Kim Jones’ resume reads like fashion’s dream bucket list: Vuitton, followed by Dior Men and Fendi women’s, all while hosting high-profile collaborations with artists, musicians and other iconic brands. But his big news for the first week in April has even Jones marvelling, “Never in my wildest dreams.” He is the guest editor of Vogue Italia’s April issue, the first designer ever to be asked to fill those shoes.
Emanuele Farneti has adopted a notably experimental approach since he became editor-in-chief of the magazine in 2017. Once, it was the apogee of the most glorious, artful fashion imagery in the industry. Now, it feels like the reflection of a young creative community. And that was why Farneti was drawn to Jones. He thought Kim had built something similar through “his great love and flair for surrounding himself with talented people.” Farneti felt it was a now-or-never moment to propose a pooling of the two communities. “At times like these, heaven knows how central the sense of sharing is to our lives.”
Jones seized the opportunity. “I wanted to express where we were in the world at the moment through this magazine, working with friends and people I love. But I’ve also asked people I don’t know to do things as well. I’ve just mixed it up, how the world should be mixed up. I think that’s something I’ve been missing.”
The issue’s cover line, “Many friends have helped us in writing this book,” adapts the first line of Virginia Woolf’s acknowledgements for her 1928 novel Orlando. “We thought that was a nice way to start,” says Jones, who is a Woolf obsessive. On one of the six covers, Demi Moore, star of Jones’ Orlando-influenced couture debut at Fendi, is holding one of Jones’ six copies of the book. Brett Lloyd is the photographer, Alister Mackie is the stylist, both of them longtime members of the Jones community. “We were looking at the classic Vogue covers, celebrating in a timeless way a woman who’s so beautiful at a certain age.”
Among the eight shoots that Jones has commissioned is a celebration of another of his long-standing relationships in fashion, with Peter Philips who has done the makeup for all his shows over the years. But there is also a shoot by Malick Bodian, the young Senegalese model who has featured in all eleven of Jones’ presentations for Dior Men and is now establishing himself as a photographer. “Just the idea of giving Malick an open brief, letting him choose three girls he thought were cool and shooting them however he wanted, brought something to the magazine.”
The issue is themed around obsession. Jones corralled twosomes to talk about shared passions.
Sammy Jay has been helping him build his spectacular library of first editions. He talks to actress Gwendoline Christie about Woolf and her sometime lover Vita Sackville-West. Max Richter and Swizz Beatz were responsible for the soundtracks of Jones’ first two Fendi shows. “I thought it would be nice for them to have a dialogue,” he says. Peter Doig was the guest artist for Jones’ last Dior Men show. He’s in conversation with Alex Foxton. “Two artists at different points in their career,” Jones explains. “One who’s already extremely successful and influential, one who I think will be.”
His own conversation was with his cover girl Demi. “We got completely distracted,” Jones says ruefully. “We didn’t really talk about what we’re obsessed by. I think we connected over so many different things when we became friends that our talk was really about friendship, and coming out of this year of bleakness, that is hopefully one thing that has really pulled people through.”
Jones has always worn his cultish obsessions on his sleeve — or at least on the sleeves of the collections he’s made — whether it was cult designers like Christopher Nemeth and Judy Blame, cult nightclubs in the 1980s, or unclassifiable cult geniuses like Leigh Bowery.
“What I love about doing women’s wear at Fendi is that I can now unleash a lot of my obsessions that people maybe didn’t know about,” Jones says. “How people perceive me is not how I actually am. I quite like that.” He imagines the prevailing view is that he’s someone who’s curating the cutting edge of culture, when it’s actually the quiet joys of books and reading that currently absorb him. His library is his pride and joy. Jones even has his own small publishing company, Slow Loris.
One obsession that Fendi has unleashed is clearly Jones’ Virginia Woolf worship. Jones says he responds to the radicalism, the romance, the melancholy in her work. “I spent a lot of my formative years around the area where she lived, so it feels like something that was built into me at a young age.” For a sensitive young soul growing up in East Sussex, Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group were part of the landscape, physical and emotional. “I discovered her when I was about 14. Every day, I cycled down the river Ouse where she jumped in, and everyone was always saying, ‘Well, that’s where Virginia Woolf killed herself.’ Or I’d go past her house or go to Charleston or see Quentin Bell [Woolf’s nephew] walking round Lewes. There are people you don’t know that just seem ever-present in your life. She’s one of those people. I just got her teapot. That’s how fucking freaky I am.”
His personal collection is full of such ephemera. Breathtaking first editions aside, Jones is curating a definitive collection of pop cultural fetish objects. He recently acquired Allen Ginsberg’s Mastercard. He’s got Andy Warhol’s high school yearbook, Lou Reed’s typed lyrics, Steve Rubell’s letters … it never stops because Jones is that most obsessive of collectors. If it’s a miracle the ephemera survived in the first place, it’s even more of a wonder that it has all found its way to one resting place, his home in West London, his very own Fortress of Solitude. Jones calls it “my HQ for my ideas. I’ve got all the things I need around me to keep creative, and I think that’s really important.”
