Statement of interest

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 March, 2010, 12:00am

Kim Jones is dressed in humble chinos, clutching an improvised breakfast in one hand while the other puts the finishing touches to a store display. He blends in seamlessly with his busy team as they prepare a pop-up shop at Lane Crawford; so much so, in fact, that the only evidence suggesting he might be the creative head of Dunhill is the remake of a 1936 watch-on-a-key pendant by the brand hanging around his neck.

'You do your job but you have to be true to your- self and what you wear,' the thirtysomething Briton says. 'If you're scrubbing around on the floor all day and working on a pattern, or working on boards and things, it's not always practical to be dressed up. I'm very lucky in that my work speaks for itself.'

When Jones was named creative director of Dunhill in 2008 - the only person to have filled the post since Alfred Dunhill himself - it caused more than one pair of perfectly plucked eyebrows to rise. The fashion industry knew Jones best for the casual sportswear and streetwear looks he created for brands such as Topman, Umbro and his eponymous label. Having barely settled into his role at the luxury manufacturer (a 'sleeping giant', as he admitted at the time), Jones was named menswear designer of the year at the 2009 British Fashion Awards and today Dunhill is thriving from the injection of energy. Former sceptics are now murmuring approvingly about how they knew all along that he was perfect for the job.

It isn't Dunhill that has brought Jones back to Hong Kong, though; Lane Crawford has invited him to share his personal views on menswear and modern tailoring. Yet working on a brand steeped in 117 years of British heritage has rubbed off.

'The concept that I had on my mind for this pop- up store was gentlemen in general,' he says. 'I took inspiration from my favourite gentlemen's club, the Royal Geographical Society.'

He points out the wall graphics - reprints of the club's archives, dating back to the 1800s, transformed into pop culture by their new context.

'These days, there are different tribes of men with different needs. For example, you've got your really sartorial guy, very much concerned about the detail, the fabric and the cut ...' He nods towards the 'Savile Row tailor' section, featuring British icons such as Paul Smith, Alexander McQueen, E Tautz & Sons and, not surprisingly, Dunhill. 'There is definitely a new gentleman. Younger guys are really dressing up now and they are interested in the finer quality things. A guy will save up to get a suit jacket that's been made on Savile Row.'

The 'Futurist' section of the store features forward designers such as Raf Simons, Lanvin and Neil Barrett. 'It's about the people who are interested in new technology, whether it's knit, cut or fabric.'

Which 'tribe' does Jones belong to?

'I'd probably be partly 'Japan and beyond' (classics such as Junya Watanabe, Comme des Garcons, Kolor), part 'Wardrobe staples' (not-so-ordinary basics by Acne, Band of Outsiders and Kitsune) and part 'Savile Row',' he says. 'The Futurist is something I really admire but it's not so much what I myself wear.'

Jones has worked as a graphic designer, a photographer, a stylist and an art director, on films, books and publications that range from Dazed & Confused magazine to The New York Times. His first exposure to fashion was as a teenager, when his older sister, Nadia, would give him her used i-D and The Face magazines. He cites Mark Moore, of British dance-music act S'Express, as an early style idol. Incidentally, his sister is now the creative director of fashion chain Oasis and Moore happens to be his neighbour.

Jones says he likes to think of fashion in terms of its capitals.

'You've got Milan for ready-to-wear, Paris for haute couture and London for menswear. And Japan is an undeniable influence nowadays, because they're the real modernists in terms of creating new design and using new fabrics.

'The Japanese aren't afraid to dress up. It's very much about the street and how they mix and match things. That's definitely something that's happening to menswear today; it's about getting the best of everything.'

Perhaps diplomatically, Jones names our city as his favourite fashion capital.

'I come to Hong Kong a lot; I feel at home here.'

As if on cue, a colleague in search of antique vases asks him for directions to Hollywood Road. Jones scribbles a map from memory.

'I've got some really good friends here, like Kevin Poon [co-founder of local store Clot] and Edward Tang [son of Sir David Tang Wing-cheung], and they love all sorts of things,' he says. 'People are really educated here; the average guy on the street knows a lot.'.

While Jones is too modest to lay down any style 'laws', he does concede a few basics: 'I think as guys get older, they have a uniform that they like to wear. If you travel - and most people do these days - you need a blazer, a good shirt and a nice pair of chinos.'

Similar to our evolving tastes in food, the movement towards quality men's clothes has been fuelled by 'fast-fashion' fatigue. Jones claims quality, comfort and versatility are essential to men today.

'You want something that can be taken from day to night or casual to meeting. It's about ease; about having really quality things that are going to last and wear well but that don't need much maintenance.'

One thing Jones feels strongly about is overdressing.

'You know that expression, 'being a peacock'?' he asks. Several examples strut into mind. 'I love understatement. It's more sophisticated and shows you are confident in yourself. It's the way forward, I guess; assured, understated menswear.'

Jones' recent collections for Dunhill have been international hits, leading to a renewed enthusiasm in the brand that has translated to sales. His favourite, the autumn-winter collection, is a display of exquisite modern tailoring; crisp, clean silhouettes with some decidedly punk undertones.

'It just makes the look a little bit harder. It's about masculinity,' he says, adding that he looked to Britain's Duke of Windsor as a key reference. 'English gentlemen are quite eccentric. But they also like refinement.'

Punk and the Duke of Windsor? It's a seemingly incongruous pairing, but then Jones is a master of the fine art of mix and match.

After two years with Dunhill, Jones still speaks like a man who can't quite believe his good fortune.

'It's about re-establishing it as a pure luxury brand, having all those great English fabrics at my disposal and being able to indulge in creating.'

Jones didn't get where he is today by luck alone, however.

'People have to work hard to get where they want to go,' he says. 'My best advice to anyone is this: you have to bust your ass.'