It all started in Miami. Not only did the city provide the setting for the Dior pre-fall 2020 collection you see on these pages (replete with a scene-stealing take on the Nike Air Jordan and collaboration with streetwear iconoclast Shawn Stüssy). It was also where Kim Jones, 46, the brand’s artistic director, first stumbled upon the work of rising Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo, who was exhibiting at the Rubell Museum.
Taken by his bold and beautiful portraits of Black life, Jones was inspired to work with Boafo on his spring/summer 2021 collection, which quickly became the most talked-about moment of a July fashion season that almost never was. Here, his friend and The Face Creative Council member Tremaine Emory chats to Jones about the new collection, his love of art, and the key-turning, door-opening power of information.
Tremaine: My favourite thing about your work is how you juxtapose. It kind of reminds me of how Andy Warhol would do something really big, like paint Jackie Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe. But then he’d also do an album with an unknown band like The Velvet Underground. So it’s like, you do the Judy Blame collection [autumn/winter 2020] and your most recent collection [spring/summer 2021] in collaboration with Amoako Boafo. Obviously they’re incredible artists and they mean so much to a lot of people, but they’re not “pop”.
Kim: I mean, it’s not always about things having to be famous – it’s about things you appreciate. Sometimes, yeah, I want to do a big thing and it’s fun to do and right for the time. But then other times, things are quieter so it’s just looking, you know? Amoako’s work was in the Rubell Museum and I really fell in love with it. I’d only seen an image, and it’s very different seeing an image – the life in it isn’t so prominent – so I thought I’d love to do something very different. Especially after doing something that was a big pop explosion in Miami [pre-fall 20], which was really fun to do. I was really happy celebrating Shawn and all the things I love. So it was taking it into a different path. I was looking for something very different.
For me, it’s the best thing, because as much as I travel and as much as I have my head in different things, I knew nothing of Amoako. I get connected to artists through knowing you and you telling me about them. But for kids and for people of all ages who follow your work at Dior, maybe what drew them in was the Nike Air Jordan thing [a collaboration revealed during autumn/winter 2020] or the Shawn Stussy thing or the Daniel Arsham thing [the American artist who collaborated with Jones on his spring/summer 2020 collection] or the Kaws thing [the US street artist who collaborated with Jones on his debut Dior collection for spring/summer 2019]. And they’re paying attention, so then they get connected to this artist they don’t normally know. I had people texting me and DMing me about this artist saying how amazing he was, and I know they would not have been paying as much attention if it wasn’t for these other things you did.
I think the thing that’s interesting now is teenagers are interested in seeing things and having real experiences, which seems like quite a refreshing thing after a generation that was very digital. So it’s sad that this time is going on where they can’t actually go and do stuff. But everyone is very into researching and looking at ideas. They’re not just about the surface. So, for me, when you do something and people go and explore it, that’s really nice and it’s good to do. Young people, when you meet them, they’re asking questions about anything! It’s like they don’t just come for the obvious things – they want to know about where you saw this artist’s work and what you think. There’s a lot of people self-educating themselves, which is really good.
Another thing I love that you do and I think loads of people appreciate, is how you merge sportswear and fashion. Knowing you and knowing your history, I feel like that comes from you working at Gimme Five for Michael Kopelman, and also studying under Louise [Wilson at Central Saint Martins]. You were doing those two things in the same era of your life, right?
Yeah, I was working at Gimme Five when I was at college, and Michael was a huge influence as he got me looking at all those Japanese designers and meeting people like Jun [Takahashi], Hiroshi [Fujiwara], Nigo and seeing the attention to detail they put into clothes. It was different to what you’d see elsewhere. And Louise liked the fact that I’d mix different types of clothing together and look at the way all the people I was with were dressing. She encouraged me to carry on doing that, and Michael supported me by giving me work to do when I was there. It taught me a lot.
Michael, to my knowledge, was the first person to wholesale and sell Supreme and Stüssy in the UK, right?
And A Bathing Ape and Goodenough and Undercover and everybody of that sort of, you know, big scene in Japan. Hysteric Glamour and what they were doing really captured the moment – and they still make them. They’ve become cult labels rather than just having a very loyal fanbase.
In Japan there’s less change-out culture. In the fashion system they like to change designers and move them around, whereas in Japan the fans are quite loyal and they want the same thing from the person over a long period of time.
Yeah, but you go to different designers for different things, you know? I mean, I don’t really dress necessarily head-to-toe. I go to different people for different items.
Totally. That’s also what it takes to make a fashion show presentation. You have your team you work with, but then you also have the people you work with musically, and you have certain people you’ve been working with for a long time…
Yeah. Honey [Dijon] and I met years ago. Then we have guests dropping in to do different things for different seasons, when you feel like a different mood. It’s a team of people I’ve worked with for years and years.
You have a huge vinyl collection, I’ve seen part of it.
Yeah I do, I mean at the moment I think most of it is in storage but it’s like six or seven thousand records.
And you have some stuff like Larry Levan. I thought about you because his birthday was last week.
Yeah, I bought some of his record collection. It’s funny, with the notes written on it and stuff like that. I’ve got, you know, a note from Keith Haring…
…with Larry Levan’s phone number on and stuff like that. I do collect a lot of stuff and, you know, everything is interlinked. How the first decade influenced the second decade. It goes from books to art to clothing to records. Anything, really.
Yeah, there’s one line through everything. Like what you said about kids wanting to know what the inspiration is for a collection, it’s coming back to that. To see that you’re the sum of your parts. It ain’t just what you learned in CSM. It’s all these things.
