Kim Jones Settles Into the Fendi Family
With Delfina Delettrez Fendi and Leonetta Luciano Fendi showcasing his designs, Jones discusses his vision for the famed Italian house.
From left: Delfina Delettrez Fendi and Leonetta Luciano Fendi. All fashion and accessories (throughout), Fendi.
For the fashion designer Kim Jones, life currently revolves around a collection of collections. In September 2020, the 42-year-old Brit took the helm at Fendi as artistic director, a post held by Karl Lagerfeld for more than half a century, until Lagerfeld’s death, in 2019. The role, which includes overseeing the billion-dollar brand’s women’s ready-to-wear, fur, and couture lines, is in addition to Jones’s already more than full-time gig as artistic director of Dior Men, where he’s served since 2018. While Jones describes the juggle—between menswear and womenswear; between an iconic Parisian house and a Rome-based label known for wild and crazy furs—as “a lot of fun,” he also admits that sometimes he doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going. “I’ll be in Rome this weekend, doing advertising. Then I’m in Paris next week, styling Dior,” he says on a Friday afternoon, Zooming in from his home, in London. “Then I’m in New York the week after that, and then I go back to Rome to do couture—I’m working on my third Fendi couture collection, and I’m so excited about that. And then I’m back to Paris to do...something. I don’t even know.”
As exhausting as that might sound, for Jones, globe-trotting has always been a way of life. Born in London, he spent his childhood in Ecuador, the Caribbean, and Africa, following his father’s job as a hydrologist. Though he’s now settled down in London, in an ultramodern glass and concrete house designed by the Italian architect Gianni Botsford, he’s never more at home than when he’s on an airplane. “I’m someone who likes to be in different places, because it gives me different things to think about,” he says. “When I finish collections, I like to go somewhere. It’s almost the full stop after a sentence for me. I want to see the whole world.”
Pre-pandemic, Jones made a point of visiting three new places every year and taking six annual trips to Japan, a country that has provided him with a wellspring of visual inspiration. Being forced to stick close to home because of Covid has been, he says, “a nightmare,” and as of October, he hadn’t yet resumed his usual jet-setting routine. “I’m still in my work bubble, for safety and because I can’t afford to have time off,” he says. “I can’t get sick, because I’ve got a lot of responsibilities to get things delivered at the right time.”
Luckily, he doesn’t have to leave home in order for his eye to travel. His collections—of the non-runway sort—have filled the inspiration gap. Like Lagerfeld, who lived surrounded by first-edition books and museum-quality furniture and paintings, Jones is an almost obsessive accumulator. He started in childhood, with Star Wars toys; Han Solo was his favorite, because “he’s slightly rebellious, but a team player.” Currently, his library holds about 20,000 volumes, and he owns more than 6,000 vinyl records, wardrobes full of vintage London nightclub garb, loads of early-20th-century furniture, and all manner of art. “As I go, my taste has become more and more refined,” he says, gesturing to a wall of meticulously arranged books. Many of them were written by members of the Bloomsbury Set, the famous group of British artists and intellectuals, with whom he has been fascinated since he spent a chunk of his youth living in Sussex, just down the road from Charleston Farmhouse, the bohemian circle’s de facto HQ. “These are all inscribed or dedicated first editions,” he says, as he opens a bottle green leather case and slides out Vita Sackville-West’s copy of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. “That’s all Vita’s wall there, and then I’ve got Vanessa Bell’s on this side, and Leonard Woolf’s over there. Now I’m collecting these at such a scale that I need to work out what to do with them. I’ve been talking to the Charleston Trust about bequeathing it all to them, and the furniture, too.”
For Jones, collecting is an innate impulse. “It really is genetic,” he says. His father and uncle were always on the hunt for the perfect this or that, and his mother, who is Danish, bought books. “I used to get really annoyed with her library looking messy,” he remembers. “I would go and put it in order—by publisher, by author, by subject—so it was really immaculate. And I guess that’s what I’m still doing now, as a therapist would probably address.” His “hobby,” as he refers to it, is less about owning stuff—though no one would accuse him of anti-materialism—than about creating ideal sets of objects that make sense together. And in that way, it’s not unlike his day job. “I like the links between certain things,” he says. “I think that’s what I keep doing with the fashion collections as well.”
From left: Delettrez Fendi and Luciano Fendi.
Fendi is not just a womenswear brand, but also a house of women, a true matriarchy—something Jones has to consider. As Delfina Delettrez Fendi, who designs accessories for the brand and is known for wearing vintage Fendi poached from her mother’s and grandmother’s closets, puts it, “I am the walking archive, and my mother is the talking archive.”
