The era of Zoom almost counterintuitively provided us with rare moments of intimacy. For example, even though I’m in London and Kim Jones is in Paris, when I connect with the designer two days before his first Fendi couture show in late January, he’s not sequestered in a press room but in the middle of a fitting with Christy Turlington and her nephew James. Actually, at the precise moment I catch him, he’s eating his lunch.
But for Jones, time right now has to be snatched where it can be. Between overseeing the menswear collections for Dior in Paris and designing womenswear collections for Fendi in Rome, he has been working constantly, perpetually in transit between the two cities.
Jones made his Fendi debut during the Spring 2021 Couture Week in January. With that collection he ticked off a couple of significant firsts: his first couture collection and his first-ever womenswear collection. There’s also a consequential second: Jones is only the second outside designer to serve as artistic director in Fendi’s history after the late, great Karl Lagerfeld, whose tenure at Fendi stretched an astounding 54 years, until his death in 2019. (Silvia Venturini Fendi was the house’s sole artistic director in 2019 and 2020.)
Prior to our conversation, the 41-year-old Jones texted me a video of Christy and James in suits with swirling exaggerated trains of taffeta patterned to evoke Carrara marble. The inspiration, he said, was Orlando, Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel of a century-hopping and gender-swapping poet inspired by her lover, the author Vita Sackville-West.
“We’re talking on Virginia Woolf’s birthday,” Jones told me. He is obsessed with Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, the loose association of early-20th-century British intellectuals and artists whose bohemian lifestyles and febrile creativity have been manna to fashion for decades. Jones said he was a teenager when he first visited Charleston, the country home of Woolf’s sister, the artist Vanessa Bell, and her partner, Duncan Grant. He still has the brochure, which sits in the expansive library that houses his collection of roughly 20,000 books and is filled with first editions from the group. He has multiple copies of Orlando, including one previously owned by the playwright Noël Coward. Jones also has Sackville-West’s copy, which is specially bound and bears her initials stamped in gold.
During Jones’s livestreamed Fendi couture show, his models—which included friends like Demi Moore; Kate Moss and her daughter, Lila; and Bella Hadid—flicked through books as they navigated a maze of glass cases. When seen from above, the runway took the form of a series of double F’s, after the Fendi logo created by Lagerfeld in 1965, during his inaugural year at the house. It was the first spring couture collection Fendi had ever staged; Lagerfeld himself only began to show couture for Fendi in 2015, executing four fur-heavy fall collections, and Venturini Fendi presented a couture collection for Fall 2019.
Lagerfeld, of course, shared Jones’s voracious appetite for collecting books. He was also the original designer multitasker, simultaneously serving as artistic director for Fendi and Chanel, as well as his own namesake brand. Jones has great respect for his predecessor, who attended Jones’s first show for Dior in 2018.
Lagerfeld’s Fendi clothes were graphic and sharp, sometimes surreal and witty. The double F of the designer’s logo stands for “fun furs,” and his most lasting legacy at the house was to add an ease to the construction of fur coats, to casualize and modernize them. In the public imagination, Fendi is best known for the rectilinear Baguette bag designed by Venturini Fendi. It became a best-selling staple in the late 1990s, leading to the company’s acquisition by LVMH in 2001. The Baguette is once again wildly popular, riding a fashion wave of early-aughts Gen Z revivalism that Jones himself helped fuel with his revamp of the Dior Saddle bag three years ago.
The thing I want to do, looking at the archive of Fendi and then looking at it now, is to really lighten it.
Nevertheless, there’s a romanticism to Jones’s first collection for Fendi that stands in contrast to the modernism of his own past styles. “The thing I want to do, looking at the archive of Fendi and then looking at it now, is to really lighten it,” Jones said. Which, as it happens, is the approach Lagerfeld took in knocking the stuffing out of traditional fur coats. Jones’s couture designs already reflect this idea: the layers of tulle and organza, the featherweight fur roses scattered on a cape or coat. “I want to lighten it so it fits life nowadays but still has that integrity and beauty,” Jones said.
