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Keeping Up With Mr. Jones

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For his Louis Vuitton collection, Kim Jones combines the style of colonial Africa with classic sophistication.

"I've been fortunate that I've seen so much of the world," says designer Kim Jones. "And, of course, travel forms the foundation of Vuitton." Jones is sitting in his office in Louis Vuitton's global headquarters in Paris on Rue du Pont-Neuf. Pinned to the wall is a sick bag from Air Madagascar, an amusing counterpoint to the giant Vuitton Maasai-check teddy bear, the piles of rare books precisely placed and ready for research, and an array of heavyweight framed photographic prints.

This office interior belies Jones's intensely curatorial approach to fashion and, of course, betrays all the well-traveled ephemera that influence his work at Vuitton. It's an interior that is simultaneously serious and silly -- hence the sick bag -- and gives an insight into how his design process works, as well as who he is. Jones is infinitely approachable and doesn't take himself too seriously. He has a multifaceted cultural knowledge that goes well beyond the bounds of fashion. It's why his debut collection for Vuitton has managed to capture the imagination of the design world so comprehensively and looks set to make an equal impact on consumers.

Having taken over the reins of Vuitton's men's collections in 2011, working under Creative Director Marc Jacobs as the Men's Style Director, Jones has moved quickly to infuse the masculine side of the brand with his distinct personality, all the while never letting go of the company's rich heritage and its contemporary, more playful, reimagining under Jacobs.

SLIDESHOW: View looks from Men's Fall 2012 Collection

There's an abiding sense of strangeness mixed with the everyday in Jones's approach. This extravagance of the quotidian can be seen in his debut collection for Vuitton in a perfect gray marl sweater transformed into cashmere, or a baseball jacket with wild alligator sleeves and trim, or the traditional red-and-blue Maasai checks transformed into the Vuitton Damier. "I love taking something 'light' and making something luxurious out of it," he says. "It's about having fun with something, having that wit. It's why I like fashion -- those things you don't necessarily need, but you have to have."

Jones's Spring-Summer debut is emerging in stores now. "The collection is about the idea of travel, what it means, and the idea of a personal journey," he says. "Peter Beard [the artist known for his photo collages of Africa] seemed like the perfect man to go with this idea because of his glamorous lifestyle and also his wardrobe -- it's sportswear in that true American sense."

Jones continues, "I don't look at fashion so much for inspiration; it is not the thing that inspires me. Looking at things in the wider culture -- that does it for me."

The stylish Beard, equal parts artist, adventurer, and photographer, has been a long-time hero to Jones. "This is a nod to him and a fictionalized imagining of that period of travel in Africa in the '60s and '70s," Jones says. "I also loved the idea of looking at the 1920s and '30s in Africa, that British colonialist White Mischief thing. What a life like that was like, how adventurous it was -- an idea of decadence and romance. It is what Africa used to be."

Jones himself grew up on the continent. "My father was a hydrologist, and we traveled everywhere," he explains. "We were always going backwards and forwards to Africa from Britain, over and over again. I was lucky in that I have lots of childhood memories from Britain as well -- British TV, stuff like that -- so I never felt so completely alien to it. But it was always Africa that had that big draw for me."

An intense sense of fashion was something he developed in childhood. "I remember going to the Omo Valley in Ethiopia and visiting some of the tribes that lived there," he says. "They were covering themselves with all of these patterns and colors. And then driving through Kenya and seeing the Maasai as well... I was so young, and these images just stuck with me because they were so powerful."

Jones attended Central St. Martins College in London and frequented club nights, like the legendary Trade. "I feel a million miles away from the club world now," Jones says. "I never go out!" Nevertheless, that world still plays an important part in his approach to fashion. There's a nod to Beard's Studio 54 days in the Spring collection. For Fall 2012, the legendary Paris clubs Le Sept and Le Palace, together with the fashion
illustrations of Antonio Lopez, provided the chief inspirations.

Many of these diverse elements come together in the heroic figures Jones generally admires. Leigh Bowery, the godfather of club kids and nightlife's ultimate provocateur -- whose demented look transformed his life into performance art -- is also a consistent influence and inspiration. "I'm lucky to own quite a few pieces of Bowery's clothing," Jones says. "How brave people were then to dress like that, to get on a night bus in London looking like that! But they really believed in what they were doing."

How extreme gay icons, such as Bowery, translate into the world of Vuitton might be a head-scratching question for anyone other than Jones, who says, simply, "I am interested in people who have influenced something in the wider society and culture. It's about having inspiring men who make people think. It is about that kind of life, living exactly how you want to live and creating fashion on your own terms."

SLIDESHOW: View looks from Men's Fall 2012 Collection

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