Kim Jones has always had an eye for rare birds. His abiding passion for wildlife took root in his childhood, when his family traveled widely—to Ecuador, Botswana, Tanzania, and Kenya—due to his English father’s work as a hydrogeologist. Though as the men’s-wear artistic director for Dior he’s ostensibly based in London and Paris, producing four collections a year, Jones still regularly journeys to the ends of the earth. Last summer, he ventured to the island of Komodo, in southern Indonesia, to see the dragons; more recently he visited an haute private safari lodge a few miles from the equator in Kenya, “where you helicopter to see the flamingos and lakes,” he says. “You fly for six hours and go about 500 miles and see totally different landscapes, from sand dunes to mountains to sulphur lakes.” Jones clears his mind by enticing his eye. Ask him where’s he’s been and he’ll reel off not only hard-to-reach locales but the names of the endangered species that live there, like the pangolins near the Namibian border with South Africa and the kakapos, flightless parrots on remote islands in New Zealand.
For years Jones has financed conservation projects to preserve these and other species; but he’s equally fascinated by extravagant creatures who do not inhabit the animal realm. Favorites in this category include the late Leigh Bowery, an outsize denizen of 1980s London clubland, and the Bloomsbury bohemians Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf’s sister) and Duncan Grant. “They’re kind of turn-of-the-century punks—everything about them was a bit nonconformist,” he says of the couple, both artists, noting their open attitudes toward sexuality and gender, and their determination to create a family with their circle of intimates. “I love the fact that they seemed to be so free-spirited. That’s what a lot of fashion is—people make families around the people they work with. That’s how I’ve always been.”
There are certainly like-minded souls running through Jones’s myriad personal collections, which include a trove of vintage London club clothes from 1971 to 1989, including 40 ensembles of Bowery’s, iconic early pieces by Vivienne Westwood, and some that the punk dancer and choreographer Michael Clark commissioned from Bowery to wear in his performances. (“The attention to detail!” he says of Bowery’s ability to turn dross into gold. “I mean, it’s like a couturier.”) Jones also owns some 6,000 vinyl records, among them many spun by the legendary New York DJ Larry Levan at the club Paradise Garage; Amazonian headdresses; a 1929 rug designed by Francis Bacon; Andy Warhol’s Polaroids of Cabbage Patch Kids; and a self-portrait by Frank Sinatra that once hung in Diana Vreeland’s bedroom.
It’s a sultry day in Paris, three weeks before Jones is set to unveil his fourth collection at Dior, and we are sitting in the book-lined library of the 17th-century house Jones rents near the stately Palais-Royal. Here, it’s Bloomsbury meets Blade Runner: On the shelves are scribbled notes from close friends Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, Japanese toys, and illustrations by the cult Tokyo artist Hajime Sorayama, who collaborated with Jones on a sci-fi inspired Dior Men’s pre-fall collection. In the living room, where the walls are painted a pale Dior gray, an antique piano sits on a well-worn carpet, surrounded by displays of African masks and paintings by Bell and Grant next to the floor-to-ceiling French windows. “There’s no end to his cabinets of curiosities,” says his friend Flora Starkey, a celebrated fashion florist who’s known Jones since both were 18. “He has a lot of objects, but he displays everything in a precise way. It’s very homey and chic. He always has music playing and flowers.”
For all of his interest in the exotic, Jones, who is burly and boyish, with a cropped beard and moustache, is decidedly grounded. He favors worn-in Air Jordans and has some 40 pairs, a few of which I spot in the foyer, beneath the child’s desk that once belonged to Vanessa Bell’s daughter. Today he is wearing a Prada coat and a black pre-fall Dior Men’s sweater, pants, and shoes. Not for him the cult of personality. “People want to connect with a designer now,” he says, dismissing those who insist on mystique in 2019. “They’ll be extinct soon. It’s not mystique. It’s arrogance.” His friend Tremaine Emory, a cofounder of the creative collective No Vacancy Inn, calls Jones “the quintessential culture kid, well before people were screaming ‘I’m about the culture.’ He’s also funny as fuck and a great host. He’ll show you a book from his archive, and when you’re leaving, he’s like, ‘Oh, you should take that.’ ” His interests run in myriad directions. Jones makes that point himself when I catch him eyeing the bookshelf behind me and he quickly apologizes. “People think I’m quite rude sometimes, because while I’m talking to them, I’m looking over their shoulder. I’m not bored. It’s just like I’ve seen this amazing detail on a dress or something. I’m constantly looking.” Mostly, it’s “at the small unusual things that you don’t see so often,” he says, taking a swig from his can of Coke. “You can be in Africa in these big, dusty landscapes and then someone arrives cloaked in this red burnoose blanket, and you’re just like, ‘That’s incredible.’ But when you travel with people who have never been there, they want to see the big things—the giraffe, the lion—and I love watching their expressions when they do.”
