“It’s quite a neutral collection to start the ball rolling,” Kim Jones said of his hotly anticipated ready-to-wear debut at Fendi today during Milan Fashion Week. “It’s real clothes.”
Jones approached the fall 2021 collection with an extensive crawl through the Fendi archives, much reflection, and deep discussions with Silvia Venturini Fendi and his trusted inner circle of fashionable women.
He also applied his meticulous and methodical approach to revving up heritage brands, having racked up an impressive track record at Dunhill, Louis Vuitton and Dior, where he remains artistic director of men’s collections in addition to his new duties as artistic director of Fendi’s haute couture, ready-to-wear and fur collections for women.
In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview in Paris, Jones spoke excitedly about his foray into women’s fashions, and the honor and challenge of taking up a role previously held for 54 years by fashion legend Karl Lagerfeld, who died in 2019.
It is understood Jones has harbored ambitions to design women’s wear for some time, and held discussions with Versace and Burberry in recent years. He closed his swan song show for Louis Vuitton in 2018 with Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell striding out in monogram trench coats.
Jones famously amassed an impressive collection of rare vintage fashions spanning some 500 pieces, which he recently donated to an undisclosed museum, and it includes seminal looks by Vivienne Westwood, Leigh Bowery, Rachel Auburn and others.
“Women’s wear is something that I’ve always looked at because it was more interesting to research and look at women’s wear than it is for men’s wear,” Jones said, seated in his office at Dior. “And obviously, a lot of my friends are women, and they wear my clothes.”
His ambitions for today’s show do not include any grandiose artistic vision or revolutionary fashion statement.
He simply wants to make “clothes that women will want to buy. I’m not gonna lie. I think that’s what my job is. I want all my friends to go, ‘I want that straight away,’” he said.
Jones said he doesn’t like being compared to Lagerfeld, and who would, considering the German designer’s illustrious and unprecedented fashion career not only at Fendi, but also Chanel, Chloé, his signature fashion house and a staggering array of unexpected design projects, from pens and tableware to luxury hotels and condo projects?
“I think I have the same work ethic, you can ask Silvia at Fendi,” Jones said, allowing one commonality with a designer he respected and admired to the max. “He was always super nice to me.”
Yet Jones does echo Lagerfeld in his wholehearted embrace of the fashion industry’s furious pace, his just-shut-up-and-do-it ethos, and his acknowledgement that fashion, however creative and artistic, must always be at the service of a brand and its business imperatives.
“For me the customer is always number one. It’s something I learned from Yves Carcelle when I joined Louis Vuitton, and it’s something that’s always stuck in my mind,” he said, referring to the late Louis Vuitton chief executive officer who helped build the historic trunk maker into a global luxury powerhouse.
When some designers arrive at a house, they often erase what was done by their predecessor, wiping clean social media feeds and sometimes complete product lines. Not Jones, who enters a solid and sizable business, part of luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. He said he’s seen other designers “go into a house and completely change things around and then get stuck when nothing sells.”
“And that’s not my job,” he said, adjusting his face mask and occasionally taking a sip of Perrier. “I think it’s really important to respect what the house is, especially when you’ve got someone there whose name is actually across the door.”
Jones comes into the role with immense respect and affection for Venturini Fendi, whom he met about a decade ago at a luxury goods conference, immediately striking up a friendship.
The British designer collaborated with Venturini Fendi, artistic director of accessories and men’s wear collections, and her daughter Delfina Delettrez Fendi, jewelry creative director, on his spring 2021 couture collection for Fendi, shown in Paris last month. He said it was equally important to have received positive feedback from Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH, and his wife Hélène; as well as the past CEOs of Fendi, Michael Burke and Pietro Beccari, who attended the filming of the couture show in a modernist glass maze set in the Palais Brongniart.
“My two roles are to do my job for A, the brand, and B, for her. The value of the family is ever present, so I want them to be happy with it. You know, I guess that’s me. It’s not about my ego. It’s about doing a job.
