afraid to dip into the past archives: from the Oblique print, developed first by the third couturier in the house’s history, Marc Bohan, to the newspaper print, first created by John Galliano.
“Yes, we’ve brought back the newspaper print; we found these texts in the archive. But, you have to be careful about texts, as everything is owned by someone. So, we wrote it all ourselves,” says Jones of the homespun journalism.
Pre-show, Jones was in a debate with his stylist, the legendary Melanie Ward, on whether to include a series of Star Wars hijabs, semi-stiff assemblages made by another member of his dream team, hatter Stephen Jones.
Kim, who has a well-bred curiosity, even asked a visiting editor his opinion, concerned that it could be misconstrued as an ISIS echo on social media.
“What’s your view on this? It’s meant to be sci-fi, based on something from Dune,” he asks.
“It’s going to be cut away much more. You need to see their faces, it must not be menacing. It won’t be,” stresses Ward.
To, which Jones responds: “We’re having a meeting with Pietro this afternoon and we’ll decide then.” In the end, they pretty much used them all.
The show and collection turns into something of a triumph; with the luxury emperor Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH, owner of Dior, sitting front row with his Vuitton executive daughter Delphine, and second son Alexandre, CEO of Rimowa; a half dozen senior execs and fellow designers Chitose Abe, Julie de Libran, Marc Quinn, Haider Ackermann and stablemate Virgil Abloh.
Dior Men fashion has both relevance and elegance, as well as plenty of innovation; the accessories contemporary cool. Like creating novel waterproofs made of bonded satin on classic Mack material, done in the Dior Cannage, or the Oblique pattern - actually references to 1960s Christian Dior men’s collections. Or whipping up the next smart invention at Rimowa – a series of Oblique cases and weekenders.
“There will be two drops for the Rimowa, including a wheelie. Alex really liked the idea,” smiles Jones, who has even modelled for the German brand. Marching with a contemporary wheelie, en route to catch a flight, with the tagline reading, “No one builds a legacy by standing still.” The campaign is in the latest issue of A Magazine Curated By Kim Jones – a guest curator following in the footsteps of such notables as Yohji, Riccardo, Simone, Giambattista and Jun, among others.
“It documents my work from graduation to Dior and includes my collections of art and clothing that I’ve collected over the years. I would like to dedicate it to Louise, Lee and Judy, who I wish were here to contribute to it,” writes Jones of an issue that ranges from Gabber, hard-core Dutch techno, and a discussion on Leigh Bowery by Baillie Walsh, Cerith Wyn Evans and Lou Stoppard; to shoots by Alasdair McLellan, and Luke Smalley styled by Kim, or Coleridge’s Xanadu, illustrated by Jake & Dinos Chapman. In short, uber eclectic, all the way to a series of drawings of small dogs by Daniel Arsham, including Cookie, Kim’s much-loved shiba inu, a Japanese hunting dog.
“What I love about Daniel’s work is that he puts things in context. Because I always think like that when I am working - what is going to be remembered in 20 or 30 years? Even at Vuitton when we did trunks and I did my first show in Paris, I always said, ‘What’s going to be in an exhibition in a generation’s time?’ When they were doing the exhibition in Paris (Volez, Voguez, Voyagez in 2016), I said when you move it to Tokyo, you have to have some of the new bags into there. ‘Cause I think it’s about an instant archive. I believe that when you are working for a house the legacy that you leave with the house is what’s important. It is not what you just do now. I mean I work with Christian Dior it’s not my brand and that’s a different thing. So, tailoring, elegance and couture. Those are the three things we concentrate on,” expounds 39-year-old Jones.
Jones is already working on the next project, the campaign for the collection, which looks like including Arsham sculptures. “But it is not going to be like the KAWS campaign. We work with Ronnie Cooke Newhouse and Steven Meisel which is a joy. We have Pat (McGrath), we have Guido (Palau), and Melanie and you just really have a great time, that’s how a fashion shoot should be.”
What does Jones want people to think when they leave his show?
“I think the craftmanship, the respect, how it relates to the time and the legacy. The reason these things sell is because it is as relevant today as when it first came out. Dior is a couture house so you cannot do a show and not do things that have couture quality,” insists Jones, in a studio where music plays the whole time.
Vuitton, on the other hand, was very much a different experience.
“I’d done seven years, and it was the seven year itch. I had lots of opportunities, but here seemed like a great idea.”
Did he make specific voyage for this show?
“No, I don’t do that anymore. I go to the archive. It’s a different brief. Vuitton was always different. It didn’t have a history in ready-to-wear. It was looking at the idea of a destination. In which case you would get the trunk and look at that as a reference. This is looking at Dior, and at things that he would probably be interested in. And what is relevant for this time. Especially in terms of artists. The house respects the way I work, and the way I like to work, and I brought my team with me. And I love Pietro (Beccari). He is a friend as well. There is no bullshit with him. He just tells it like it is. Plus, I get to see Mr. Arnault more, whom I respect a lot. You go straight to the top, you don’t need to go through layers. It’s very straightforward, if you ask a lot of people whom I worked with before they’d say I’d probably wanted to come here straight away,” chuckles Jones, who keeps a place in Paris, but essentially lives in London.
“For me London is the menswear capital, with Savile Row and all those things; Paris the couture capital and Milan is the ready-to-wear capital; I see it business wise. So, the history is in London, the resources are there. So, even though I like to work with a people, when you are designing you want to do that on your own.”
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