How do you underpin the message of a luxury fashion label revered for its coveted luggage? By bolstering the brand’s unique identity as the ultimate voyage accessory. Enter style director Kim Jones.
In 2011, Jones left British luxury goods house Dunhill to join Louis Vuitton, where he received a rather daunting mandate — to transform its menswear range into an ultra-contemporary collection for the luxury market.
His sharp sense of taste and inquisitive mind have contributed to his renowned “street-laced” fashion line. Jones grew up in Kenya, Botswana, and the UK, and no creative could be better equipped to take over from Paul Helbers in the quest to tantalise the wanderlust propensities of Louis Vuitton clients.
Louis Vuitton is the holy grail of luxury brands, and can do almost anything it wishes to promote its collections. Jones’ decision to shoot its latest campaign in South Africa was met with keen curiosity. The decision evolved from years of visiting the country, slowly immersing himself in the local street culture, and acquiring a sense of the distinctive social milieu that makes South Africa what it is.
“Apart from the fact that this city (Cape Town) is ridiculously beautiful, and the weather is great, I love shooting in South Africa because of its unique and infectious energy,” Jones says. “Seeing the youth taking pride and interest in their heritage, and using it as inspiration for their creative process, be it in fashion, art or photography is inspiring.”
South Africa’s creative mettle fostered Jones’ collaboration with acclaimed Johannesburg-born photographer Pieter Hugo, a visual storyteller best known for his collection The Hyena & Other Men, a series of stirring images depicting Nigeria’s Gadawan Kura, or Hyena Handlers. The pairing evinces Jones’ au courant approach, which lends some much-needed street cred to the polished French brand.
His love of heritage and scholarly fashion references encourages Jones to follow his natural intuition season after season. In fact, he credits the recent successes of Louis Vuitton’s menswear ranges to his lust for finding inspiration in uncharted territories. “I think having a specific design point of view supersedes being trendy. Here in South Africa you have young kids with access to what the rest of the world is doing and what is on trend, yet they choose to stick to their own references and their own very South African story,” Jones says.
“Brands like Sol-Sol at the Corner Store, for instance, and Nicholas Coutts. He has a sort of make-do-mend thing, making sophisticated clothing that’s been pulled apart in a sort of a punk attitude. I really like it — it’s its own thing.”His spring/summer 2017 collection is a reimagined retrospective, in which Jones revisits the familiar past through an African punk story. It’s a redux of the provocative punk era of Vivienne Westwood, with skinny pants, dropped crotches, and bondage-harnessed trousers; and it pays homage to Africa through its Maasai-infused details, safari khakis, and exotic leather bags adorned with rhino graphics — a detail intended to highlight the animal’s plight.
The campaign takes its cues from the collection’s nomadic theme, and contains an intrepid explorer element — something not unfamiliar to Jones. His father was a hydro-geologist, and Jones spent his childhood in East Africa. “I did something quite personal: when I first got to Vuitton my first collection was based on East Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and all the things I saw as a kid living there,” Jones says. “People are so stylish, be it a tribe or people in the city; money aside, style and being cool is relevant. In fact, my college tutor, Louise Wilson, and I used to talk about how you can’t emulate that coolness — it’s inherent,” Jones says.
His latest collection has naysayers mumbling about overtones of cultural appropriation; however, the accusation doesn’t faze Jones. He thinks it’s misguided, the result of people not knowing anything about his upbringing. “Is it appropriation if it’s a culture you love, when you’ve grown up there and have an intimate understanding of the society? I’m not referencing from a place of not knowing,” Jones says. “I grew up in Africa, it’s a past I’m proud of, and we help the communities that serve as inspiration. When we did this collection, I went to my CEO and said, ‘Seeing as we are looking at these communities as inspiration we can support them through the Unicef project we do.’ So it’s important to be aware and, if you’re going to celebrate a country, spending time there, you need to give back.”
And give back, he did — well, to fashion anyway. The spring/summer ’17 season saw Jones return to his diverse childhood experiences as a grown-up — infusing his signature London urban influence with punkish aplomb, and an unmistakable nod to African travel — an exemplary display of how to mould a standout collection. And if you’re looking ahead, a quick scroll through his Instagram page might let you in on which continent the itinerant designer plans to take us to for next season’s journey.