Interview: The Rise of Kim Jones at Dior

Kim Jones likes to think of himself as a low-profile designer, but scroll through his Instagram account, and you’ll find images of him with Donatella Versace, Kate Moss, David Beckham or Naomi Campbell — all people he considers close friends.

With 701,000 followers — twice as many as when he joined Dior as men’s artistic director in April last year — Jones still lags behind fellow designers like Versace (4.7 million followers) or Virgil Abloh (4.4 million), but he more than makes up for it in influence.

So many VIPs attended his debut show for Dior in June 2018 that the brand struggled to find front-row seats for top editors. The guest list included Moss, Campbell, Robert Pattinson, Bella Hadid, Kelly Osbourne, A$AP Rocky, Victoria Beckham, Christina Ricci, Joe Jonas, Lenny Kravitz and Russell Westbrook.

“All the people who’ve come out and supported me have been my friends for a long, long time. They’ve been really supportive. I think people love the brand and they love me, so that’s kind of a good combination, you know?” Jones said of his celebrity following. Since joining Dior after a seven-year tenure at Louis Vuitton, Jones has embraced his growing status as a public figure, appearing in a recent advertising campaign for Rimowa — a prelude to the exclusive collaboration with the maker of luxury luggage that went on sale at Dior’s Avenue des Champs Élysées flagship last week.

“I think the perception of me has changed quite a lot in the last year and a half, but I’m still the same person,” he said. “I’m more publicly visible, people come up to me in the street a lot more. I appreciate that. I’m always shocked when people that I really admire know who I am.”

Kate Moss and Kim Jones.
Kate Moss and Kim Jones.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

His cultural impact has been steadily growing, undertaking recent collaborations with artists such as Daniel Arsham, Kaws and Hajime Sorayama, and with the publication of a book of photographs by Nikolai Von Bismarck dedicated to his circle.

The money has followed, with the designer reporting that men’s sales are “growing extremely fast” at Dior under CEO Pietro Beccari. It is for these reasons that Jones is receiving the inaugural WWD Honor for Men’s Wear Designer of the Year.

Though parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton does not break out figures for individual brands, it indicated that sales at Dior were up by more than 20% on a like-for-like basis in the second quarter, outperforming the rest of the group’s fashion and leather goods division.

Dubbing Dior a “real standout in the industry,” Morgan Stanley said in a recent research report that it expects total sales to grow 18.7% in 2019 to 6.3 billion euros ($7 billion), with operating profits reaching in excess of 1 billion euros, more than five times higher than they were a decade ago.

Jones has stepped up the pace of runway shows, staging Dior’s first men’s pre-fall display in Tokyo last year. His next show will take place in Miami on Dec. 3, ahead of Art Basel Miami Beach, one of the highlights of the year for art collectors and fashion brands.

“Christian Dior was a gallerist for 15 years or so before he was a designer, so it’s just the most logical thing to me in the world. And he conquered America before anyone else,” Jones said, adding that the starting point of the collection is a collaboration between Dior and Cadillac in the ’50s. Jones has his next four collections already mapped out and is also churning out new product. He recently launched the Dior Essentials line, consisting of timeless items such as a denim jacket, a trench coat or a gray sweatshirt, alongside a revamped tailoring collection including his signature side-buttoned Tailleur Oblique suit.

In fact, you could say he’s largely to credit for the recent revival in tailoring, elevating his menswear with couture-inspired details like satin sashes, after previously taking luxury in a more casual direction at Vuitton, most visibly through its collaboration with New York skatewear brand Supreme.

Jones is clear about his aim: Together with his crack design team, including Lucy Beeden, Matthew Williams, Yoon Ahn and Alex Foxton, he wants to turn Dior into the world’s No. 1 menswear brand. “I just want to do more. I want it to be the biggest, and I think it will be, because it deserves it,” he predicted.

In an interview, Jones talked about the rise of menswear, dealing with trolls and his passion for Virginia Woolf.

Dior
Dior Men’s Show 2020.
CREDIT: WWD/Shutterstock

WWD: How has menswear evolved since you joined Dior 18 months ago?

