Perfect fit

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 March, 2012, 12:00am


It is almost exactly a year to the day since Kim Jones walked into his new studios at Louis Vuitton in Paris. It marked his realisation of a decade-long dream to work for the luxury brand, one that began the moment he walked through the glass doors of Vuitton's swish Paris headquarters with a portfolio under his arm.

'[As a young Central Saint Martin's menswear graduate], I really thought, 'I wish I could do that job one day', and here I was exactly 10 years later - to the same day, which is nice,' he says.

It has been nice for Louis Vuitton as well, Jones's first two menswear collections have been rewarded with universally gushing reviews about his relaxed, luxed-up tailoring. 'It felt like the right connection. I felt I was in the place I am meant to be,' says the 32-year-old award-winning designer.

Although he had his own menswear label for five years, Jones decided he preferred working for others. He spent time at Hugo Boss, Mulberry and heritage menswear brand Alfred Dunhill, before joining Louis Vuitton. 'Dunhill was a good training ground for lots of things: I learnt about tailoring and about the Asian market,' he says.

Indeed, this new collection for Louis Vuitton is a 'tale of two cities' - Paris and Tokyo - echoing Vuitton's own relationship between the two culture capitals. Georges Vuitton, Louis' son, was inspired by Japanese floral paintings to create the iconic monogram. With a connoisseur's instinct, Jones similarly selected super-refined silks that were woven at a Unesco World Heritage Site outside Tokyo, for the shirts in this collection. There is so much ritual invested in the production of this silk that only 20cms can be woven each day.

Japan is one of Jones's favourite destinations. He spent part of his peripatetic childhood in Tokyo, and has a way of weaving his history into Vuitton's travellers' brand heritage. It is not just the fall collection that expresses his nomadic spirit; his debut Spring-Summer 2012 collection, which is hitting stores now, was inspired by Africa - he spent most of his younger years in the bush, and it left a lasting impression on him.

'I go there virtually every year, because I love it so much, to be completely relaxed surrounded by animals,' he says.

It has given Jones a real feel for the textures and colours of East Africa. Describing this season's key accessory: 'I was clearing some rooms in my house in London and found my Masai blanket, which I have had since I was 14, and I thought it would be a great basis for a Damier check scarf,' he says. Aside from the tribal scarves, crocodile and luxurious safari jackets, super-soft suede parkas, tailored linen chinos and sandals are other threads of his heritage that Jones has stitched into the collection.

The collection was well received by Hong Kong buyers, partly because men here love catwalk looks and limited editions, says Jones. 'I have friends in Hong Kong who love fashion,' says Jones, who hopes the understated Chinese zodiac padlocks on next Fall's bags will pique their interest.

But he reckons it may be due to his incorporation of the beautiful lightweight methods he used, which suits the climate in Hong Kong. 'They like it because there is a lot of consideration for the heat and humidity in our tailoring; we made it as light and comfortable as possible,' he says.

'Comfort and functionality are the two most important things for men,' says Jones, and he thinks about them a great deal when designing. It certainly explains the functionality of the sandals that fold flat or are held in shape with press-studs, as well as other transforming accessories like the bags. 'I am a logical, practical thinker.'

His post-college history as a designer of hip sportswear for Umbro, is another factor in his designs: blousons, shorts, and a suede parka that folds away into its own bag, are guaranteed to attract the leisure-lovers amongst Vuitton's customers. Clearly he is cracking the codes of the brand offering something for the businessman, the leisure man and the more fashionable man.

Jones lives between Paris and London. London is his source of inspiration: for vintage clothes and rare books, but he is not bunkered down in Dalston with the rest of the British fashion crowd, preferring to live amongst the elegant mansions of Little Venice. 'I like big white houses and pretty gardens,' he says.

His Paris studio is largely filled with a British team, so he doesn't feel far from home. 'Vuitton is a very big machine, but you are in your studio and people give you space to get on and do what you do, which is brilliant.'

Marc Jacobs, the artistic director of Louis Vuitton and therefore effectively Jones's boss, has his hands full, but was sitting front row at the show in January. They had never met before he joined the brand, 'but we had a lot of very close friends in common before I started, so it is really easy to talk to him and Marc loves details, fabrics and ideas,' says Jones.

They are the same ilk of designers, both liking the uptown/downtown, hi-lo vibe. Jones sees it as his brief to give the menswear some synergy with the women's line, and there is clearly a lot of trust resting on his shoulders. However, he says working with Jacobs is 'a very nice organic process.'

Wild instincts

Asked what he would like to be if he wasn't a menswear designer, Kim Jones replies quick as a flash 'David Attenborough'; the famous British naturalist who has fronted many internationally respected wildlife programmes. 'I watch wildlife programmes and then I want to see the animals in the wild,' he says, recalling a childhood in the bush.

Clearly travel is as much his lifeblood as it is Vuitton's. Jones was born in London in 1979, but his father's work as a hydrologist sent him to Ecuador when he was three months old. The family also lived in Tokyo, Botswana and Kenya, before returning to London when he was 14.

Jones visits Africa nearly every year; his favourite destinations being Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana. 'I want to go back to Mozambique, because its beaches are beautiful,' he says. He says Ethiopia, despite the dangers of travelling there, is one of his favourite places because of its diversity. He went to Madagascar last summer, and Patagonia is on the cards this year.

His uncle Colin Jones, a renowned National Geographic photographer, is among his inspirations. But the person who inspired his passion for fashion was was his older sister Nadia, who recently stepped down as creative director of the British high street brand Oasis.

'She gave me all her old copies of i-D and The Face, and I was immediately drawn in,' he says. 'I had come from this nomadic background and knew nothing about youth culture, and suddenly I was thrown into it.'