Kim Jones understands the privilege of holding a first edition copy of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, originally purchased in 1922 by artist Vanessa Bell for her sister Virginia Woolf. “It is simply a masterpiece of Modernist literature” Jones says of the rare book, of which he’s the proud owner along with thousands of other books and printed materials of modernist literature, the Bloomsbury group and Virginia Woolf.
Over the last fifteen years, the creative director of Dior Homme has amassed a growing collection of modernist texts and now owns the largest collection of Virginia Woolf books, letters and manuscripts in the world, currently at 21,000 items and counting. Housed between an airy, floor-to-ceiling Library in his Gianni Botsford designed West London home, and his 18th Century country house in Sussex, these town and country libraries contrast with each other. With it’s brutalist cement walls and floor-to-ceiling windows, Jones’s London library conjures a sense of austerity, while his Sussex space looks more like a room in neighboring Charleston house — artist Vanessa Bell and her husband Duncan Grant’s country home filled with their paintings and ceramics — complete with a rug designed by Francis Bacon used as a wall hanging.
But both of these libraries are soon to be eclipsed by a bigger space in East Sussex, South East England. Recently, Jones bought an old school house, close to both his own Sussex country home and the Bloomsbury group’s Charleston bolt hole, with the intention of transforming the space into a free public library. This original approach to destination and culture is Jones’s appeal, naturally. His forensic referencing of culture and global creativity, both contemporary and historical, have made him into one of the only fashion designers who can nod to the past whilst keeping their eye firmly on the future, free from nostalgia. “I have the largest private collection of Virginia Woolf books and manuscripts in the world and it is very important to me to have them on display and accessible,” Jones says of his future library — “as much as it’s nice collecting, it’s better to share it with people. Information is key.” The school is in the same area as Monk’s House, a small Georgian home lived in by Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard between 1919 to 1969, and surrealist artist Lee Miller’s former home Farleys House. Homing the most exhaustive collection of Virgina Woolf’s books and ephemera will make a literary destination out of this sleepy area of East Sussex for the growing legions of Bloomsbury Group fans.
In the wake of conservative austerity in the UK and the nationwide cuts to culture and the arts, Jones’s contribution is important. His is the biggest collection of Woolf texts that exists, it includes ten first editions of Woolf’s 1928 novel Orlando, one of which is a gift from its writer Virgina Woolf to her partner Vita Sackville-West (complete with dedication). Jones wants the former school house to attract people to modernist texts who might not come across them. The nature of the library, a solo space for independent thinking, is of course in line with how Jones works. He has a reputation for collaboration and hybrid working with artists, including Yoon Ahn, Shepard Fairey and KAWS, but Jones has done some of his best work alone, inspired by cultural history rather than in the thrall of it. “Learn as much as possible” he says of his relationship to the past, “that’s what I’ll always say.”
If there’s anyone who can bring Woolf, Elliot and the Bloomsbury group to a new audience, it’s Jones. Dior Homme has led the surge in popularity for luxury menswear, with is set to grow to a $555 billion industry by 2026. “I just really listen to the people who like my clothes, those I meet in the street, in a store or I see wearing them” he says on how he’s managed to design ten collections a year for Dior that have tapped into exactly what men want to wear — “basically, anything can inspire me”. Here, he talks to Grace Banks about bringing modernist texts to his audience, the experience of owning seminal pieces of British literary history, and the art of referencing the past, not being led by it.
You have a huge collection of modernist texts. What’s it like to own T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, a copy first owned by Vanessa Bell? It must be incredible to have a piece of art that changed contemporary British culture in your home.
It’s something I’m very proud of! It is simply a masterpiece of Modernist literature that says as much about today as it did about the time it was published, a hundred years ago.
Your work references artistic movements such as Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops, the Bloomsbury Group and TS Eliot’s postmodernism, bringing fashion and art close in a way luxury fashion has struggled to achieve before – how do you approach creating an authentic relationship with artists and art movements?