Born in London, Jones is the son of a Danish mother and a British father. His dad’s unusual career as a hydrogeologist resulted in a peripatetic upbringing, and Jones never quite shook off the love of travel fostered by a childhood spent for periods in Ecuador, the Caribbean, and multiple African countries.
After living in Paris for seven years while heading up menswear at Louis Vuitton, Jones returned to London a few years ago. His home is an oddly warm and inviting concrete monolith by the architect Gianni Botsford, with contents that manage, paradoxically, to be highly curated yet feel tactile and not precious (save, perhaps, for the Francis Bacon rug that hangs behind museum glass on one wall).
Since the start of the pandemic, Jones has based his London studio here, working on collections for Dior while preparing for his Fendi debut. “I started designing the Fendi couture collection in lockdown, so I had to look at what I had in my house,” Jones said. He discovered links between the Bloomsbury set and Fendi’s Roman heritage in the form of a catalogue of paintings by Vanessa Bell that were executed in the gardens of Villa Borghese. Orlando was published just three years after Fendi was founded in 1925, and Jones said that some of the themes explored in the novel—gender fluidity and even the growing specter of climate change—also felt relevant today. One memorable couture look worn by Jones’s friend Adwoa Aboah, which combined elements of a suit jacket and an evening gown, seemed quintessentially Orlando. But it was actually based on an old sketch by Lagerfeld for a piece that was never produced, which Jones discovered in the Fendi archives. “All roads lead to Rome,” Jones said. “You’re drawn there.”
It’s a female-run brand, and I was very aware that I’m a man stepping into that.
The importance of family to Fendi, as a house run by three generations of Fendi women, is also crucial to Jones. It was part of what led to the casting of Christy Turlington and her nephew; Moss and Lila; Aboah and her sister, Kesewa; and Leonetta Luciano Fendi and Delfina Delettrez Fendi, the daughters of Silvia Venturini Fendi, in the show. “For me, Fendi always stood for family,” Jones said. “So when I joined, I wanted to bring the next generation in.” A talented jeweler with her own line, Delettrez Fendi has taken on the additional role of designing pieces for Fendi as the house’s creative director for jewelry. She created the Murano glass chandelier earrings, ear cuffs, and headpieces that punctuated the couture collection. Her mother, Venturini Fendi, who remains artistic director of accessories and menswear, and works with Jones on bags, designed minaudières in the form of pearl-encrusted books and a mother-of-pearl shell delicately inscribed with quotes from Orlando.
“It’s a female-run brand, and I was very aware that I’m a man stepping into that,” Jones said. Indeed, it was five sisters—Silvia’s mother, Anna; Anna’s older sister, Paola; and their younger siblings, Franca, Carla, and Alda Fendi—who brought the house established by their parents to international prominence during the Italian postwar fashion boom and later enlisted Lagerfeld as designer. “I wanted to recruit all the women I admire and trust around me,” said Jones, who has asked Moss, one of his oldest friends, to consult on accessories. (“She has great taste,” he said.) Jones’s long-standing right hand, Lucy Beeden, has also joined Fendi.
Jones said his vision for Fendi is still developing—but quickly, because that’s the way he likes to work. He is already deep into conceiving his Fall 2021 couture collection, which will be shown in July. “The agility of it is something really interesting, and the savoir-faire in the agility. Fendi is the fastest-moving I’ve ever worked.”
But even as Jones bounds boldly into Fendi’s future, he’s taking it step by step. “I’m looking at it very differently,” he continued. “I think couture is a fantasy and something beautiful; ready-to-wear is a different way of working. And obviously there are some shapes we’ve done in couture that I thought would be very beautiful in ready-to-wear, so I’ve kept those. But I put them on a very different path,” he said. “And I think that’s what I want to continue doing.”