In fashion history, there is surely no ensemble more emblematic of femininity than Christian Dior’s New Look of 1947: that vast skirt and that nipped-in top half ‒ the bar jacket, named after Monsieur Dior’s favourite haunt at the Plaza Athénée in Paris.
And yet, for the latest Dior Homme collection, the bar jacket was remade for men. “I wanted to celebrate 75 years of Dior,” says Kim Jones, the British creative director at the house. “I wanted to bring all his loves together: English tailoring, the flowers of his garden. I wanted to take a new look at the New Look.”
The result is unquestionably mannish, its almost imperceptibly hourglass lines delivered by creating folds in a more conventional man’s jacket shape. The raw edges add to the masculine feel, yet tucked away under the collar there is ‒ whisper it ‒ the most beauteous floral embroidery. “Dior was set up after the Second World War to bring joy, colour and excitement to the world through fashion,” Jones, 48, says. “That’s what I looked at, what I set out to do.”
To be able to revisit the Dior archives and then to reinvent them is, he says, one of the “brilliant” aspects to heading up such a celebrated fashion house. “When you are stuck for an idea you just go into the archive. There is always something new being added. Often I see something that should be part of a collection that I am working on, and I will call it in straight away.”
The Delicate Art of Craft
Jones’s work at Dior Homme, which he joined in 2018, requires a careful balancing act ‒ not only to ensure that an aesthetic heritage originally aimed at women appeals to men, but also to serve the manifold natures of his customers. Some men want tailoring, some want streetwear, many want both. Some, like Jones, favour a traditionally masculine palette of black and grey, and, if they do embrace flowers, want theirs to be a secret under-the-collar garden variety. Others are game for his recent foray into pink tailoring, and are up for a sweatshirt encrusted with 3D blooms.
“I have to appreciate all our different customers. It’s different in cities. It’s much more conservative in China than America. It’s about being aware of what is going on. Look at how rappers dress. They wear what they want and that’s an inspiration to kids all over the world. I guess it’s about whether you live a creative or conservative life. We hit the mark with both.”
He concedes that he wears “black pretty much all the time. Sometimes pale grey on holiday. I don’t want to think about what I am wearing when I get up in the morning because I have got millions of clothes to look at in the day.” He describes himself as an outerwear addict, and says that hanging next to the Dior Homme in his wardrobe there is Balenciaga and Prada plus T-shirts from Skims. “Kim [Kardashian, the Skims founder] kindly sends them to me the whole time. They are the best I have ever worn.”
Jones – who in 2020 extended his purview to womenswear at Fendi – insists that menswear is the trickier metier.
“With a woman you can just throw a dress on them and a pair of shoes. For men it’s much more about structure and about different pieces of clothing. There are a lot more garments that go into a men’s look, much less fluidity.”
Presumably a further straitjacket is that, while women can essentially embrace a kind of cross-dressing, sporting a frock one day, a trouser suit the next, many men must operate within a considerably narrower sartorial bandwidth. “Yes. Women can wear men’s clothes. So it’s much easier. A nice coat is a nice coat. No one is going to go, ‘Oh my God, the buttons are on the other side.’”
What’s clear is that, while Jones may be all about the big picture – conjuring up high- profile collaborations with the visual artist Peter Doig or the rapper Travis Scott – he is also about the detail. “I always make sure our customers can match things up from different seasons. They are spending a lot of money, so they want that thing to stay in their wardrobe. For me that is respectful as a designer. And you have to think about it as a business, about what people actually need and want.” Luxury, he says, is all about keeping your client, his or her lifestyle, and demand for quality always in your mind’s eye.
Walk the Talk
To head up a big house is hugely demanding. To head up two is the kind of juggling act only someone as driven, not to mention workaholic, as Karl Lagerfeld – Jones’s predecessor at Fendi – could pull off. Like the German designer, Jones talks with rat-a-tat-tat speed and precision, and his formidable intellect is clear. This is a man who has, for example, a world-class library of first editions. “I probably have the best collection of Virginia Woolf in existence. My intention is to leave it to Charleston [the house and trust]. I have Vita’s [Sackville-West’s] inscribed Orlando. That’s a book people dream about owning. I can’t believe I own it. I have Noël Coward’s, Vanessa Bell’s, Woolf’s own.”
The designer, who claims he is “a bit shy deep down”, and lived in various countries in Africa as a child due to his father’s work as a hydrogeologist, is a committed traveller. When he is at the Dior Homme atelier in Paris every month, he lives in a hotel. “I don’t want any extra thoughts,” he says.
As for what the French make of having a British man at the helm of one of their most illustrious labels? “I think French people don’t really get me, but they understand I have some level of taste. To be brutally honest I don’t care. I just get on with what I do.” Despite his high- rolling existence he insists he keeps things comparatively normal.
“My best friends include a schoolteacher and someone who works in a doctor’s surgery.”
Not that normal, though. Kate Moss is another of his besties. He is just back from a trip to Rwanda with Moss, and is sporting a multipocket gilet with a mountain gorilla logo to prove it. “There is no one I like to go away with more on nature holidays than Kate. We have such a laugh. We get up at the crack of dawn and we are out looking at gorillas or chimps.” What does her safari wardrobe entail? “It’s mega. I can’t tell you more or she’d be upset. She’s one of the most stylish women in the world.”
What would be his advice to any man who feels lacking on the style front?
“Go with a friend you trust to buy stuff. Don’t rush it. And start with a great coat.”