Get to Know Kim Jones, the Man Behind the Collaboration
Get to Know Kim Jones, the Man Behind the Collaboration
- Words Asaf Rotman
- Date April 04, 2017
When the Louis Vuitton x Supreme collaboration was officially unveiled in January, the wall between streetwear and high fashion seemingly, finally, crumbled. Whether the reveal—shown as a part of LV's F/W 2017 men’s collection—was actually the proverbial last brick in the wall is up for debate, but, regardless of that distinction, or your thoughts on the clothing itself, there was unequivocally no man more qualified than Louis Vuitton men’s style director Kim Jones to bring it to life.
One of the least known major names in menswear, Jones is arguably the most important figure in sportswear’s current domination of the male closet. For more than a decade, the London native has quietly infiltrated wardrobes around the world, pioneering the now ubiquitous mix of sport and tailoring.
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Born in 1979 in London, at just 3-months-old Jones began life as a globetrotter. His father, a hydrogeologist, brought the family along on his various expeditions. First, it was Ecuador. Then, Africa and the Amazon followed, including stints in Kenya, Tanzania, and Botswana, with brief sojourns to London in between. Raised as a child on the move, Jones considers Africa his second home and throughout his career has culled inspiration from the various cultures and indigenous peoples he lived beside.
Jones returned to London as a teenager, with his mind already set on a creative career. At fourteen, he inherited a trove of fashion magazines from his sister and became obsessed with various cult figures. While he initially wished to pursue either graphics or photography—which he studied as an undergrad at Camberwell School of Art—he eventually settled on a degree in fashion, where he could “create a world of his own.”
As a London teen in the nineties, Jones was invariably swept up in the raucous club scene. Although he and his friends were straight edge, they were clothing obsessed and nightlife provided ample opportunity to not only show off their extensive vintage Levi’s collection but to absorb the style and energy of London's West End. Primarily interested in vintage and Japanese clothing, Jones eventually felt that he simply could not find the clothes he wanted, so he decided to start making them. Enrolling in fashion school was simply a natural progression from there.
Although initially hesitant, through some cajoling Jones convinced Louise Wilson, then head of the MA program at Central Saint Martins, to offer him admission. As a student, Jones immersed himself in both his studies and the emerging London street wear scene simultaneously. When he wasn’t in class, he worked for one of the first companies importing Supreme to the U.K., as sure a sign as any that he was destined to synthesize the two seemingly disparate worlds of streetwear and high-fashion together.
In 2002, Jones presented his graduate collection, a mix of traditional British tailoring inflected with hints of street and sport, a wholly new concept at a time when suiting dominated the men’s runways. Jones most evident influence was the aforementioned club scene, where attendees wore light and bright fabrics fit for the dark, hot and cramped spaces where they raged.
The show received immediate critical acclaim and garnered Jones an impressive clientele. Most notably, John Galliano famously bought half of the collection. Following graduation, Jones used what little money he had to launch his eponymous label. A notorious collector, Jones even flipped a vintage Vivienne Westwood parachute bomber on eBay to help fund his debut.
In 2003, Jones showed his first eponymous collection as a part of London Fashion Week. Further building on his senior thesis, the designer incorporated a streetwear aesthetic in a series of looks that were almost devoid of suiting. He showed varsity jackets with leather accents, distressed denim, and sneakers, a look not too dissimilar from what Supreme, The Hundreds or even LRG were offering at the time. Seeing clothes so unapologetically normal on the runway was unheard of.
For the next five years, Jones continued to run his label, while amassing a wide circle of influence and constantly fielding a number of side projects. He consulted for numerous labels, including Hugo Boss, Mulberry, Topshop, Uniqlo, Iceberg, Pastelle (Kanye West and Jones are still close, personal friends) and Alexander McQueen. In fact, Jones considers the late McQueen a mentor and key influence to this day. Most importantly, however, was Jones’ ongoing capsule collection with English Football imprint Umbro.
Well ahead of its time, the collaboration was monumental in establishing a working relationship between sportswear and high-fashion. Approachable in both price point and aesthetic, the designer created a look unapologetically adopted throughout the industry. Established the same year as Y-3, Jones’ Umbro achieved peak cultural saturation almost instantly, while it took Yamamoto years before his sporty endeavor attained similar recognition.
Jones' work for Umbro seamlessly fused active and streetwear and presented everything from graphic tees and patch-covered polos to collaborative sneakers and nylon windbreakers. In the wake of the Umbro by Kim Jones release, an Umbro x Supreme collab followed in 2005, and while neither Supreme nor Jones have ever discussed it, that early project forged a longstanding a relationship between Supreme's James Jebbia and Jones, invariably laying the groundwork for the eventual Louis Vuitton x Supreme collaboration.
In 2008, Jones, through his label and various side-projects, established himself as a force to be reckoned with. His signature street-meets-luxury style had quickly been adopted by the entire industry and established houses began to take notice. Dunhill, the Saville Row institution, offered Jones a creative director position, hoping he would jolt some much-needed life into the staid tailor. Jones, unsure of what to make of the offer, asked McQueen for guidance. His advice: “Make sure you take that fucking money and run! Go and buy a house!” He did.