It only makes sense, then, that one type of collection would inform the other. His spring 2021 Fendi couture show, for instance, included Orlando-inspired gowns that nodded to the novel’s gender-shifting protagonist: crisp tailoring on one side, and flowing, crystal-encrusted silk on the other. Passages from the text appeared on book-shaped clutches, mother-of-pearl minaudières, and knee-high boots, and the models—a cast of friends and muses, including Demi Moore, Naomi Campbell, and Kate Moss—walked among vitrines of Bloomsbury books and objects from Jones’s personal stash. A uniquely British creative movement and a quintessentially Italian fashion house might, at first, seem like a random pairing. But, in fact, Jones didn’t pull the idea out of thin air. Vanessa Bell painted an entire series of oils near the Villa Medici, he points out—and, of course, he has the catalog in his library.
“Kim is someone who loves to delve into things in a really deep way, and find these connections,” says Delfina Delettrez Fendi, a fourth-generation member of the fashion family, who designs the brand’s jewelry, and who appears on these pages with her younger sister, Leonetta Luciano Fendi. “Who would think to bring together the Villa Medici and Virginia Woolf in that way? But it all makes sense. Things align.”
For his most recent collection, Jones connected the dots once again, this time turning to the art of Antonio Lopez, the influential fashion illustrator and a longtime friend of Lagerfeld’s, whose work he also happens to collect. “I have most of his books, and I have some very good magazines, and some actual paintings and drawings,” says Jones, who coordinated with Lopez’s estate to reproduce the artist’s bright, graphic imagery on dresses, coats, and bags. “And then I saw something in the Fendi archive, and I knew about Lopez’s relationship with Karl. And, of course, I always want to respect Karl.”
Though the two never worked together, Jones clearly feels a kinship with his predecessor. The fact that Lagerfeld shared his passion for collecting, he says, helps him “understand the mindset of why he did things, and use that mindset to make the clothes really, really good.” The similarities between the two designers aren’t lost on the Fendi women, who, says Delettrez Fendi, consider both of them “part of the family.” The two men, she adds, “share not only a first initial and a zodiac sign, but also a very similar sense of humor. And I think a sense of humor is really fundamental to plunge into the Fendi universe. Irony is always present at Fendi. Just think about the double F monogram, which we say stands for ‘Fun Fur.’ There’s a joke even in the logo!”
What Jones most admired about Lagerfeld was his ability to slip inside the enduring sensibility of a label and make it look fresh—again and again, decade after decade. “The thing about Karl is that he was very good about understanding what the pillars of the house are,” Jones says. “And I think that’s something I’m also very successful at, and that’s why I like working for brands.”
Indeed, he’s worked for more than a dozen of them since earning his graduate degree from Central Saint Martins, in 2001. While Jones initially put out a self-titled line—all the while working as a consultant for a laundry list of labels, including Hugo Boss, Mulberry, Umbro, and Pastelle, his friend Kanye West’s pre-Yeezy offering—he shuttered his namesake label when he took over design at the British menswear house Dunhill, in 2008. Three years later, he started working for LVMH, taking on Vuitton men’s. His success there—which included a blockbuster collaboration with streetwear sensation Supreme—brought him to Dior.
While Fendi is far from the first legacy label on which he’s put his spin, it is, in some important ways, a departure, representing not just his first crack at couture, but his first ever womenswear collection. While Jones points out that Dior Men has more than a few female customers, red carpet gowns were uncharted territory. “Men’s is very disciplined, and you’ve only got the specific things you can work with,” he says. “Women’s is much freer, with a lot more possibilities. But women’s has always been part of my research, no matter where I’ve been. And obviously, I hang around with a lot of stylish women, and I’m a bit like a sponge when I’m with them. I’m always listening to what’s being said, and looking at someone’s outfit.”
Fendi, however, is not just a womenswear brand, but also a house of women, a true matriarchy, with a living legacy to consider. Delettrez Fendi and Luciano Fendi’s mother—Silvia Venturini Fendi, the mastermind behind the baguette bag—remains very much involved, as artistic director of accessories and menswear. As Delettrez Fendi, who is known for wearing vintage Fendi poached from her mother’s and grandmother’s closets, puts it, “I am the walking archive, and my mother is the talking archive.”
That setup, Jones says, is very much in line with the way he likes to work. “I sit with Silvia when I’m doing fittings, and I want to do anything to make her happy. I ask, ‘Do you like it? Do you not like it?’ I’m not precious about things. She is the name, and I’m very aware: She’s Fendi.” Though he might be one of the most sought-after designers in the world, Jones is clear on one thing: “I like that Fendi is Fendi; it’s not me. I’ve never wanted to have my name on anything. I’m not interested in that.”