kim jones' brave new world for louis vuitton menswear
At the beginning of the year, i-D travelled to Rajasthan in northern India with Louis Vuitton. We hung out with the locals, marveled at the rugged landscapes and explored the sun-drenched Maharaja palaces and forts that inspired Men’s Style Director...
As Men's Style Director of Louis Vuitton, Kim Jones inevitably spends a lot of time on the road, not only for essential business meetings, or to attend to interviews with the media, but also for meaningful research. This is research with a capital R: first-hand experience, direct, three dimensional, unpredictable and exciting, not simply taking the easy option of perusing and printing out a bunch of pictures off the internet.
Louis Vuitton's status as a travel brand and its international appeal means that Kim can combine his own wanderlust with the seeking of inspiration for new collections in far-flung locations. This enables him to further develop the ongoing relationships the brand enjoys with certain parts of the world, to explore the brand's historical connections globally, which might be ripe for reappraisal, and push fresh ideas forward into new and emerging markets.
For spring/summer 15, the Louis Vuitton men's collection arises from the trip Kim and his team made to India at the suggestion of his friend and mentor, the late Louise Wilson, formerly the head of the MA Fashion course at Central Saint Martins. The extremes of India - a country that sees both extreme poverty and unabashed glamour - cannot fail to leave an impression on anyone who visits. Palaces that were built by the Maharajas of Jodhpur and Jaipur, who were enthusiastic customers of Vuitton in the early part of the 20th century, were of particular interest to Kim. The uniforms of the guards manning these lavish abodes provided further inspiration for military-style pieces that would subsequently command much attention as part of the collection. But beyond the undeniably seductive nature of such architecture and attire, Kim is a man who likes to soak up the grit and the offbeat: he found visual stimulation in the everyday Indian man in the street, and from expeditions to see tigers in their natural habitats. Here, he discusses some of the texture of this journey and the significance the resulting collection might hold for the modern, style-focused man on the move.
You dedicated the show to the late Louise Wilson. Can you elaborate on your friendship with her and the ways in which she motivated and inspired you during your student days at Central Saint Martins and beyond?
Louise made me believe in myself and helped me realize what I wanted to do. We became friends after college and she was a great listener and giver of advice, as well as being incredibly funny. Louise was the person who told me to go to India to see everything, which made me look at the Vuitton archive for a link I could tie to the show. I was lucky to spend some time with her and Timmi and Michael Costiff a few summers ago, and I think it was the last time I actually cried hysterically, laughing at her rants on fashion today. I was so shocked when she died, as she was so strong I thought she would outlive us all...
What prompted her to suggest that you go to India?
We were talking about travel and she was shocked I'd never been, so I decided to do the next spring/summer show about India and went on to explore Vuitton's relationship with India.
What do you most miss about Louise now that she is no longer with us?
Having someone who has seen it all making you realize what's important and what's not - and the importance of passing on information to people about the past. So many people only look digitally now and you have to see things for real to really appreciate them, that's definitely something she inspired in people.
So tell us about the trip.
I went for ten days with two of the designers I work with on the show. We chose to go to Rajasthan for two reasons. Firstly, the amazing trunks that Vuitton made for the Maharajas of Jaipur and Jodhpur, and secondly their love of aviation at the time of its invention. Vuitton is a travel brand, so the connection worked.
Do you ever go traveling alone?
I have to a lot for work and it's something I absolutely hate! I get quite nervous flying and I find airports stressful, so it's not really good flying alone. I just have to get in the zone and then get to the destination.
How would you advise people to experience the real India?
Look at everything - the colors, the people. The spirituality of it all is incredible and it feels very rich in history, although modernity is everywhere. I would tell people to go with an open mind. Eat local food. Walk around and see as much as possible. Go and check out the wild areas, too. Take a road trip - it's crazy driving there!
How did you incorporate your Indian inspirations into the spring/summer 15 men's collection?
Well, I always look at the idea of the collection and then we take references, work with them and then develop something modern. We looked at the Maharajas' clothing in museums and the fact that they designed their own clothes, such as jodhpurs for elephant polo and flight suits. We took these ideas and worked with them. We also looked at palace guards and the smart accessories that captured the regal lifestyle. Then we looked at the silhouette of the man on the street - a slim and slightly 70s silhouette - that we brought up to date with a crocodile sneaker.
What were the biggest challenges involved in putting this collection together?
Obviously India is a country with poverty, so I am always sensitive with these matters, as people and culture mean a lot to me and my work. So I celebrated the idea of the modern Indian man - a man with style, aspirations and determination, who can achieve what he wants in life, the way I see the
As a designer, putting monetary issues and sales to one side, how do you measure the success of a collection from a creative point of view?
For me, it's about my peers and the people I respect liking my work and appreciating the hard work that goes into everything we do. I think people need to appreciate things with a neutral mind, as not everything is for everyone, and I think that's great. I also like to hear feedback from customers and my bosses, as, at the end of the day, they are the ones who count!
"Luxury" is such an overused word. What does luxury mean to you?
I think luxury is steering towards more personal luxury. I mean, I am lucky I can work with monogram and Damier, as they are so great to work with. This season we decided to almost make bags inside out with monogram lining and details, so it still had the appeal of Vuitton, but was more subtle. Luxury for me nowadays is having space, and time to myself to think. I think space is important for all creatives to have new ideas. Traveling gives me the opportunity to have time away from the office and see new things to inspire me.
Why is it so important to you to travel a lot?
I've always traveled, it's part of me. But seriously, I work for a brand with travel in its DNA and if I can't bring things back to inspire my team and the consumer, I feel I'm not doing my job properly. All successful men have to travel for work now, whether they like it or not, so you have to understand their lifestyle.
Text James Anderson
Photography Jason Evans
Styling Max Clark
Grooming Rajeev Kanojia
Production Flying Pigs Production
Special thanks to Carla Filmer, Owen Parry. Models Jalam, Taran Singh, Sameer, Sumit, Vijay Singh, Ramsingh, Irfan, Akshit
All clothing Louis Vuitton. All shoes model's own.