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in this issue ASA BUTTERFIELD BY MITCHELL NGUYEN MCCORMACK

An Interview with Kim Jones on Southeast Asia, Androgyny & Alexander McQueen

PURSUIT OF PRACTICALITY. M. Berlian kept up with Louis Vuitton’s Kim Jones during his recent visit to Bangkok, Thailand

 

Kim Jones Louis Vuitton Exclusive DA MAN APril May 2016-small
Kim Jones next to Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2016 crane-embroidered souvenir jacket

 

Kim Jones is a liar.

That has been my impression of him since a few years ago, long before I finally had the chance to meet Louis Vuitton’s artistic director in person. I know this because a colleague who met him at the presentation of Louis Vuitton’s menswear spring/summer 2013 collection in Hong Kong told me. Just a little reminder: The aforementioned collection was filled with maritime influences, and Jones had credited his past trip to Bali, Indonesia as his source of inspiration. During the presentation, this colleague of mine, who had flown in from Jakarta, had, after a few moments’ consideration, approached Jones to greet him. “I’m from Indonesia,” she said. Jones warmly replied, “Oh, we’ve been waiting for you.”

For some reason, this story has always resonated with me. “I know he was lying,” my colleague said to me a few days after that memorable encounter. But wasn’t it nice of him to say what he did just to make a complete stranger feel welcomed?

When I saw him in Bangkok, Thailand on 5 February this year, I got firsthand experience of what Jones is like. He was, for lack of a better word, nice. And that’s not a lie.

He was in town to attend the opening of Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2016 menswear pop-up store. The opening party was a boisterous event, what with its star-studded guest list. When Jones stepped into the scene, though, it was (controlled) chaos, as guests started taking turns to take pictures with him. And Jones took it all in stride, as he complied with every fan’s request. He just arrived in Thailand after a delayed flight from Cambodia; but if he was tired, he didn’t show it at all.

It sure takes a lot to overwhelm a man who has seen as many parts of the world as him.

“I’ve traveled since I was three months old,” he remarked during an interview conducted a few hours before the opening party began. “It’s been a part of my life. I lived abroad a lot when I was a child, in Africa, South America, the Caribbean. I’m half-English, half-Danish. I was back and forth on the plane all the time. I’ve always been, and probably will always will. It’s part of my DNA.” He also added later that, “I like to see as much of the world if possible. I like to see every country before I die.”

 

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Jones with Thai actor Mario Maurer in Louis Vuitton’s limited edition jacket

 

REALISTICALLY SPEAKING

It’s no secret that Jones always infuses the cultures he meets along the way into his work. His designs are the sum of all his travels. “Louis Vuitton is a travel brand, essentially. For me, it’s a logical thing to do.” While Jones is, in every sense of the word, a traveler, he is also a pragmatic man. Jones noted that while the men’s market has changed “incredibly,” the men haven’t.

“Even if there are a lot of changes, consistency is very important for men. So I think you have things like statement pieces but men do kind of wear [uniform pieces]; after a certain age, they want to feel comfortable. You know, just for the practicality of it,” he said.

“When I do a collection I think about what some of the new customers can buy, what they can attain—just being really practical about it and logical. For the souvenir jacket, I fought with the Commercial [department] to make it so that the price would be obtainable to people.”

It certainly helps that the rest of his team are on the same page on this issue. “People in the office wear suits but they understand what modern men want. They’ve all come from different backgrounds and they come from different companies and we all like the same things. We know what is off-duty, what is on-duty, things like this. And we’re just trying to fulfill what a 60-year-old guy can wear, what a 20-year-old guy can wear. Just being realistic about how big our demographic is.”

I guess that’s why Jones, who has worked for the likes of Uniqlo, Topman and Umbro, still looks to the streets when creating his collections. “Luxury is something people aspire to. But what people wear to a nightclub, or bar, or restaurant, or just out and about, there’s where things are really seen.”

