Journey To The East
Kim Jones, Louis Vuitton’s artistic director of menswear, tells us why he loves to travel and how his collections are influenced by his experiences. Interview by Lance Lim
Many of your collections revolve around your travel experiences, what’s the connection?
Louis Vuitton is a luxury travel brand and it started out as a trunk- making company for travellers. So to me, it’s the most logical thing to do. Plus, I think that all successful men now have to travel for work, whether they like it or not. It just ties in to the theme for our collections, and it helps that it is a narrative that men are quite interested in. It makes people think about it in a different way.
Were you an avid traveller prior to this job?
I’ve been travelling since I was three months old. It has been part of my life and I’ve lived abroad a lot when I was a child – Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. I was back and forth all the time on the plane, always have been, and probably always will be. It has become a part of my life. At Louis Vuitton, they love the idea that I am interested in travel, and the fact that we think about what travelling men need to wear in the world.
You’ve been to different parts of the world, from Europe to and Asia, how much has the menswear market changed across the world?
Men’s market is changing incredibly. There are lots of new brands and lots of competition. Considering that we do 12 collections a year, each of them has a different theme for different functions, such as our business range for businessmen, where the suits are designed for comfort. They are lightweight and constructed for travel. We also have the icons collection, which you can find in all our key stores, offering essentials like chinos, jeans, white shirts, and suits – things you usually pack for a business trip. Despite the growing market and changes, there’s some level of consistency. And consistency is very important for men. You have statement pieces, but men do tend to wear a uniform after a certain age, and they would want to feel comfortable and know the practicality of it. I hate to generalise based on the region, because each country and culture is very different. For me, it’s more about taking all these different things and mixing it up, and making it concise.
We’ve been hearing how some of the luxury brands are moving towards a younger, more energetic design direction, what is your take on that?
Fashion is quite youthful, but people who buy luxury goods do not necessarily have the money to do so until the later part of their lives. When we did this collection, we knew it would be popular with the younger crowd because of the print. When I do a collection, I think about what a new customer can buy like the next scarf or the silk shirt – things that are not really expensive but practical and logical.
In one of your interviews, you mentioned “street really leads everything in menswear.” Do you still feel the same way?
I do. Just look at some of the key designers for brands like Valentino or Zegna. They are looking at what people are wearing on the streets and the activities that revolve around their world, because that’s how they go about their lives. It’s interesting to see how luxury puts a spin on it, and it becomes something to aspire to.
You’re known for being very pragmatic. As a designer, how do you balance the creative and commercial parts of the business?
I think I have a platform where I can make things that look very strong when put together, but when you break it down, they are commercial items. It’s funny when you sit around the table and most of us are wearing suits, but we understand what the modern man wants. It may not always be transparent and you have to be realistic and know the demography of your customer base. You know, when we do the show bags, it was a huge success. Then, I thought about what I can do next to make a more powerful statement. For the Autumn/ Winter 2016 collection, I created a more masculine monogram, which is the Monogram Eclipse. It’s subtle, but it works for a lot of consumers. I’m just being practical and mindful about things like that when I’m designing. One of the things that I do at the airport is to observe the type of bags people are carrying. Whether it’s a backpack, a messenger or tote bag, I pick five key bags and make cooler versions of them.
From concept to completion, can you walk us through the process of creating a collection?
It’s a long and meticulous process, but I usually start by looking at books and doing some research on the Internet. Authenticity is really important, so I would go to different countries to look at the way things are being made. There was once, we did a collection that drew inspiration from South Africa. I recalled a 200-year- old scarf that I bought during my visit, which I sent to a factory and asked if we could weave it the same way it was done. And they said, “If we could weave it like this, we can make it a ‘ double-face’.” But they have never attempted it before. It’s always a challenge to take a work of art and bring it into the modern context. It’s tough, but we always try to make it work.
What inspired the Spring/summer 2016 collection?
It was during my holiday in Myanmar, and I was venturing about the city. In one of many visits to the museums, I chanced upon the design of the traditional attire of Thailand’s Lahu tribe. It’s beautiful yet has a certain modern appeal to it, something that I can see in contemporary sportswear. I like the idea, and by combining denim and silk, I went on to design the Souvenir Jacket. That was really how it started. Then, there are the imprints of the Southern parts of China. Because it is the year of the monkey, and I love monkeys, I found a Chinese monkey called the snubnose monkey, and we did it in red, which is very auspicious. We also have the Asian crane, another auspicious symbol in many countries, across the collection, from embroideries to prints.
Why the fascination with wildlife?
As you know, I travel a lot, and mostly for business. But whenever I go on a holiday, I like to explore different cultures and see rare animals. I usually travel with a group of friends that haven’t been to these places because it is really nice to see new places with a group of people. I do go back to these places quite often if I really loved them, but I would like to see as much of world as possible before I die.
Who do you have in mind when you are putting together this collection?
This collection is younger and some of the pieces are dressier, kind of like an eveningwear look. The person I have in mind is a successful man with confidence. He likes to look good and enjoy life. I think that is who the majority of our customers are. They’ve worked really hard and want to reward themselves and enjoy their experiences. And lots of them travel.
Why are you so interested in indigo?
I have been a jeans fanatic since I was young. My sister’s boyfriend gave me a pair of Levi’s when I was 14. For me, it was the coolest thing then, and I have always been interested in it ever since. We are launching a new denim line together with our Autumn/ Winter collection, with new silhouettes and detailing. It is all produced in Japan with the best looms, the best techniques, and the best authenticity.
What’s your take on the digital world’s influence on fashion? Has it changed your priorities as a designer?
For me, one thing that I’m always interested in is how things are changing and growing, locally and globally. From travel retail to online purchases, it is rampant and rapid. I like to know who is buying what, where and how, things like that. At the speed things are moving, it’s not always easy to keep track. I love Instagram, it is my favourite social media platform because it is visual. I had it on private for a long time, as I have only kept it between my friends and me. When you don’t see people every day and you miss them, it’s good to see what is going on. All my friends, who are celebrities, have privates ones as well. We can just see what the other person is doing. But when I put products up, it’s really interesting to be able to see what people say.
Any advice for aspiring designers?
Just be true to yourself. If you are a talented designer, keep your look and style. You will take some time to grow, but eventually people will see it. And it will catch on and get bigger and bigger.