Before he was appointed artistic director of the newly retitled Dior Men, formerly Dior Homme, Jones led men’s wear at Louis Vuitton for seven years, pioneering the fusion of high and low and formal and sport that transformed the landscape of men’s fashion. Ushering streetwear into the luxe realm, he combined his personal passions with the sartorial savoir faire he had honed for two and a half years as the creative director of Dunhill, and eventually introduced such notable high-low mash-ups as the watershed 2017 Louis Vuitton x Supreme collaboration. When he arrived at Dior, its men’s wear was all about the black skinny suit originated by Hedi Slimane and largely adopted by his successor, Kris Van Assche. As Jones saw it, “There’s not a huge demographic of really super-skinny people in the world who can afford to buy these clothes. Real men couldn’t buy them.” A huge fan of John Galliano, Jones wanted to translate the feminine couture ideas of the Dior atelier—the drapery, the colors, the sensitivity and drama—into men’s wear. “That world had never been explored by any of the men’s-wear designers,” observes Stephen Jones, the renowned British milliner, who worked closely with Galliano at Dior and now collaborates with Kim, acting as a kind of historical adviser. “People like Jean Paul Gaultier had done skirts for men, but that was very much a female trope as opposed to the femininity of a design for men. Christian Dior wasn’t only about a ballgown; he was exquisite feminine tailoring as well.” Jones’s stamp on the house was glimpsed around the globe even before he debuted his first collection, when his close pal David Beckham wore the first custom Dior Men suit to the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Jones was 14 when his family decided to settle in London. His Danish-born mother, he tells me, spoke seven languages and worked as a translator; she died when he was 17. His uncle Colin Jones, a former Royal Ballet dancer turned photographer for National Geographic, introduced him to the ballet and opera. But it was Jones’s discovery of the British indie fashion press via his older sister’s stash of The Face and i-D magazines that awakened his interest in club life and a creative career. When he watched the film Hail the New Puritan, a fictional day-in-the-life portrait of Michael Clark,“I was just like, These people walked around like that in an age when things must have been so much more closed,” he says. “And I just thought, Good on them.”
He wanted to concoct his own world too. After studying graphics and photography at Camberwell College of Arts, he earned his M.A. in fashion at Central Saint Martins, studying under the formidable Louise Wilson, whose mentorship proved vital. “Everyone was terrified of her,” he recalls. “But she was like a lot of women I’ve known in my life that were quite tough, stiff upper lip. So I knew how to deal with someone like that. I think she called me a bugger once. We both laughed.” At the same time that he was developing his fashion bona fides, Jones went to work for Michael Kopelman, the British streetwear designer who was an original member of the International Stüssy Tribe. Kopelman’s distribution company, Gimme Five, looked across cultures to import all the then-underground streetwear brands coming out of Japan, like Jun Takahashi’s Undercover and Nigo’s A Bathing Ape—“all these labels that nobody else could get,” Jones has said. “It was like a secret society.” He’s since made nearly a hundred trips to Tokyo, which he loves for its mix of tradition and experimentation.
Those influences were apparent in his streetwise 2002 graduation men’s collection, which included what he called “schoolboy blazers in a weird, fucked-up way.” What followed is well-known fashion lore: Galliano, then creative director of Dior, bought half the collection when it was presented in an exhibition at the London avant-garde shop the Pineal Eye. Michael Stipe also became a customer, as did the stylist Jerry Stafford, who bought a fluorescent pink cowl-neck batwing top for his Paris housemate Phoebe Philo, at the time the creative director of Chloé. By then Jones had also met Alexander McQueen, whom he likens to an older brother. “He liked the fact that I had my own eye,” Jones says. “We’d hang out a lot but not talk about fashion; we’d talk about nature. We had a lot of laughs together, driving in his Jeep that he didn’t have a license to drive, listening to Shalamar, going out on a Friday night. He always gave me good advice, but then I don’t know whether he applied it to himself as much. And that’s the shame. I think if you’re not happy with things, you have to tell your bosses, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ I do the things I need to do, but then, you know, it’s a job at the end of the day. And you can do lots of different jobs in your lifetime.”