For his Dunhill debut, Jones presented three-button jackets with totally radicalized lapels. Jones completely refigured the jackets, some with wide, short lapels, barely below mid-chest, while others simply were chopped off, creating something resembling a kimono. Along with his introduction of clever zippers replacing button closures, slim trousers, and coach’s jackets, he presented an entirely new vision of men’s tailoring.
Although Jones went on to win the British Fashion Council Award for Best Menswear Designer for his work at Dunhill twice—in both 2009 and 2011—the relationship was tumultuous. While critics adored his work, the stuffy English suitor seemed uncomfortable with the radically different direction. In 2011, after only three years, he departed. While some sources say he was ousted, others say his eventual LVMH offer was already on the table. Regardless of the rumors, while Dunhill lost a creative director, Louis Vuitton found theirs.
While Louis Vuitton had already been expanding their men’s offering—first under creative director Marc Jacobs, then with Paul Hebers—it was still quite limited, primarily focused on the house's classic standbys of luggage and accessories. When the brand offered Jones the position of men’s style director, they ended up hiring someone almost comically fit for the job. Having moved on from his signature and, frankly, somewhat over-statured style, Jones began to focus on his unabashed passion for travel, which was fitting for a fashion house originally founded as a trunk-maker in 1854.
Jones debut collection for LV, S/S 2012, marked a new era for the luxury goods manufacturer. Constantly on the move, Jones presented options for the modern elite, individuals that split their time equally between the office and first class. While the cashmere suiting in grays and beiges was to be expected, Jones spliced in his own DNA by injecting bright blue and red plaid into the brand's classic Damier check, a riff on his favorite Masai blanket, a memento from his East African childhood. The resonance between the bold tribal print, safari jackets, and exotic leather treatments was eerily palpable, almost certainly because Jones grew up alongside those very animals whose skin he was working with. With a front row including Kanye West and Lily Allen, Jones proved that he was as much a cultural connoisseur as he was a veteran traveler. The results were spectacular.
Each season since, Jones has managed to somehow sync far-flung locales with an innately British punk sensibility, all while staying within the framework of the storied Parisian house. Themes have ranged from Jones' take on A Tale of Two Cities and a love affair between Paris and Tokyo to African safari and British punk subculture. To bring each collection to life, Jones mines his vast personal archive, including thousands of books, paintings, and magazines. Only after an immense amount of research, does the nomadic Jones hop on a flight to see it all first-hand.
Refusing to spend more than two weeks at a time in the office, Jones, now a member of said modern elite, spends nearly a third of his time on planes. His constant travels provide him with not only a wealth of inspiration but an expansive network of friends around the globe. His love affair with Japan and an early obsession with streetwear led to a personal relationship with Fragment Design's Hiroshi Fujiwara, with whom he is set to release a capsule later this month and has worked with in the past. His childhood in Africa enabled him to experience the continent through the eyes of both native and wealthy tourist, a distinction he brilliantly expressed with the help of the Chapman Bros, the irreverent artists who drew ghoulish animals on leather and accessories for S/S 17. Following a trip to Indonesia and Thailand, a fascination with traditional fabrication techniques led him to enlist Kapital to produce boro denim jackets and shorts for S/S 2013. His exhaustive archive of vintage Christopher Nemeth pieces served as a springboard to working with the late icon’s foundation for F/W 2015. Jones' brilliance, however, is not mining this wealth of cultural cache. Rather, it is convincing his consumer—primarily men in their fifties—to buy it all.
In the six years since Jones has taken the reigns at LV, the brand's men’s ready-to-wear business has become one of the fastest growing portions of the company, with marketing analysts suggesting turnover at around $200 million of Louis Vuitton's total business, which is somewhere in the $7 billion range. Unlike most men’s designers who produce two collections a year, sometimes including capsules and specialty projects, Jones presents twelve. According to him, they nearly all sell out.
At just 37, Jones is still in the prime of his career, working at one of if not the most influential house in the world, and holds arguably the most important title in menswear. And yet, a majority of the public has no clue who he is. With a daily uniform consisting of white denim, a boldly printed silk or cotton shirt and a pair of Fragment Jordan 1s (he keeps at least six in rotation at all times), he may not only be the most slept on but additionally best-dressed and culturally aware man in the business.
Jones's aesthetic predates today's luxury streetwear boom by more than a decade, only to have pivoted radically away from it once it became the norm. Even apart from the massive undertaking of his day job, Jones still somehow finds time to collaborate with Nike, contribute as an art director and stylist to several magazines—including Dazed & Confused, POP, T and Fantastic Man—and publish retrospectives, most recently on Michael and Gerlinde Costiff, who ran the legendary Kinky Gerlinky nightclub in London.
When LV x Supreme drops later this year, Jones may very well become a household name, trending worldwide much like the debut of the collaboration itself. Or, like many Supreme collaborators, his name might come and go, quickly to be forgotten in the midst of the constant hype cycle. Regardless, if the past fifteen years have been any indication, Jones is surely content with quietly continuing to influence the way men dress for years to come.