On meeting Kim Jones for the first time you would never clock him as a fashion designer. That’s not to say the creative director for menswear at Louis Vuitton, the world’s biggest fashion house, isn’t engaging, charismatic and knowledgeable of his craft. He simply doesn’t project the fashion designer of popular imagination. As it turns out, neither did his idol and inspiration, the late Christopher Nemeth.
It has been quite a journey for Jones to the fashion capital of Paris, where he now plies his trade. Having graduated from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, the designer was viewed for many years as an edgy outsider with a talent for must-have streetwear, and indeed the British capital continues to colour his perspective and his philosophy. “I’ve always liked the cultural platform that is London,” he says. “There is a feeling of freedom when it comes to personal expression, especially in the way you look, which is so valuable nowadays.”
After college, Jones collaborated with the likes of Topman, Alexander McQueen and Mulberry. His noughties alliance with English sportswear mainstay Umbro is still spoken of in hushed tones by fashionistas, and Kim Jones for Umbro trainers trade hands for impressive sums on the Internet. He went on to enjoy a stint as creative director at dunhill, and has twice been crowned menswear designer of the year by the British Fashion Council.
With Louis Vuitton, Jones seems to have found the perfect niche, not least because he can let his imagination run wild. “Working for a maison like Louis Vuitton offers so many opportunities to push the boundaries of creativity,” he says. “The best craftsmen are working here and we have access to the most refined fabrications and techniques. Almost everything is possible.”
Now very much the insider in Paris fashion circles, Jones continues to return to his gritty hometown for inspiration, as witnessed in the autumn/winter 2015 collection, a key element of which is a distinctive frayed rope pattern that was originally created by the late Christopher Nemeth, a designer Jones has described as among of the most important ever to have emerged from London. “I’ve been a fan of his work since I was 14,” he says, praising Nemeth’s commitment to “his vision and to himself”.
Barely on the general public’s radar but adored by those in the know, Nemeth was a designer’s designer, lauded for his deconstructed suits and belief that the making of clothes should be viewed as an art form. “I’ve been collecting his pieces for years,” says Jones. “I love that he was a multi-discipline artist.”
Tokyo-based Nemeth succumbed to cancer in 2010, and the adoption of the rope motif is Jones’ homage to the designer. “I always wanted to do something special with him, but unfortunately he passed before it happened,” he says. “I am honoured to have been able to work closely with his wife and daughters, who are living in Tokyo and are true keepers of his legacy.”
Jones sees parallels in Nemeth’s frayed rope and the LV monogram, which he seeks to tweak each season. “I particularly like how he constantly worked on his rope pattern all of his life; it reminds me of how Louis Vuitton perfected the monogram pattern for years,” he says. The AW15 offering is, he adds, a “very personal collection”, and the marriage of Nemeth’s motif with Louis Vuitton’s vision he describes as “the perfect match between two masters and pioneers in their fields”.
Jones’ salute to Nemeth brings the designer back once again to the city of his birth. His previous collections for Louis Vuitton have, however, often been inspired by more far-flung destinations. Exploring the world comes easily to Jones, and not without reason.
His family having left London for Ecuador when he was just three months old, Jones moved on whenever his father’s job as a hydro-geologist demanded. His childhood was spent in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and the Caribbean. He has been an inveterate globetrotter ever since, and his spring/summer 2012 debut collection for Louis Vuitton featured beautifully embroidered scarves and blankets inspired by the Masai culture of Kenya.
Looking forward, Jones envisions future collections continuing to exhibit a global outlook. “We’ve been travelling around Asia,” he says, listing Laos, Thailand and Vietnam among countries that have informed spring/summer 2016. “We actually revisited a lot of beautiful things we saw over there and brought them to the next level with amazing embroideries and new sophisticated fabrications.”
And while destinations often lend inspiration, it is another, more mundane aspect of travel that galvanises Jones. “I love observing people,” he says, “and for me the best place is certainly airports.” Flying not only offers the opportunity to scrutinise men’s dress, but also a chance for the designer to be alone with his thoughts. “I am most inspired while I am on a plane,” he says. “I am not distracted or disturbed.”