Kim Jones on discovering Chinese artisans; loungefying Dior’s tailoring and working with Kenny Scharf
Few designers have taken menswear to such exotic locales as Kim Jones, the creative director of menswear at Christian Dior, who chose Beijing as the latest – virtual - destination for his latest collection.
Though in a typical Jones twist, he gave the whole concept a novel spin by collaborating with the legendary New York street artist Kenny Scharf. The result was a rather dazzling encounter of Scharf’s phantasmagoric vision of American popular culture and truly ancient Chinese embroidery techniques.
Having previously collaborated with the likes of KAWS and architect Daniel Arsham on major shows, Jones is known for linking with fine artists. But picking Scharf took the idea of an artistic linkup to a new level, as many of the outfits looked like the American avant garde artist’s works come to life, taking on three-dimensional form.
Two weeks before the show, FashionNetwork.com caught up with Jones in his Dior studio in Paris on the day he was finalizing the casting for the collection video, busily completing fittings with models.
“Basically, during lockdown, I was thinking about whom I’d like to work with and going through my library I found all my Kenny Scharf books. So I got his phone number; called him and I said, ‘I’d love to work with you’.”
“Because, for me there was Kenny, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat who were the three downtown kids of the '80s. That is a period that greatly interests me. And I wanted something fun, especially as were going to show in Beijing; and no one can go to China because of the lockdown, so we could do a show. So, I wanted something quite joyous. I’d thought at this stage lockdown might have finished. But it hasn’t, has it?” explained Jones, dressed in a black technical gabardine Prada logo shirt, a gift of his boyfriend.
Pre-Covid, Jones two previous fall shows for Dior were held in Miami and Tokyo. Jones' latest ideas for Dior were revealed online on Dior.com, Instagram and, in another first, on Twitch.
Kim is clearly determined to keep on innovating Dior tailoring, while keeping Monsieur Dior’s DNA, a process led by Kim’s wrap-across Oblique jacket. These come with covered buttons, just like in Monsieur’s most famous work of female tailoring, the Bar jacket. Plus this latest collection is juxtaposed with chemise jackets and fun utilitarian ideas and details.
“We have developed a more relaxed version of the Oblique, like in this nice satin. Yes, it’s loungey but it’s chic loungey,” he laughs, lifting one look in his hand. “We worked with lots of different Chinese artisans. And with my friend Victoria Tang. I wanted someone who knew the specialists in every area - to take something of that world and bring it into couture,” explained Jones, referring to the creative director of Shanghai Tang with whom he supports the Save Wild Tiger initiative.
Pointing to one of his new Oblique jackets to show off the couture detailing, he continued: “It’s post-Covid relaxed tailoring. People have been locked in their houses, but they still wanted to dress up. Amazingly throughout the whole period, we’ve had really good sales. So I wanted something celebratory.”
Along with Scharf’s fantastical pop cartoons are Chinese characters; Kenny’s mythological goats and horses, seen in voile jackets. Another striking fabric innovation, the Dior atelier has sewn in holographic eyes. While other fabrics are instantly intriguing - like a fire engine red blouson in vinyl that looks fluid.
“We could not do a show, as I can’t go, and I am a bit of control freak. I want to check everything properly. And we want to be sensitive to what’s happening. I don’t want anyone to come to the show as they might get sick. The people who work with us are being tested all the time. As are all the models,” explains the British-born and Africa-raised designer.
Reaching a series of hyper degradé jackets, Jones calls over a key member of his team, Edward Crutchley, who shows his own eponymous menswear label in London Fashion Week. “Ed, do your spiel,” suggests a smiling Jones.
“Well, this is Chinese seed embroidery,” explains Crutchley, taking a densely embroidered curving cummerbund-meets-belt in hand. “The technique is at least 1,700 years old. Possibly older. This is really subtle degradé in really solid colors. We dyed over 300 different colors of silk yarn in order to achieve as close as we possibly the original artwork of Kenny. This piece was the quickest and it was 200 hours; another belt was 300 hours; and we have a bag that took 1,000. Plus there’s a shirt that was 7,000 hours in the making, and the team that worked on it had over a 1,000 years of experience!”
Jones’ next stop will be back to Rome, where he has a night job as the new creative director of Fendi, and is due to make the most keenly awaited debut of Milan Fashion Week in February. For Christmas Jones is planning a trip to South Africa. But when we meet he is clearly most enamored by the ability of the Dior atelier and Chinese artisans to ally so creatively.
“I wanted this collection to be an antidote to what is happening now. Remember the house of Christian Dior was founded right after the Second World War. So you want to bring some joy to people, don’ you?” Kim concludes.
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