Kim Jones: It’s growing extremely fast. I know that because I see what our figures are, and it’s been very commercially successful and so my job is to really keep the excitement going. People seem to be more excited almost by menswear at the moment than womenswear, and I don’t know why that is, because I’m very insular in what I do. Obviously, I’ve got lots of friends that are designers. My gang of friends are the people that people are really excited about, like Virgil [Abloh], Matthew Williams, Yoon [Ahn].

WWD: Do you feel you can take some of the credit for the resurgence of tailoring in recent seasons?

K.J.: I guess so. I did that off my own back. It wasn’t told to me. I mean, I hate the word ‘streetwear,’ which everyone knows. I think it sounds quite irrelevant, because everyone wears clothes on the street, and you could be wearing a 4,000-euro jumper, and it’s just the way that you style things up.

We’re selling more suits than have ever been sold. It’s huge growth, and I think that’s really great and exciting, but we also expanded all the other different categories: outerwear, knitwear, denim. Men don’t have to wear suits now. Formal occasions are [fewer], but people want to wear suits and style them up, especially young guys. You know what’s interesting, when I go to the stores, and I go to the one in SoHo in New York, it’s all the NYU students saving up to buy a suit from Dior for their graduation. I would never have thought of that when I was a kid, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to afford it, but times have changed. It’s not always the people you expect to buy suits that are buying them. But we cater for everyone, and I think that’s kind of super important. I know our customer base is wide. I just launched the Dior Essentials for men, which is like the wardrobe, so to speak, and it’s been incredibly successful in the launch. It has very high sell-through already in a few weeks.

They’re staples. I think that’s something that’s really important for men, especially when they travel. Say you’re on business and you’re in New York, L.A., Hong Kong, Singapore or Tokyo, and you’ve left something at home. You can go and buy it if you need to get another one. Our customers have money, and that’s kind of the option that they have available to them.

WWD: At Vuitton, you were working with amazing fabrications. In what way do you feel that you’ve stretched yourself since arriving at Dior?

K.J.: We have an atelier and we have the archive, and Vuitton is a leather goods house.

The Dior archive is very complete and very well noted, and there’s beautiful books as well, so I look at everything that’s there and really suck it all in, and then bring it out to where I think it should be for this day and age.

WWD: Did you expect from the get-go that women would be wearing your designs?

K.J.: I know that we sold a huge amount to women at Vuitton, so I wasn’t surprised, and I think there’s that part of the wardrobe which is for men and women. I wear the rubber boots [Dior womenswear designer] Maria Grazia [Chiuri] has made, because they’re really great when I’m at Kate [Moss’] for Christmas and stuff. As well as being cool, they’re functional. And I use the tote bag that she designed all the time, because it’s a brilliant bag to travel through the airport.

There are crossovers, and it’s nice to see that people buy from different parts of the brand for different things. I don’t see it as a problem. The brand is the brand, that’s who we work for.

Me seeing Demi Moore in a suit, who is someone I’ve always admired, is kind of amazing. I think it’s just that thing: Women probably want men’s tailoring because it fits them, especially if they’re not 20.

It’s funny. Talking to other designers like Donatella [Versace], she says she likes a man’s touch on tailoring. She thinks it’s important. So I guess there’s that way of thinking about it. I don’t know.

WWD: Your artist collaborations have evolved every season. What can you tell us about your upcoming show in Miami?

K.J.: I’m working with someone who is technically an artist, because their line work is brilliant, but that’s not what their background is.

Their handwriting and signature is famous worldwide, but it’s a different thing.

Stephen Jones showed me that there was a Cadillac collaboration with Dior in the ’50s, in 1955, and I thought that was quite an interesting starting point of how to think about America. So I then looked at things that meant a lot to me in America, and there’s a few different things in there — but that’s all that I’m saying.

WWD: I think you must have seen the vintage clip of Christian Dior reading his hate mail on American TV in the ’50s. He was a genius at publicity.