From 2003 to 2008, when he ran his own label, Jones synthesized the disparate strands of street- and sportswear, club culture, and luxury; he also took on side projects designing for McQueen’s own label, as well as the British sportswear brand Umbro and Hugo Boss, and editing Kanye West’s pre-Yeezy line Pastelle, which never went into production. West and his then creative director, Virgil Abloh, liked to hang out at Jones’s Maida Vale home in London, poring over his Japanese fashion magazines and talking about design. “They were doing merchandise for Kanye, but they hadn’t put a collection together before,” Jones says. “It’s funny because everything Kanye talked about then he’s doing now, like building a community space. I love his Sunday Service.”
It was on the recommendation of Marc Jacobs that Jones was hired to design men’s wear and accessories at Louis Vuitton, whose travel heritage fit nicely with Jones’s personal history and interests. But by 2018, Jones wanted to spend more time in London, where he now has a partner and is renovating a bunkerlike house in Notting Hill. He went to Dior, he says, swayed by the lure of its couture atelier and CEO Pietro Beccari’s brief to engage new global markets. His Dior studio team divides its time between London and Paris. Exiting Vuitton, he recommended that Abloh succeed him “and made a list of the reasons why,” he says. Despite criticism of Abloh’s lack of formal training, Jones sees him as “such a positive role model to have in our industry. He deserves everything.”
Jones began his tenure at Dior by delving into the idiosyncrasies and life of Christian Dior himself—from the codes and palette of the house to Dior’s love for his dog Bobby—the name Dior gave to every single dog he had. (Jones himself has four: two English pinschers, a Shiba Inu, and his new Pomeranian, Cookie—“which I know sounds so gay, but he’s really cute.”) His discovery that Dior began his career as a gallerist who promoted cutting-edge artists of the day, such as Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst, led him to launch a series of collaborations with the contemporary artists he figured Dior himself “might be looking at today,” he says. The artists he’s chosen share his roots in pop culture, reach across disciplines—and prominence on social media. At Jones’s debut in June 2018, the artist KAWS reworked his iconic BFF sculpture into a monumental floral effigy of a tuxedo-clad Christian Dior and Bobby. “I’d never created something at that scale or speed before,” KAWS says. “It was great that Kim wanted to make my work front and center of his first project with Dior. It was very generous.” Sorayama’s towering, futuristic cyborg was the centerpiece of Jones’s second collection, a laser extravaganza staged in Tokyo. His fall 2019 collaboration with the American punk artist Raymond Pettibon was about elegance with a touch of subversion: Models ferried past guests on a 250-foot-long conveyer belt, articulating Jones’s refined vision of masculinity—which included couture flourishes like sweaters featuring Pettibon’s reworking of an archival Dior leopard print, hand-beaded shirts based on a Pettibon drawing that required 1,500 hours of work each, and mink combat vests paired with black opera-length biker gloves that Jones describes as “a little bit perverse.”
Time travel was the theme of his latest show, presented in June in Paris. Together with the artist Daniel Arsham, Jones paid homage to Dior’s past while imagining a futuristic landscape—in this case a rose-colored desert—where giant eroding letters that spelled out DIOR suggested freshly excavated cultural relics. Guests entered the show via Arsham’s calcified all-white re-creation of Christian Dior’s original Paris office; the models in turn trekked across the gradient sand-scape, explorers in a bold new land, wearing tailored jackets, mesh tops, and softly draped suits with flamboyant sashes. I ask Jones why he feels that this mix of the masculine and feminine feels so relevant. “Things go in cycles,” he says. “Perhaps it’s a reaction to the conservatism we’re having that statement pieces sell so well now. It never used to be the case. It was a jersey T-shirt and a jean. But people want things no one else has got. They want something to stand out.” He considered the idea for a minute. “That sort of confidence of sexuality and ideas is a really healthy thing.”