“I’m sure Karl felt the same with brands that he did. Not that I’m referencing myself as Karl, but you know he did Chloé, Fendi and Chanel, all at the same time, and each had different signatures. And I think it’s possible to do that when you’ve got good teams at each house,” Jones said, recalling that when he operated his signature label from 2003 to 2008 after graduating from Central Saint Martens in London, he consulted with other brands to bring in more money. “You put on your different headset, something I’ve always been used to.”
Indeed, he declared that overseeing two luxury brands is “more fun. Doing three shows in two months is kind of great.” he said. “I’m not gonna lie, it’s been difficult doing it under lockdown. Because you know, I can’t go home for the weekend, or I can’t pop out somewhere for three days for a mini break. You know, it’s just that you have to be in one place, and I’m not very good at doing that.”
Yet despite the trying circumstances, Jones insisted on readying a couture collection for spring — something Fendi had never done — because he had already masterminded his “Orlando” theme and preferred to get on with the job as quickly as possible.
“He knows how to blend his vision with the heritage of Fendi,” Venturini Fendi said in an interview, noting the Roman house is to mark its centennial come 2025. “His work at Louis Vuitton and Dior showed us that he knows how to respect and how to use this story as a starting point for his vision….It’s not just about Kim; it’s about the brand.”
In addition, “he’s also a voracious observer of the moment, of people, and what are people’s desires and what do people need,” she continued. “He’s very interested in knowing what they’ll want.”
When Jones arrived at the Roman house last fall, Venturini Fendi accompanied him to the archive, and he settled on the oldest pieces: luggage, whose parchment and leather colors inspired the palette for his rtw debut. “It’s very elegant, it’s very neutral-toned, I would say very Fendi,” Venturini Fendi declared.
Although Fendi has enjoyed unprecedented consistency in its design office thanks to Lagerfeld, Jones said he sees the fashion image at the Roman house as “really malleable.”
“They’re silhouettes that can be updated quite easily,” he said, also lauding its formidable legacy in leather goods. “When I look at all the houses, Fendi’s bags are the most unique across the group.”
For his debut rtw effort, Jones zeroed in on three groups of bags from the early ’90s — not including the Baguette, introduced in 1997 — to see how they are constructed, and he transferred elements from the hardware, stitching and details onto the clothes. That implies “lots of handwork” and “quite high price points,” but Fendi has customers who seek this, Jones noted.
While Jones is honored and humbled to take on a design job previously held by Lagerfeld, he said he certainly doesn’t dwell on it.
“I just get on with my work, and I don’t think too much. I just think that it’s good to be really honest about that. Because, you know, if you do these jobs at this level, if you think about it too much, you could drive yourself crazy,” he said. “I think I’m doing really good work. And I’m not being arrogant by saying that, but I think anyone else that works in my position that’s doing as much would probably feel the same with themselves.”
Fendi is probably first and foremost known as a fur house, and Jones arrives at a time when Venturini Fendi was already grappling with a new way forward, given how fraught and complex the use of animal skins has become.
“We’re looking at ways of how we work that ethically and, you know, in a better way,” Jones said. “It’s too early for me to talk about.”
That said, expect some fur in the fall 2021 collection “because there are customers that want it.”
Fendi is also known for tailoring, coats and dresses, which historically sell well, according to Jones. “I didn’t know a huge amount about the Fendi customer before, and I’m learning on the job,” he said. “But I’m surrounded by a studio full of women that are very passionate about clothing. And if every single woman in that studio wants the pieces that we’re designing, then that’s a good sign.
“It’s a funny brand, Fendi. You know it and you don’t know it,” he mused. “I’m looking at it in quite a commercial design aspect, really. And I wanted it to be a palate cleanser.”
When the British designer arrives at a brand, he likes to scope out new territory, and for Fendi he already spies opportunities in shoes, and a broader offering of dresses and clothing items.