It’s like going out for meetings, meeting people. Life experiences are the key thing and I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve travelled around and seen so many things and met so many interesting people. That all combines into one big thing. You can be in lockdown, for example, reading and looking at novels like James Joyce’s Ulysses and then compare that to Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, which was written shortly after she had read Joyce’s book. Just by doing that – whether it’s a coincidence, or whether there’s a link – that’s what interests me about that early part of the 20th Century. How things were going across the Atlantic and things were coming back and forth.
Information, yeah. Information is key. Learn as much as possible. That’s what I’ll always say.
And that’s how it used to travel – through books. I do feel people are missing part of the story if they’re not reading, because an article or a picture can only give you so much. I’ve been reading a lot during lockdown but I haven’t read a whole book. I’ve been reading parts of books – I haven’t had that attention span. I think it’s because I haven’t been actively moving around. You know we’re used to being in four different countries in a month. And without even batting an eyelid you’re forced to be in one place. It’s a weird sort of feeling.
I mean, I loved it, I have to say. But I’m lucky. I bought a space that is big enough to enjoy and not feel trapped. I went through everything in my house and got it all organised and it was really, really great. You know, I had the sad thing of my dad dying, which wasn’t very nice at all…
…but I had some time for myself, which is something I appreciate.
I’m sorry. I mean we’ve talked about that and how you were able to maybe focus on it more. I’ll give you an example. When my mum passed five years ago I was travelling so much it was hard to focus on, you know? It took me a long time.
No, I think I had a good time to grieve and I was pleased to have that time where I was with people I care about a lot. You know, it’s always tricky and when you don’t have either parent it’s very… hard. You know, I cried a lot to get it all out, which is good and what you should do.
Your father, he worked with water, right?
What was your father’s name?
I didn’t travel the world as much as you, but my dad did. I was close to my father and through his job I got to see the world through his work, his camera lens. And I know you, through your father’s work, lived in Africa. Even though you were born in the UK you lived in Africa for a long time. What was living and growing up there like?
I just loved it. I think from going from one country to another country when you’re a kid, your eyes open much wider probably. I really loved wildlife, and I could just see so much stuff. I could experience so many different cultures, different landscapes, different people, different countries, seeing things first-hand. I like to go back there all the time. It’s really important.
That brings me back to the [Boafo] collaboration because you have such a cornucopia of experiences, from travelling the world to people you know. Do you find it hard, knowing when to unleash it, or do you find it refreshing that there’s so much to choose from and that you’re exposed to? Like when you did the Judy Blame collab – you could have done the Judy thing years ago. When do you choose?
The Judy one we did two years after his death because the first year I think everyone who was very close to him was extremely sad and cut up by what had happened. And then, with Amoako, we were originally scheduled to do it in a year’s time but I really wanted to do it for this summer collection. Back in January I was just like: “I think the time to do this is now, I just have a feeling it’s really important.” And, you know, what happened with America and the things that were going on in the world… It’s just weird that it’s an intuition with that sort of stuff. I didn’t really think about it, but I knew that it had to be now. I just had that feeling inside. I said to the gallerist, a really wonderful woman from Somalia: “Please can we move it forwards because I think it’s really important to do it? We can set up whatever he wants.” He wants to set up a foundation to support young artists in Ghana, which I thought was a brilliant idea.
Yeah, it’s amazing, man. I mean, I’ve never seen a high-fashion brand work with an African artist in that way. But also it did remind me of when I was much younger and Marc Jacobs was at Louis [Vuitton] and was doing those artist collabs with people I never knew. Those were always my favourite guest creatives. That put me on to things I didn’t know. So I didn’t necessarily know who Richard Prince was when Marc did that collab, or Yayoi Kusama, or [Takashi] Murakami. I didn’t know who any of those people were, so good on him.
You know, Marc’s a very important person in my career because he’s the person that took me to Vuitton. And he showed me how to work with people and a lot of different things. So I always have huge, huge amounts of respect for Marc. I love him as a person and I’m happy I’m his friend. I met you via Marc Jacobs in 2005.
Maybe the most fun part about all of this travelling and work is the people you meet and getting to see each other grow. When I met you, you had your own brand and you were showing in New York. I remember going to the show. I have seen your career grow and you grow as a person – as you have me. I remember some of my funniest times in London were when you and Judy and Honey would come into the Marc Jacobs store. And that’s kind of what I think the best part of all this is: the connections and the things that come out of that. So it’s just great to see you put these things in the world, man. It’s beautiful. So many little connections that grow into something else.
That’s the joy of life – being able to meet lots of really amazing people who inspire you and get you excited about things. The way I work is collaborative. I work with my team every day, and to be able to just speak to people and learn stuff and be interested… I’m lucky I work at a brand which has a relationship to art because that’s something which is important – and it has become more and more important to me.
Of course. Another thing that’s important for people to understand is that you’re a genuine fan of things. I see that in the clothing you collect. You collect Judy Blame, Christopher Nemeth, Leigh Bowery, [Vivienne] Westwood stuff. You’re a genuine fan of things and I think that’s the best way to be creative: to really be a fan of other people and not just into your own stuff.
I like looking and I like listening to the young generation of people, too. It’s really important.
OK, last question! What do you think is the role of fashion post-coronavirus with everything that’s happened?
I mean, there’s one thing that I realised recently, which feels like a bit of a late discovery. And it’s that fashion is something that people enjoy and celebrate – it makes people feel good about themselves. And I think that’s the thing I’m most excited about doing my job. I’m not a huge political person – that’s not my job. I think that I give the impression that what I care about I do so personally, not out in public so much. But creativity is something that’s really important to people, especially in hard times. And when those hard times occur, things change, so the mood changes. You have to adapt and just go with it.