‘It’s not just fashion, it’s a cultural thing’—Kim Jones on the Air Dior and his supreme talent at sell-out collabs

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 (Nikolai Von Bismarck)
(Nikolai Von Bismarck)

When the fashion designer Kim Jones was 15, he and his friends in Lewes, Sussex, formed a small co-operative. They were all ‘straight-edgers’, into American hardcore punk bands such as Minor Threat and Youth of Today, and vintage Levi’s and streetwear. There was one item that they desired most of all: a pair of Nike Air Jordans, and Jones didn’t see any contradiction between the anti-establishment militancy of the bands that he liked and mass-produced sportswear he coveted. ‘It’s a design classic,’ he says. ‘People like nice things. You don’t think about it as corporate as a kid, you just think: “That’s a cool thing, I like it.”’

The trouble was, Air Jordans were expensive. ‘It’s crazy to me how much money kids have nowadays. We could never afford it! But we all had part-time jobs and the same size feet, so we would club together to buy shoes to share.’ They wore the shoes on a strict rota. The sneakers, naturally, had to be spotless when passed on.

These days, Jones has no problem affording nice things. At 42, he is one of the most handsomely rewarded figures in fashion today and a consummate collector of everything from Star Wars figurines to Virginia Woolf’s old furniture.

During his seven years at Louis Vuitton for Men, he established his reputation as the king of the collab, a bringer-together of people, the person who surveyed the discrete worlds of streetwear and high fashion and appliquéd one on top of the other. The launch of his Supreme x Louis Vuitton collection in Tokyo saw a reported 7,500 queue up in 2017.

The artistic director of Dior Men since 2018, he was the force behind the Air Dior: the basketball sneaker he lusted after as a teenager reinterpreted in Dior’s own atelier. It had people queuing outside Selfridges in the 4am rain when it launched July last year, mid-pandemic, and was soon reselling for upwards of £30,000 online.

Dior Spring 22 men’s collection (Dior)
Dior Spring 22 men’s collection (Dior)

Jones counts David Beckham, Kanye West, Lily Allen, Prince Nikolai of Denmark and A$AP Rocky among his friends (West used to stay with him whenever he was in Paris, and he tailored the suit that Beckham wore to Harry and Meghan’s wedding) and when I ask him what New York’s Met Gala is like, he says it’s just a nice, low-key chance to hang out. ‘I was invited by Jony Ive and I was with Naomi, Kate, all the people I knew, so it was a nice time. Marc Jacobs, Donatella on the table next to us — everyone was friends. It didn’t feel like an event, it was just nice to see people.’

In addition to designing four Dior collections per year, he is now artistic director of Fendi womenswear and couture — meaning he sits at desks once occupied by Hedi Slimane and Karl Lagerfeld, in Paris and Milan respectively. The week leading up to our interview has seen him travel to rural Kenya, Paris, Milan, Cognac, the Dolomites, Paris again and (as soon he puts the phone down) Milan once more. ‘It’s jumping around a lot but I’m used to it,’ he says. ‘It’s how my life is. When I finally get home at the end of the month, I won’t have been there for six weeks.’

He is a person of seemingly vast contradictions. The fact that he was a straight-edge Michael Jordan fan didn’t preclude falling for a group of 1920s bohemians when he first visited the Bloomsbury Group landmark, Charleston, when he was a teenager. He now has an extensive collection of Bloomsbury Group paintings, letters and first editions, including most of the editions of Woolf’s books that were owned by her close family and friends. ‘It was the fact that there were people living at the time in a way that was frowned on by society but which worked for them,’ he says. ‘I’ve got such respect and admiration for Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Clive Bell, John Maynard Keynes, particularly Virginia Woolf. She was quite radical for her time, I guess. And Orlando is such an interesting book because it addresses a lot of things that, 100 years on, people are dealing with now.’

Cara Delevingne, Kate Moss, Lila Moss and Count Nikolai Von Bismarck (Dave Benett/Getty Images)
Cara Delevingne, Kate Moss, Lila Moss and Count Nikolai Von Bismarck (Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Nor does he see this as any kind of contradiction whatsoever in such eclecticism, nor between his impassioned environmentalism and his evident acquisitiveness. Indeed, he has a way of responding to questions like this as if he were surprised to be asked them. ‘I like people wearing what they want to wear,’ he explains.

‘I mean I am a snob but only in certain ways. I like people just being themselves more than anything else. I have such a diverse group of friends from all backgrounds and walks of life — from school teachers to David Beckham — and everyone is different.’

Jones’s upbringing brought a wide array of influences into his life. His mother died when he was ‘very young’ (he has a policy of not talking about her or his private life) and his father was a hydrogeologist, which meant he dug wells and created irrigation systems in places that lacked access to clean water. So Jones spent most of the school holidays visiting him in remote parts of Ecuador, the Caribbean, Kenya, Botswana and Ethiopia. Africa, he says, remains ‘a place in the world I love being. It’s quiet, it’s in nature and you’re away from things. Even now, a two-day break somewhere out of the way or remote just resets me.’ Hence his recent trip to Kenya. ‘In lockdown it was quite difficult not to be able to go to those places, like taking the full stop out of a sentence.’