“Just easy pieces,” he said. “It was very designed as a silhouette and now the modern market requires it be designed as singles.”
Knowing Fendi’s reputation for outerwear, something Jones loves designing, he felt it natural to create coats in double-face fabrics, of which he said Lagerfeld was not very fond. “So you know, really looking at things that are very Italian in their traditional craftsmanship, and playing around with those ideas.
“It’s nice to have a shift, but not a groundbreaking shift,” he said of his first collection.
Jones didn’t flinch when asked if Fendi is expected to grow under his watch.
“That’s my mission,” he said, while demurring to share any particular business targets. “I like to see people wear what I design, or the things I work on. I think there’s nothing bigger than the thrill of seeing a stranger buy and wear your product. And when I’m in the street and I see people head-to-toe [in Dior] in Japan, New York or L.A., I think it’s super nice. And it’s touching.”
Given travel restrictions that continue to shift, Jones has not settled into a schedule as he would in normal times, but he said he’s managed to effectively juggle demands at Fendi and Dior. “I have a core team that’s with me in both. And then I have two really good teams in both houses,” he said, describing both brands as having a “family” atmosphere.
“I feel like they’ve been taking me in as part of the family. I listen to what they say,” Jones said of Fendi. “I work for the brand. The brand is first.”
To be sure, he was thoroughly impressed with the capabilities of Fendi’s ateliers.
“It’s nice to see things be created in a different way in front of you. I think that’s probably what the beauty of women’s wear is,” he said. “The only thing that overwhelmed me a little was the sheer amount of embellishment and embroideries and all those things that you could possibly do. You know I’m very clear and concise in my work.”
For his rtw show today, Jones plans to livestream a catwalk event at Fendi’s vast showroom space on Via Andrea Solari in Milan.
“I think people enjoy seeing the runway experience. I think it’s what they want to see, especially when you’re buyers buying clothes, virtually. Now they want to see how the pieces move and understand them,” he said.
That said, Jones is also eager to exalt the workmanship of his Fendi collections, which is why he released a dreamy 20-minute film about three weeks after the Jan. 26 couture show presenting the mood and detail of the clothes and accessories. “Because, you know, it’s quite easy for people to criticize things when they look at them online. When you see them in reality, you understand what goes into it. The savoir-faire and the techniques are really important.”
Jones has had a storied fashion career, with John Galliano snapping up his graduate collection. He initially launched a signature men’s wear label, and experimented with some women’s looks in 2004. Known for its sporty, streetwear edge, the Kim Jones brand lasted for eight seasons and attracted the attention of Dunhill, where he was creative director from 2008 to 2011.
Now a veteran of LVMH, Jones came on board in 2011 as men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton, parlaying his zest for exotic travel into ultraluxurious collections with understated cool and sly functionality. He helped ignite the luxury streetwear phenomenon with the landmark 2017 collaboration with Supreme, the cult New York skate brand.
Since moving over to Dior Men in 2018, Jones has done collections with fine artists Peter Doig, Daniel Arsham, Kaws and Amoako Boafo, the surfwear maven Shawn Stussy, and Air Jordan. The latter yielded one of the most sought-after sneakers of 2020, the Air Jordan 1 OG Dior limited-edition.
Jones said some of the shapes from his debut couture collection will be felt in the fall show, but he stressed that “the ready-to-wear is setting the pace for where it will go,” he said. “I think it’s always nice to start with a bang and then, you know, we’ll set a pace in a different way.”
Jones’ couture effort had a period flavor owing to the twin muses of Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell, both members of the Bloomsbury Set. Yet multiple decades were referenced. Jones revealed that he looked at Lagerfeld sketches from the time when each of his all-ages models in the show were born.
But don’t expect anything retro or vintage-looking on the Milan runway: “The Fendi ready-to-wear I’m doing now is of our times,” he said.
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