If you’re looking for a common thread in the things that attract him, that connect, say, the Bloomsbury Group and Leigh Bowery’s club Taboo, I would nominate a spirit of defiance. Jones loves a maverick, an outsider. “That attracts me immensely,” he agrees, “because rebellion is interesting, and defiant people reshape the world. I work in a very commercial arena, but if you can bring a little bit of subversion into that, it’s fun for me. And it’s so subtle that people enjoy it. Those who know, know. And I think that’s what the people I work for are looking for nowadays. But I’m not a shock value person because that’s not what I’m there for. I want to create beauty.”
Jones regards himself as an outsider too. He claims that’s partly his value to his bosses. “What I’ve been quite good at for Vuitton and Dior and Fendi is that I’m always looking at them from an outsider’s perspective, so you see things that people who have been in those companies for a long time don’t see. Like at Fendi, when Silvia [Fendi] showed me the first trunks the company made, I saw the opportunity to make beautiful bags.”
The most revelatory aspect of his outsiderliness has been the collaborators Jones has drawn into his own circle. He resists the C-word. “I hate the fact that people say that I’m the king of collaboration because I don’t think I am. Virgil [Abloh] does the collaboration thing brilliantly, but I like to think I’m closer to what Christian Dior did as a gallerist, finding artists that I love, wanting to work with them, turning the result into something which is as special as a painting. Don’t forget these things aren’t sold in huge numbers. You might have ten of this jumper or a hundred of that blanket floating round the world. It’s not masses, it’s really special things that people treasure. It’s funny how people love objects, but when you make a beautiful object, it becomes almost a piece of art.”
I call it revelatory because the result has been such a spectacular marriage of art and commerce. Jones’ business head is screwed on tight. On April 15th, Jones is making his retail debut for Fendi with a limited-edition capsule collection that translates his first outing for the house — Spring/Summer 2021 Couture — into ready-to-wear and will be on sale in stores around the world and online for two weeks only. “They’re simple, beautiful silhouettes that will become part of the DNA of what we’re doing for Fendi,” he explains. “We had such a massive response to the couture that we wanted to release something that people could get as soon as possible. There’s been load of press recently so it’s nice to have something to give them when they go into the store.” Seize the moment: that makes good business sense.
“I understand what I’m meant to do,” he says bluntly. “I’m very lucky to work as much as I can. It’s not about my ego, because I like doing it. I work for Dior, I work for Fendi. I don’t work for me. It’s a job. And I know that very clearly. My number one priority is to keep the customers happy, and my boss happy — and, when I’m at Fendi, to keep the family happy too. And that’s how I see my job. You can’t be precious about these things.”
And Jones has no interest in having his own label again. “I don’t know what I’d do with it now. I did it when I was young, it was fun when I was really dressing the people around me. But my life has changed. I like working within a structure, with the DNA of a brand. From the day I stepped into Dunhill in 2008 until now, I’ve thought about other brands rather than myself.”
Still, his pragmatism is tempered by something more personal, and that’s the art in his commerce. Fendi, for instance, is not just the fulfilment of his longtime dream to design womenswear. It’s also an extension of his friendship with Silvia Venturini Fendi and her daughter Delfina, whom Jones has enlisted to design the jewellery for the house.
There’s another poignant example I can think of. For his Spring 2021 collection for Dior Men, Jones worked with Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo, whose work he’d encountered at Art Basel Miami. It was shown as the Black Lives Matter movement erupted all over the world. At the same time, Jones’ father was dying. “His favourite country in the world was Ghana. He lived there for many years. He’d written to me implying he was dying without actually saying it, and he said how much he would love to go back. I got the letter two days before I went to Ghana to see Amoako. So, the whole thing became very personal for me in the end. I felt everything was aligned for a reason.”
Reflecting on his prodigious output, I’ve often wondered what makes Kim run. He claims he decided on a career in fashion rather than graphics or photography, his other options, “because you can create a whole world around it.” At the same time, Jones insists there’s never been a masterplan. “Obviously my schedule is very well-planned, but I’m not really a planner. Things pop out of nowhere, and I just do them. When I was wondering what I was going to do for my first collection for Fendi, I looked at my wall of books and saw I had six copies of ‘Orlando’ and I thought, ‘Perfect, I’ll do that.’ That’s how things happen.”
One obvious answer would be that he is driven because he is looking for something. Listening to him talk about Silvia and Delfina, you might wonder if it was family, except that he seems to have created one of those for himself. “Getting people together is probably just an extension of my childhood,” he muses. “I have school reports calling me the ringleader or the leader of the flock.” That hasn’t changed much. “Yes, it’s a family vibe, I guess. I think it’s quite a modern way of being. While people are looking to live lives online, I like the idea of life in real.”
But it’s scarcely real life as most of us know it. Each achievement is a new page in an extraordinary diary, Vogue Italia merely the latest. And, 2021 is ripe with the promise of much more. Gratifyingly, Jones is not a bit blasé. “I find it mind-blowing. I don’t think about it too much in my day. Otherwise, I’d be overwhelmed. My thing is Work, Don’t Think. That’s the best way to get through.” But he’ll sit with Lucy Beeden, his right hand for the past fifteen years, and they can only laugh … and wonder what’s next. Maybe that’s what makes Kim run. The greatest incentive of all is curiosity.
Editor’s Note: article was revised on 6 April 2021. A previous version of this article misspelled Sammy Jay’s name and incorrectly referred to him using a female pronoun.