He spent term times between Sussex and London (he now lives part-time in each) and became interested in fashion via his elder sister’s collection of i-D magazines. At Central Saint Martins, Jones studied under the legendary teacher Louise Wilson (whose students include Christopher Kane, Phoebe Philo, Jonathan Saunders, Roksanda Ilinčić and Erdem Moralioglu) and it was Wilson, who died in 2014, who gave him what he considers the best advice he ever received. ‘She told me to do what I want and not look at what other people were doing. And to believe in myself.’ Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Kim Jones and Travis Scott (Dior)
Kim Jones and Travis Scott (Dior)

Jones’s career has been garlanded from the start. When he graduated in 2002, John Galliano bought half his collection. Alexander McQueen acted as a mentor. After launching his own label and collaborating with brands including Umbro, Mulberry and Pastelle, he took the top job at Dunhill, a brand he saw as a sleeping giant, and established a reputation for exquisite tailoring. He was poached by Louis Vuitton in 2011 on the advice of Marc Jacobs, and took the job at Dior Homme (also part of the LVMH luxury conglomerate) in 2018. One of his first acts was to change the name to Dior Men — but mostly, he feels, his job is honouring the brand’s legacy.

He feels no pressure about the name above the door, or his illustrious predecessors, he says. He approaches these hugely demanding jobs ‘logically’. ‘Although that sounds quite boring, it helps a lot as well. I worked for Vuitton for years so I had a good understanding of what the business is. I know about the Asian market, I know about Japan, what ties sell where, the small things as well as the big things, the rules and the processes.’ These are big companies, he stresses, but Dior being that bit smaller than Louis Vuitton gives him more control. ‘It’s a lot more agile in terms of making products, so that was quite a refreshing thing, to have an atelier that can give you a garment in two days.’

The Air Dior was a great personal triumph. The Business Of Fashion described it as the most successful product launch of the pandemic year, 2020, making an estimated £19 million for Dior in a few hours: five million people signed up to be in with a chance of purchasing the 8,500 available pairs (in addition to those who braved the queues at Selfridges), with 5,000 pairs reserved for Dior’s best clients. ‘I still get messages from people asking for pairs. I literally don’t have any left — please write that down.’

Jones is not someone who likes to look backwards, but he did do a little reflecting on his birthday recently (11 September). ‘I always get to thinking on my birthday,’ he says. ‘When I did the Vuitton Supreme collection and created a three-mile queue in Tokyo — that was quite mind-blowing. But the Air Dior, if it hadn’t been for Covid, I’m sure the queues would have been as long.’

He describes the trainer as a ‘selfish act’, a thing he had always wanted to do. ‘I know some people think you’re selling out when you do something like that but actually I’m just doing it for myself. What I like about working with Dior is that Pietro [Beccari], the CEO, and I both think quite similarly: big, big, big, big.’ Again, his tone suggests that this is completely obvious — and doing anything smaller would be a little tragic.

Dior Hommes Ready to Wear Fall/Winter 2021-2022 (Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Dior Hommes Ready to Wear Fall/Winter 2021-2022 (Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

It takes a huge amount of negotiation to pull off such collaborations and an astute sense of what it is that will spark that special desire in customers. ‘People want things that relate to a culture,’ he says. ‘It’s not just fashion, it’s a cultural thing. Working with Travis [Scott] or with [Michael] Jordan, that’s what young people are interested in. They don’t just want to see one thing, they want to see things coming together.’ His own past collaborators have ranged from REM front man Michael Stipe and streetwear legend Shawn Stussy, to current hip-hop darling Travis Scott, who co-designed the Spring/Summer 2022 collection, billed as a ‘conversation between friends’.

But as Jones points out, such collaborations are part of the Dior heritage, too. ‘When we launched the Air Dior in Miami, we were looking at all the things that Christian Dior did in America. He collaborated with car companies. He was very forward-thinking about working with people and about the arts; he was a gallerist before he was a couturier. So there were all these things linking together.’

For his SS22 collection, by contrast, he has gone back to the Dior archive and refocused on what the label has traditionally always been about. ‘I was re-looking at tailoring in the Sixties, when Marc Bohan was there, and worked with that. We did some simple coats and very chic, elegant, easy-to-wear clothing. We were doing it in the midst of a pandemic so I wanted some ease in it: looking smart but feeling comfortable. You do what’s around you at the time I guess. Wherever I am in the world, I always go into stores and talk to people. I’m always listening — it’s one of the things I do most in my role. I react to what people want.’

The past 18 or so months have been a challenge in that sense; it is only recently that things are opening up and his breakneck travelling schedule can resume. And yet he says he is still hesitant being around lots of people he doesn’t know. ‘I just think… as we speak my uncle’s in intensive care with Covid and he’s double-vaccinated. It’s still real. I can’t risk catching it as I can’t risk not doing my job. I have a really tight schedule and it doesn’t allow any movement.’

I’m always listening — it’s one of the things I do most in my role. I react to what people want

By the time he next gets home Jones will have been away for a month and a half. He lives in an ultra-modern, brushed-concrete, vaguely Bondish lair in west London, with an indoor lap pool and a Francis Bacon rug hanging in his living room, 10,000 books and 6,000 records in addition to his other curiosities. As for his most prized possession, he can name two.

‘One is an ostrich egg I found when I was four in the Kalahari. And then there’s a little ceramic matchbox that belonged to my mother. It’s one of my last memories of her. I always have that by my bed. These aren’t big things but they mean a lot to me.’

Lockdown initially came as something of a relief as he finally had time to unpack. ‘It allowed me to go into every box and every drawer and have everything organised. I love being at home because my house is very private. The gate shuts and I can just be normal.’

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