For a quick assessment of Kim Jones, the 32-year-old designer who claimed the venerable job of style director of Louis Vuitton menswear last March, take a glimpse at his Twitter page. The background is wallpapered with antique illustrations of slow loris faces. Meanwhile, in his profile picture, the boyish sartorialist poses next to his pals Kanye West and Lily Allen. (West was one of the first to congratulate Jones on the LV appointment: “I’M SO HAPPY FOR MY FRIEND KIM JONES !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” the rapper tweeted on the day after the news was announced.) These are the two, not necessarily dichotomous, spheres that make up Jones’s world. There is the artful-if-slightly-off obsession with an adorable, exotic primate—perhaps an illustration retrieved from one of the books Jones picked up and then hoarded during his youth spent traveling through the Amazon, Botswana, and Egypt. And then there is the pop, party, celebrity-soaked element he inhabited as boy-genius of the London fashion scene. Certainly both will come in handy as he revamps Vuitton for the next generation of style-conscious men.
Jones wasn’t born a pop-culture devotee. In fact, he didn’t get immersed in it until he returned from globetrotting with his family to live in London through his teenage years. “I must have been about 14, and my sister was chucking out all her magazines—The Face and i-D—and I picked them up and took them to my room and thought, Wow this is so cool.” The magazines led to a fascination with illustration and photography, which brought him to fashion (Jones says that he saw it as “something I could build a world around”).
In 2003, Jones began showing his first collections at London Fashion Week. With themes like “subtle rave,” the shows were staged in locations like a Shoreditch nightclub and were covered extensively by the British press, transforming him into something of a cult figure of the vibrant youth and street zeitgeist. He went on to design eight seasons of his own line, and did a grand tour of labels like Uniqlo, Umbro, Topman, Alexander McQueen, and Hugo Boss before Dunhill snatched him up in 2008 to modernize the 157-year-old heritage brand. It’s an experience he clearly tapped into for his first spring 2012 Louis Vuitton collection, where bright new elements—like red, white, and blue LV logos, running on top of nubuck leather, as well as a suede parka, which could be folded into itself to create a bag—reinforced a sportier undercurrent. “I really looked at what Marc [Jacobs] had been doing in womenswear and talked to him and worked with him on this message—that I wanted to have the fun that you could have on the womenswear on the menswear, too,” explains Jones. But that doesn’t mean he’s only into the razzle-dazzle of the runway. “I’m fairly commercial after my last job. The key thing that I’m interested in is making a line of clothing where any kind of guy can walk in and find something he’d want to buy.”
As much as Jones’s maturity indicates that he’s ready for the challenge, it could also be that the challenge is ready for him. To wit: Since when did Louis Vuitton start making major announcements via Twitter? Well, since luxury discovered that digital is where the eyes are going and that the Millennials represent the entirety of their future customer base. Perhaps this is why Jones taking the reins at LV men’s has raised fewer eyebrows than when he took over at Dunhill (“more club kid than clubman,” scoffed The Times of London back in 2008). Like his new boss, Jacobs, did 14 years ago, Jones brings new life and direction to the brand, as well as the respect of someone who grew up aspiring to it. Back when Jones was in school, working and playing away his summers in bars, he would take his savings from the season and buy one nice piece of Louis Vuitton. “I have a bright orange briefcase, which is in my cupboard, and is one of the things I bought with that money. It’s, like, completely crazy-looking, but it was just really cool at the time,” he says. “And it still looks really great.”
John Ortved is a New York City-based writer.