Designer Kim Jones has developed a reputation as king of modernist casualwear. But as the newly appointed creative director at Alfred Dunhill, he insists there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye.
Kim Jones, the British designer famed for his design-conscious modernist sportswear, is preparing to be photographed for the Drapers interview. “I hate having my picture taken,” he says for the umpteenth time. It’s a plea that smacks of sincerity, if only because of its repetition.
As well as his design credentials, Jones is used to being on the other side of the camera as a stylist and art director – his credits include Arena Homme Plus, Dazed & Confused and Another Magazine. But in front of the lens he is ever so slightly less composed. In any case, he says, his pictures never really look like him.
But they do give a faithful sense of his playful style and for a brief second that is what comes under scrutiny. Jones’ current – but now outgoing – PR is relieved to see he is wearing his Umbro By Kim Jones trainers; she suggests he puts one of the tops on too, before hurrying to gather an armful of possibilities.
Jones is not so sure. “I think I should be a bit smarter now,” he says. Given that he has just been hired as creative director for the Richemont-owned Alfred Dunhill brand, this could be an appropriate fact. He sticks with a casual but refined Louis Vuitton bomber jacket and shirt.
That briefly taken decision provides a glimpse of what may be looked back on as Jones’ Rubicon-crossing moment. In the past seven years Jones has worked on more than 40 collections, from his own – which has shown on the runways in London, Paris and New York – to various collaborations. He has worked with premium brands such as Hugo Boss through to luxury labels Mulberry and Louis Vuitton, as well as high street players Topman and Uniqlo.
Now Jones believes the time has come for him to “put all his eggs in one basket”. After managing so many projects, all extra commitments have been wound up and his scattergun brand propagation will be distilled into one creative outlet – Dunhill London, the fashion collection for the Alfred Dunhill brand.
“This is what I always wanted to do,” he says. “People don’t realise that I never really wanted to have my own label, I just fell into it. It’s great to now work at a fashion house that no-one has really had a massive go at turning around, and the fact that it’s a British menswear brand and in London, the menswear capital, attracted me. To have that huge company to work at and to have it become, in a sense, your label is a really massive honour.”
For spring 09 Jones is developing the leathers for the Dunhill London collection but autumn 09 will mark the designer’s first complete effort, culminating in a show mooted for men’s fashion week in Paris.
On the surface, the Jones/Dunhill pairing is an unlikely marriage. The name Alfred Dunhill evokes a vision of retro-tinged luxury: from travel goods and leather motoring accessories to sophisticated tailoring. The brand is set to underline this image when its London flagship relocates to a Georgian townhouse in Mayfair’s Davis Street this August, ahead of its existing Jermyn Street building being demolished. The new flagship will feature a spa, private cinema and resident barber, not to mention the two Bentleys purchased to ferry prestige customers to and from the store.
Jones, on the other hand, has a reputation founded chiefly on modernist sportswear inspired by the football terraces – all drawstrings, techy nylon and functional styling. He ushered in the return of utility before fellow Brit Stella McCartney made the style more diffuse.
And here lies the mystery behind the seemingly ill-fitting marriage of Jones, a designer better known for creating street-savvy casualwear, taking creative control at a brand renowned for its jet-owning clientele. But Jones says his work is more than meets the eye.
“There has been tailoring in my collec-tions, but not everyone sees that,” he explains. “We worked with Savile Row tailor Norton & Sons – we made a pair of trousers with a half placket, which I’ve noticed is on every pair of trousers at Prada this season.”
Jones takes it as a compliment that flashes of his past work appear on other brands’ catwalks from time to time. He is equally blas鍊about the celebrity connections that his designs inspire, with the likes of trendy UK electro-pop band Hot Chip and Grammy award-winning US rapper Kanye West among the current fans. “I don’t do it for the glory; I do it because it’s my job,” he says.
However, what does annoy him is poorly researched opinion. “The generations now looking at fashion rely so much on the internet; it’s a bit lazy. For example, people see an A-line coat and say it’s a Raf Simons coat, when actually it’s a 1940s coat. Go and do your studies properly – that’s just lazy journalism.”