K.J.: That was the bravest thing you could do back then as well. You can’t do that so much now because the calling-out thing is really hardcore. Trolling on Instagram, which we all get as public figures, is the most horrible thing. It can really upset you, and it does upset me. And you know they’ve got zero followers, they’ve got zero posts. It’s obviously someone just being a real d–k, to put it bluntly. Rather than put negativity out in the world, go and do something. But Christian Dior was genius, or we wouldn’t be talking about him.

WWD: It’s so modern, the concept that there’s no such thing as bad publicity — and if someone is criticizing you, then use it to your advantage.

K.J.: But that comes from Hollywood, and that’s why he hired an American publicist. He knew exactly what he was doing, and I think that’s one of the genius things: As well as being a master couturier, there’s a lot of things I relate to about him. It’s surrounding yourself with the people, the family that you work with. I don’t court celebrity at all with the people that come to the show. They come because they genuinely want to — they’re friends. I think people know that because they know I go on holiday with people and I hang out with people.

WWD: And also because the same people come to the show each season, so there’s obviously a relationship there.

K.J.: I’m very fortunate with the people I’ve met in my life. Say someone like Victoria [Beckham], who I love immensely. I will go to her shows and support her, and she comes to mine. I love having a dinner with her where we sit down and talk business, because I love the aspect that she comes from, and I love the fact that she knows what her skills are and who else to employ to make it even better. It’s really nice to have those conversations. I love talking work with people that I don’t work with. The fact that there’s the Dior art link is really interesting for me — that it can become quite a big part of what the house is, because it should be like that. He worked with Picasso; there was a Picasso dress. There were all these different people that he worked with. They all did, like Schiaparelli and Dalí. It was ever-present and I think it’s something now, when things become cultural rather than just fashion, it’s a lot more successful, because culture is really key to what we do.

WWD: How do you see your relationship with artists evolving?

K.J.: It’s not going to be a permanent link in every collection. The next two collections aren’t necessarily about an artist, but they’re about people that have an artistic trait.

WWD: When you did your show with Daniel Arsham last season, it felt like the meeting between fashion and art reached an apex. What does this tell us about the maturity of both of these worlds?

K.J.: The walls have broken down quite a lot between the art world and the fashion world. People know that I have a general interest in art and I’m a collector, and I also come from Dior, which is a house which has an association with the arts and also a very respected house. You say Dior, you say Chanel, and people get really excited. When people meet me normally, they don’t really know much about me. If I go into a store and I’m buying some books or something, generally I buy quite specific things so people always ask me, “What do you do?” When I answer, they’re always a bit shocked. It’s a very different thing, Dior, people are very impressed by it.

WWD: What kind of art books do you gravitate toward that people might be surprised that you’re reading?

K.J.: I don’t buy art books. I buy first editions. I bought some of Jack Kerouac’s personal collection recently. I bought a lot of Virginia Woolf. I’ve been buying inscribed first editions. My bookshelves are very obsessive. I collect Bloomsbury: Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant. My parents had a house near Charleston Farmhouse, so it became something of a real love for me as a kid. I’m very serious about my books. [He pulls out his phone to show photographs of his immaculately arranged bookshelves.] That’s the first edition of “On the Origin of Species.”

WWD: They’re in mint condition.

K.J.: Yes. It’s my love. I like reading a lot, I like seeing different things. I have a big library in London. It’s funny, because I bought the house off someone who is a very, very interesting guy, and these shelves were built from a sketch that [Jean] Prouvé did. I’ve moved everything that I have into one big space, and I’m curating everything, and it’s kind of really nice to be at a point where you’re somewhere you’re going to be for the rest of your life. I can consolidate and see what I’ve got and edit. My collection of archive clothing, I’m getting everything cataloged and organized and just really enjoying it.

WWD: Have you ever counted how many books you have?

K.J.: It must be about 10,000, 20,000. Quite often I’ll get gifted books as well as buy them, and then I’ve got multiple copies. And if I love a book, I’ll buy a few, because I always want to give them to people. But I’ve got a bit more serious about my collecting of books. Going from having editions that I was reading to getting really beautiful books that are in that condition, it kind of becomes quite an important collection. And I’m quite a completist, so when it gets to the point of being nearly complete, it’s just satisfying.

WWD: You’re a real collector. You have collectoritis!

