On Sunday, in the midst of London Collections: Men, Louis Vuitton's longtime global head of menswear Kim Jones sat down with Show Studio Editor Lou Stoppard in front of a small audience for a refreshingly frank discussion that spanned career advice, job frustration and even Instagram fame.
Jones is 36, and before his five years at Vuitton, worked with Dunhill, Hugo Boss, McQueen, Topman, Mulberry and more. After his own stellar rise through the industry, the designer emphasized that he is keen to help young talent. "You know, there are a few people that have run into problems, and I can problem-solve or help them a little bit," he said. "I've been very lucky — I had good support from people like Louise Wilson, Mandi Lennard, Alexander McQueen, people like that. So you know, I just want to make sure that you give people what people gave you."
An example of such support? He recalled, "I was working for Lee [McQueen] when I got offered the [creative director] role at Dunhill, and so I went to tell him. He was like, 'Make sure you take that fucking money and run! Go and buy a house!' And so that's what I did."
He is known to reply to messages and e-mails from students and young designers. "If people ask me questions, I think it's polite to answer… I like the fact that I can talk about things to someone who has a different perspective, who's coming up, because that makes me think in a different way too," he added.
Jones also spoke at length about nurturing his staff, which he said has been beneficial for the whole company. "There's a lot of hierarchy in a lot of houses, and they see a high turnover," he said. "And I don't really like to have too much change in the studio. My right hand's been with me for 10 years and she's really, really good. If I'm not there, she knows exactly what I like, and she can say yes or no. We have stagiaires [interns] that come, and if they're really good, I'll go up to the CEO and say 'I want to keep this person, because I know they'll be a valuable member of the team.'"
In addition, he says he has fought to improve wages. "When I started, we did four collections a year, and now we do 12. It's a lot," he noted. "I do expect my team to get paid to do 12 collections, not four. So I will go and shout at people and make sure that HR realizes, you know, you can't expect extra work for free. That's just important. Probably if I do have an HR record at work, it would be for shouting at HR, because they do get a call quite often."
In fact, though Jones is renowned for his artistic instincts, he was blunt about the less glamorous aspects of taking a senior role. "At my last HR meeting, one of them called me a good manager. I said, 'I'm not a fucking manager – I'm a creative! Are you trying to destroy my soul with this meeting?'" he said. "Ninety percent is politics and logistics, then 10 percent is creative, generally. It might be 80/20, but it's a lot of fucking bullshit."
Nevertheless, Jones insisted that he prefers to work for large fashion houses. "I love working in big teams and learning stuff. Each season we're lucky, because at Vuitton, we get a lot of really interesting fabrics and new ideas, and the factories bring us these things. This season there's one thing that we've got, and it's a special kind of zip that's been made. It's the most exciting thing that I've seen for ages. It sounds so boring!" he said, laughing. "But we're the only people that can use it in the world, so as a designer that's really fun."
Jones confessed to being an Instagram obsessive, but shared a word of warning about the social network. "There's this thing with Instagram where people become 'Instagram famous', but aren't actually doing very much," he said. "A lot of the models I know say, 'Oh this kid gets booked more because he's got loads of followers on Instagram and it's free publicity.' But you know, it's not always the reality. I think that's the thing, to understand that and not worry about it. Because if you're talented and you're good at what you do and you work hard, you'll get to where you want to go."