Kim Jones has taken sportswear out of the realm of scruffy tracksuit bottoms and given it a new lease of life. But the most important thing to remember when designing for men, he says, is not to embark on a flight of fancy.
WHEN PEOPLE THINK of designer menswear, they automatically think fancy suits and cufflinks. Sportswear, on the other hand, conjures up scruffy tracksuit bottoms and worn-out old tops.
I wanted to show people a different side of athletic wear. It has been a staple with most men since the 1950s and has truly become part of the modern man's wardrobe. It's an area in which I can
reach a larger number of customers and is close to my heart as I have been wearing it all my life.
I grew up in both South Africa and South America, where designer labels weren't so readily available, so I became immersed in local streetwear and vintage pieces. This has affected my vision greatly. Compared to other menswear designers, I feel I put much more effort into making my designs more grounded. It's very common for designers to create a fantasy land with their collections and the way they are presented. It's so easy to get caught up with grand productions and flamboyant themes. But I always try to inject a sense of reality into my designs to make them wearable.
I also cast realistic-looking men in my shows and ad campaigns - men that aren't too skinny or too well built - the type of bloke you'd see walking down the street - so a guy can look at something and know it will suit him, too.
I prefer my shows to be intimate and keep my runways quite stark. However, I do have a background in graphic design so sometimes I like to build art pieces for the catwalk as it provides me with another creative outlet. For my spring/summer 2007 show, my theme was recycling.
I was inspired by the kids in South Africa and how they make do with so little and I created giant sculptures of yetis made from drinking straws. Otherwise, though, I keep things plain. This way people can concentrate on the clothes.
Recently, for my Kim Jones for Umbro line, I used the football culture in the streets for inspiration. I looked at the kids playing football on the streets in England and Brazil and around the world, as ultimately these are the people I am designing for.
I have a lot of respect for other high-fashion menswear designers who design for more niche groups. I really admire Helmut Lang and I love what Alexander McQueen is doing. He's also continually supportive of me and gives me sound advice. But I have a very different aesthetic to them. This doesn't mean that I don't ever produce tailored garments, as I have done suits in my collections before - they are just broken down and styled differently for an edgier look.
The 'Kim Jones look' is currently based on youth culture - a fusion of sports styles and streetwear. But the label is still young and my design ethos is constantly shifting. My collaborations with other artists are a huge part of this. Recently, I worked with American art photographer Luke Smalley to produce a book. Sometimes I get asked to guest fashion edit or art direct for publications such as Dazed and Confused and Numero Homme. Working in different creative environments helps push my boundaries in fashion design.
No matter what, though, I always strive to produce something new. It's hard to be original all the time, especially these days as fashion becomes increasingly disposable. With my work, you either love it or hate it, but I've noticed that it's usually older generations that tend to not understand my designs. This can only be a good thing as it proves that my work is innovative, youthful and, hopefully, unique.