Of course, this is easy for Jones to say. He is a bona-fide fashion nerd with an encyclopaedic mind and corresponding wardrobe. Tailor Timothy Everest, who collaborated with Jones for three seasons, says: “He has a washing machine mind. He has the typical ingredient of the British designer – eclecticism.”
However, Everest is unsure how that will translate in the wake of the Dunhill move. “It’s an odd one, but then who thought that John Galliano going to Givenchy would work?” he says.
It is the nature of the relationship that concerns Everest most. “Post-Tom Ford at Gucci, I think the concept of the creative director is past its time. It is more important for the brand to have people steeped in its history, otherwise it can feel like someone’s hijacking the brand,” he explains.
But it was exactly this concern that gave Jones the edge ahead of the 39 other interviewees for the Dunhill creative director job. A spokeswoman at Alfred Dunhill says that the brand was impressed by Jones’ devotion to its heritage, a fact confirmed by the man himself.
“It has a really fantastic archive, the menswear is good and the brand has a great image,” he says. “It’s untarnished. It’s about looking at the archive and updating it – you have to be modernist in approach because that’s what Alfred Dunhill was. I want it to be modern but retain its customers.”
Jones is similarly vocal on the subject of transforming fashion houses. “Look at Lanvin and the way it was three years ago. It was a perfume brand that was mainly important at duty-free. Now it’s one of the most sought-after menswear collections. If you look at Dior and at YSL, they were complete duty free. Then they got someone on board to completely revamp their offer.”
Jones is choosing his words well, for while the Dunhill London brand is untarnished, it is fair to say that it remains underdeveloped in the UK. In the course of researching this piece, Drapers spoke to a handful of independent menswear retailers in the premium branded market. None had any-thing negative to say about the brand, but a vague sense of unfamiliarity emerged. “It’s just not our cup of tea,” said one. “We just wouldn’t move another brand out in order to stock it,” said another.
Alfred Dunhill is at its most potent outside Europe and, in particular, the Far East, where it has fostered a loyal following in Japan and has 70 stores in China, making it one of the best-known western brands in that most compelling of emerging markets.
This is not lost on Jones, who is well aware of the global consumer base. He says it has focused his mind on the luxury end of the market – he rejects the idea of a diffusion version of Dunhill – but it has also emphasised his devotion to Britishness.
“It is important to get a fully British team on board,” he explains. “It’s so important to bring menswear back to London – I believe the British Fashion Council completely neglects menswear. I had to do a womenswear show in London with Marios Schwab so we could get on schedule. That shouldn’t be the case, especially when London is a third or a quarter of the price of showing in Milan or New York.”
His own label aside, Jones is best known for his Umbro by Kim Jones range, which was the catalyst for injecting the British football brand with a credible streetwear offer. “I ummed and ahhed over the Umbro deal,” he says. “I didn’t think it was a good brand at the time – it was really chavvy. But I thought if I could do a good job with it I would be worth more to people.”
Colin Henry, Umbro’s senior vice president of global product development and market-ing, is full of praise. “I wouldn’t want to underestimate Kim’s influence on giving Umbro a cool image,” he says. “He has a unique ability to capture the zeitgeist. We saw him mature during the time he spent with us and there was always a threat he would be snapped up like Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. He is taking his rightful place.”
Henry adds that the Jones range for Umbro was particularly lucrative in Japan and Korea. But, with its terrace-friendly chic, it also nurtured a raft of loyal menswear buyers in the UK, of which Jones is acutely aware, and when the hour came to call time on his other projects he wrote to his UK stockists to explain his move. “Most of them wrote back to us and said they would be interested in buying the Dunhill London range,” he explains.
The menswear market will certainly miss Jones’ other ranges, and whether or not the buyers snap up the new Dunhill London collection, plenty will follow its progress. One thing is for sure – it will be meticulously crafted and studiously composed.
Kim Jones CV
2008 Becomes creative director of Dunhill London
2007 Presents his last catwalk collection in New York
2004 Umbro by Kim Jones launches
2003 Presents first catwalk collection during London Fashion Week
2002 First contributes to Umbro range
2001 Graduates from Central Saint Martins College in London