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

Men's Folio (Singapore) - - Features -

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.

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