A few years back I met a cherubic Central St. Martin’s graduate named Kim Jones inside a nightclub so embarrassing I won’t mention its name. The designer was doing a capsule collection for Umbro and I’d organized a party for him in New York under the auspices of Tokion Magazine. Who could have guessed that a few years later the freckled Brit known for extolling the aesthetic virtues of chav culture would be heading up dunhill, the English leather goods outfit recognized for its gentlemanly bibelots e.g. horns, lamps, goggles for the pioneering Edwardian motorist (quoting their catalogue) as well as luggage sets and tortoise shell fountain pens?
Like the minting of Christopher Bailey as Creative Director of Burberry, Kim Jones’ unconventional approach to men’s fashion makes a lot of sense for dunhill, which is clearly looking to modernize. His previous work for Topman, Uniqlo, Louis Vuitton and Umbro was notable for updating sportswear staples with cotton candy pastels, club-inspired bedizenment and the contralto élan of Neil Tennant’s dandyism. To resist appearing acrid to generations of uninitiated young customers, classic brands like dunhill have been abandoning timelessness for market share, shaking up long-established brand images for a new type of longevity. Giving Kim Jones a key to the archive was not his privilege, but the other way around. Just as Alfred Dunhill had done in 1893 when he took over his father’s horse harness business and started selling motorist accessories, Kim will carry dunhill into the future.
It was quite an honor to catch up with the designer this summer, a few months into his new gig at 15 Hill Street, London. He gave EVB a sneak peek into his day job, two of his favorite travel destinations and the only thing that makes him truly happy.
All vintage fashion:
Styling by Kim Jones
Photography by Alasdair McLellan
all originally from from V-Man
Kate Sennert: I know you’ve just started at dunhill, but how has it made you rethink your ideas about English style?
Kim Jones: Working at dunhill is giving me a different point of view on the direction I want to go in. I am feeling a bit more grown up and exploring tailoring more. I think the one thing about us Brits is that we always just wear what we want, so you get a nice mix over here – the so-called English eccentrics.
KS: How did your relationship with dunhill evolve – who approached whom?
KJ: I was approached by Floriane di Sant Pierre who is a headhunter and went through the interview process with several other candidates.
KS: What in particular attracted you to the project?
KJ: The fact that dunhill as a house had never been touched before – I would be the first Creative Director. That, along with its fantastic archive and the fact that it’s a London menswear house sold it to me.
KS: It’s probably fair to say that dunhill has not been at the forefront of menswear design for a while. How do you plan to contemporize the brand?
KJ: I’m more interested in getting the classics right and then working through the rest with a more modern feel. I’m lucky that Alfred Dunhill was such a modernist. A lot of what he did is still relevant and I am just working out how to place this into what we’re doing [now].
KS: I love your use of (stingray) shagreen. What other exotic leathers are you experimenting with?
KJ: Well, we use iguana skins and a variety of alligators, etc. Shagreen has been with Dunhill since the 1920s, and we keep it very limited due to stingrays being protected along with the exotic skins. We only use reputably farmed skins in countries where poaching isn’t a problem, so we can let future generations enjoy [these creatures] both alive and as luxury goods! I’m also looking at other, less rare skins with interesting treatments to create different price-points, but I’m keeping them under wraps for now.
KS: Did you ever smoke Dunhill cigarettes? They have those really cool beveled corners.
KJ: No, I’ve never smoked. People always assume I smoke because I work in fashion, but it’s never appealed to me one bit!
KS: Are you still consulting with other lines, or are you 100% dedicated to dunhill now?
KJ: I’m current only on dunhill. It’s too big of a job to be able to work on other projects for now. I’m lucky I can still do the odd photo shoot and once I’m in the swing of things I can start to spread out a bit if I feel like it.
KS: Of the many things you collect, what are your top two or three favorite items right now?
KJ: At the moment, anything to do with travel, technology and watches – the things that I use everyday and things that are relevant to my sort of lifestyle.
KS: What influence has music had on your work as a designer? Specifically acid house?
KJ: Well, I think any music influences me and right now I’m early ’90s housing it, listening to a lot of new things. I love LCD’s ’45:33′ because it’s endless and goes so deep. And anything by Pal Joey from the early 1990s. I’m also listening lots of old mixtapes like Tony Humpheries and all the DJs from Trade in London from 1991 to 1992.
My top 10 for today, and in no particular order:
Joubert Singers – Stand On The Word (Levan Mix)
Pal Joey – Dance / Deee Lite – Pussycat Meow / LCD Soundsystem – 45:33 (here’s PT2)
Gypsymen – Hear The Music / Uncanny Alliance – I Got My Education / Chez Damier – Can You Feel It (New York Dub) / The Ride Commitee Featuring Roxy – Get Her! / Masters At Work – One Mute Horn / Desiya – Coming On Strong
KS: I’m curious if you could say a little bit about “Council Chic” for our American readers. It seems to have played an important role in your design in the past.
KJ: Well, I don’t know about that. I think it’s more the casting of the real English guys than the design. The Brits have a specific look and I think that is where it comes from. As my good friend Luke Day puts it, “Cheap looking boys in expensive clothes.”
KS: What are your favorite two places to visit in Africa?
KJ: Botswana from the Kalahari Desert to the Okavango Delta. And I love looking down into Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania. Once you’ve driven through the forest to get there, it’s really one of the natural wonders of the world.
KS: Biggest influences?
KJ: Travel, Andre Walker, Louise Wilson and my overactive imagination.
KS: What makes Kim Jones happy?
KJ: Sleep and lots of it!