 

Louis Vuitton Men Spring Summer 2016 Indonesia's Birds of Paradise
Jones is inspired by Indonesia’s birds of paradise to design the silk shirt

 

SOUTHEASTERN PROMISE

For his spring/summer 2016 collection, which draws its inspiration from Southeast Asia, Jones started with Myanmar, where he visited a hill tribe museum. “I saw these really stripy things from the 1950s that look a lot like sportswear,” he explained. He then took the idea of the traditional attire and interpreted it into silk denim. “Silk is the underlying theme. It’s very luxurious—it’s very part of this world.”

Yet, Jones said, “I hate generalizing [Southeast Asia] because each country and culture is very different.” So, Jones also went out of his way to collect bits and pieces of culture along with animals from other places he loves: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and also Indonesia. Jones mentioned that he wanted to “take an animal from each region and celebrate it.”

For Indonesia, he picked birds of paradise from Papua. The birds are paired with bright-hued pastel fabrics. “For me, that’s all about a really beautiful sunset. Because the wildlife in Indonesia is amazing; the sea and the people are really nice, I always have a great time there. I love going to different islands and seeing different things,” he said. “It’s got all the three things that make me want to go somewhere: culture, spirituality, and wildlife.” He paused before finally adding with a quiet laugh: “And the food’s really good.”

There are also monkeys (“I love monkeys”) and cranes. “[It’s] telling stories across the different things with different aspects of nature in this part of the world, which I love.” Another featured animal is the black leopard, printed on indigo fabric. “I’ve been a jeans fanatic since I was young. My sister’s boyfriend, when I was 14, gave me a pair of Levi’s. For me then it was like the coolest thing,” he said, explaining his love for indigo.

 

 

 

“Indonesia’s got all the three things that make me want to go somewhere: culture, spirituality, and wildlife. And the food’s really good”

 

 

 

FIVE YEARS AND COUNTING

This year marks Jones’ fifth one working for Louis Vuitton; and as Jones had pointed out earlier, the market for menswear has changed considerably in the last five years, what with the emerging genderless trend and all. Yet, don’t expect to see something similar in Jones’ designs anytime soon.

“There are parts where I agree, and parts where I don’t. If you make a great coat, a man or a woman wants to wear it,” he said, commenting on the androgynous trend. “It’s [more about being] realistic of who’s going to be the consumers as well.” While “people who love fashion will wear anything,” he mentioned that most people just want to put on good products.

Jones was very tactful about the whole thing, though. “I love the fact that lots of designers do different things. There are clothes I don’t like and clothes I like. But I think it’s good they’re all there.” For Jones, what matters is that “they’re doing something different.” He went on to name fellow designer Rick Owens and how much he admired and appreciated his work. “I don’t wear his clothes,” he quipped, “but I like the way they look on the right person.”

Speaking of appreciation, Jones is famously known for his passion in nurturing young talents. “I was very fortunate to have people support me,” he said, mentioning one of his mentors, the late Alexander McQueen, with whom he used to share his British-ness. “I used to work with Alexander McQueen, who was a good friend of mine. And sometimes I would sit and he’d be, like, ‘I’m bored, come and sit with me while I do my fitting,’ and we just laughed a lot and told stupid jokes and things like that,” he said. “It’s quite a British thing.”

 

 

 

“Alexander McQueen and I just laughed a lot and told stupid jokes and things like that. It’s quite a British thing”

 

 

 

“Now, of all the time, is the toughest time for young designers to get ahead,” he went on. “If I think of someone who’s really talented like Craig Green, Martine Rose, or Grace Wales Bonner, or Edward Crutchley, I think of what can I do to support them, because I have to return the favor.”

When asked about the best advice he could give to each of these young designers, he replied: “Be true to yourself. If you’re a talented designer, keep your look and style because it might take a while to grow but if it’s really good design, people will eventually see it and it will catch on and get bigger and bigger.”

Now that he’s reached a new milestone at Louis Vuitton, and since he’s most likely going to shy away from the ever-popular androgyny trend, what can we expect from his next chapter with the fashion house, then? Jones seemed very excited about it, but, obviously, didn’t want to share too much. “Just do something a little bit different. Consistency is really the key in what we do but we can make things a little different. What I’m doing for the next season will be really exciting and I already started working on it.” He stopped for dramatic effect before concluding: “It will be a big surprise.”

 

 

Text M. Berlian
Photos Louis Vuitton

 

 

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