K.J.: Yes, exactly. I’m a hoarder of fine objects. I live in quite an industrial house.

WWD: When did you move into it?

K.J.: About three months ago. There’s all sorts of different stuff in there. That’s Roger Fry’s screen that belonged to Evelyn Waugh. And it’s things that people don’t expect from me. That’s Edith Sitwell’s chair. I like the provenance behind things as well. There’s a romance to it, but also it’s incredibly easy to live with. The Omega workshops [founded by Roger Fry] is very interesting. I’ve lent quite a lot of stuff to the Charleston exhibition on at the moment [“Post-Impressionist Living: The Omega Workshops,” running at Charleston until Jan. 19].

[The Bloomsbury Set] were the punks of their generation. They were anti-establishment. They didn’t want to go to war, and I think that’s something that I’ve always really liked, when people react against something.

Punk in the ’70s, for me, what [Vivienne] Westwood and [Malcolm] McLaren did together was one of the most modern things ever. Just cataloging stuff recently, looking at parachute shirts and the muslins and all the different things that they did, it was really mind-blowing to think this came from something that was a Wemblex shirt, or that’s something from the children’s department in John Lewis and then completely just changed — it’s like taking these ordinary objects and making them into these really full-on statements, so those things I really enjoy looking at.

I’ve got a huge archive of stuff: Rachel Auburn, a lot of Leigh Bowery, Westwood stuff. I’ll probably do a book of it all eventually. I have the complete outfits. I’ve built this up over 20 years.

WWD: It’s amazing so much punk-era clothing survived. You would think they trashed it.

K.J.: There were a few people — obviously it cost a lot of money at the time — so they looked after it. Adam Ant would repair all his stuff. Hearing these stories about people going home and sewing up a rip and things like that — so there’s actually charm built into these pieces, too.

WWD: Since the big LVMH reshuffle, which saw you, Virgil Abloh, Hedi Slimane and Kris Van Assche move into new jobs, Paris has become the new center of menswear, robbing Milan of its crown. How are you dealing with the extra scrutiny?

K.J.: For me, I always think London’s the home of menswear because of Savile Row, but then Italy obviously had the bigger shows than Paris. But now Paris Men’s Week is a really big thing, and it’s exploded.

Some people criticize it for getting too big, but I think there’s the same amount of men on the planet as women, so why not? I think everybody enjoys clothes, and I think everybody likes a good show. One thing I’m very aware of when I do shows is that every single aspect has got to be exciting for people because they sit and watch a lot of them, so I want it to be edited and I want it to be concise and I want it to make people feel good when they leave.

WWD: You’ve brought creatives like Matthew Williams and Yoon Ahn onto your team. Are there any other young designers that you think are doing interesting things among those who have gravitated to Paris?

K.J.: I like what Benjamin Alexander Huseby does with GmbH, and I think that’s really interesting. That’s looking at sustainable, recycled pieces. London’s the place I look at more young designers. I love Craig Green. I love Grace Wales Bonner. There’s a lot of young designers at Fashion East, people just doing stuff. The energy of getting up with no money and then doing stuff and it becoming something that people want.

WWD: Would you consider bringing other young creators on board at Dior?

K.J.: If I find people that are good, I definitely would. But at the moment, we’re quite at capacity.

WWD: And it’s working.

K.J.: Yeah. Everyone’s got their autonomy, and everyone gets on with stuff. I’m not a dictator in the studio; I’m a collaborator, so I set the scene. I’m very specific on how I want it to be in the beginning — that’s how it is at the end. We don’t really falter and suddenly change direction because that’s not how these big companies work so much. I really want to just involve everyone so we have a laugh doing it. There’s a good energy there.

WWD: You’re about to launch your collaboration with Rimowa. Do you think you could ever collaborate with other designers the way that Maria Grazia Chiuri has done on the women’s side?

K.J.: Yeah. I mean, Yoon’s got her own brand and Matthew’s got his own brand. I’ve been doing it for years with different people. I’ve worked with so many different companies over the years, as a designer or as a collaborator, that I don’t think any other way.

This story was reported by WWD and originally appeared on WWD.com.

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