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As he announces his departure from Louis Vuitton, Kim Jones talks fashion, travel and how creativity connects the two worlds. We explore his swansong collection with LV — AW18
As he announces his departure as the head of Louis Vuitton menswear — a position he has held since 2011 — Kim Jones is likely to take a little time off to explore; travel is one of his most enduring love affairs, alongside fashion.
Born in London and raised in Kenya, he spends every spare second circumnavigating the globe, learning about exotic cultures and watching rare wildlife — travels that fire his imagination and ultimately inform his eclectic collections. He has taken the Louis Vuitton man to the plains of Botswana and the palaces of Jaipur, spliced Asian decoration with Americana — and he’s only just getting started.
Here Jones explains how a spirit of adventure is the lifeblood of his creativity:
“It’s fortunate that I enjoy being on planes because last year I took five round-the-world trips: Japan, Laos, New Zealand, Los Angeles then back again. Just last week I was in Asia, America and Europe, and I calculated that by March last year I had been to 15 countries, either on work or research trips — or holidays to switch off, where I inevitably end up working because there’s so much to absorb and learn.
“This year, my itinerary looks just as full — in January alone I visited five countries.
“Travel has always been a very important part of my life. I was brought up in Kenya, thanks to my father’s work as a hydrogeologist, and his career took us all over the world. When I was three months old we went to Ecuador; later we travelled through Ethiopia and Botswana. We stayed all over Africa and that experience has remained with me. It instilled in me a love of nature and wildlife — I’m passionate about conservation — and that underpins a lot of my excursions.
“With Africa, there’s just so much to take in. The space, the people, the striking contrast between places… When you’re five years old and seeing amazing animals in the wild on the plains of Kenya it stays with you.
“David Attenborough is one of my heroes; he was in my mind when I created my first collection for Louis Vuitton in 2011, which was influenced by Africa. He’s educated generations of people about our planet. I also love the work of conservationist Gerald Durrell and read all his books growing up. I actually wrote to him several times — he always wrote back.
“Joining Louis Vuitton was a natural fit. When I began working here I immediately found a connection between the iconic Louis Vuitton Damier check, created in 1888, and an original Masai blanket I had from my childhood. That discovery inspired the Damier Masai print featured in my first show.
“For SS16 I used references from my travels through south-east Asia — Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar. I’d been to the latter the summer previously and seen some incredible things. The country has only recently opened up to tourism and it’s relatively unspoilt. I picked up pieces of fabric, bits of clothing, and looked at how the various hill tribes dressed — the shapes and cuts.
“What struck me were the similarities between pieces of their clothing from 50 years ago and modern sportswear. I found what almost looked like a tracksuit top, covered in stripes, and that jacket sparked everything in the collection. You get one thread of thought from something like that and then everything else follows. It’s fascinating to find authentic items from different cultures that teach you something: a new way of weaving a fabric, or a technique from the 1940s that’s become obsolete. Often it’s about working out how to make that modern and right for Vuitton.
“Besides Africa, the most fundamentally life-changing place I’ve been to is India. The culture is fascinating and I like the way they view animals. I’m not religious but there’s something magical about their spirituality.
“I’ve seen so many incredible places, but there are very few I wouldn’t want to go back to. I’ve been to Machu Picchu three times now, and I’d love to revisit Easter Island. I’ve been to Japan around 70 or 80 times — I’ve lost count. I love its food, its nature, its culture.
“Seeing rare animals in the wild is a pull for me when I travel. One place I revisit time and again is Tswalu, a private game reserve in the Kalahari, where you can see everything from lions to meerkats. I once dragged my friends to a remote island off the coast of New Zealand to see the kakapo, an endangered flightless parrot. There are only about 107 left in the world. You have to be invited there because they are so highly protected. Pangolins are a favourite of mine too, which I saw in South Africa last year. They’re the most traded endangered animal in the world. I’m excited about going to Vietnam soon to see the douc langurs, a rare breed of monkey.
“I’ve had some frightening experiences but ironically, my most recent scare was a car crash in LA during a torrential rainstorm that resulted in two black eyes. I’m never put off though. I want to see as much of this world as I can.”
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