Whenever I work with artists I give them an idea of what we need for the collection, but also very much also respect their vision, that for me is the secret of a great collaboration. The important thing is to be able to always give value to their contribution, without simply dropping it into a prescriptive template. It’s important that it’s integrated into the collection in a bespoke manner. Bringing fashion and art together is for me a way of celebrating culture as a whole.
As well as your libraries, you have a huge art collection, are there any artist works you want to acquire this year?
Yes, I’m quite an obsessive collector, but I do not have a special wish list as such, I simply follow my tastes and buy out of passion, never to invest. For art advice I like to listen to Edward Tang, a close friend of mine. The art world is constantly changing, but if something catches my eyes, I follow my instinct. Art has always been something important for Dior, as Monsieur Dior himself was a gallerist before being a couturier.
Having the largest archive of Virginia Woolf books and ephemera, how has housing an incredible, rare and first-hand book collection impacted your own creativity and art?
I live with collections of art, books and furniture, they are a constant source of inspiration for me. The Bloomsbury Group, comprising Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry and Virginia Woolf are so inspiring. They managed to be very rebellious even though they were English aristocracy. They didn’t want to go to war, they didn’t believe in fighting for their country. They created a lifestyle for themselves which was progressive for the time and quite decadent.
You’re building a research center for the Bloomsbury Group in Sussex, near Charleston and Monk’s House, what do you want young people to learn from their writing and art?
I bought an old school to put my extensive collection of Bloomsbury related books in. I have the largest private collection of Virginia Woolf books and manuscripts in the world and it is very important to me to have them on display and accessible. As much as it’s nice collecting, it’s better to share it with people. Information is key. Learn as much as possible, that’s what I’ll always say.
What do you think of the art fair circuit — Frieze, Art Basel – do you prefer to visit small galleries and artist studios?
My preference is to visit artists in their studios and have direct conversations, but I also visit galleries and museums. For me visiting an artist I’m working with in their own environment is really crucial, as more often than not it is the way they dress and their personal space, their home or work environment, informing the collection alongside their work itself.
What independent art spaces do you like? You spent a lot of your childhood Africa, what do you think of the art scenes in Lagos, Nigeria, and Accra, Ghana?
I spent much of my childhood in Africa and became very aware of art from the continent as I grew up, it was something I was interested in from an early age. I now travel to Africa frequently for both work and pleasure. In 2020 I visited Accra to see the artist Amoaka Boafo in his studio. We were working together towards the Dior Men’s Spring Summer 2021 collection which featured his artwork. Amoaka recently opened dot.ateliers, a multi-purpose cultural space in Accra featuring a gallery, studio, café and art library which has been created with a vision to bring about cultural exchange with the larger community.
Your collaborations with artists are widely talked about, but a lot of your best work comes from your singular vision as a designer, working alone – how do you get yourself in the right mindset to create?
I constantly absorb information, I read, I observe. I love watching people on the street, that’s why I like to walk. Sometimes I isolate a small detail on an outfit and think about it all day, after which I will reuse it in a creation. It’s instinctive, I don’t know how it works. What’s also important to me is to have a close team working on my side. They inspire creative direction and prompt different opinions and thoughts as we work together.
How do you balance art and commerce in an increasingly changing market? Do you monitor the success of a product or try not to let data influence you?
I spend a lot of time in the stores because I like to hear feedback directly. To keep the balance between best selling products and desirability, I always try to introduce something new – a refresh every few seasons.
You went to university in London in the late 1990s and early 2000s, culture was able to thrive in London in that time whereas high rents and lack of government funding for art and education have made it hard for London to feel as creative now. How did 90s London impact your style and love of art and culture?
There was, and still is, so much freedom in London, this “I don’t care” attitude that French people love! I met so many wonderful people at this time, including Steven Jones, Baillie Walsh and Kate Moss, all of whom I still work with today. London is my home and the energy of the city has always inspired me a great deal.
The menswear market is booming like never before, set to grow to a $555 billion industry by 2026. What do you think has led to this huge growth in the market?
Menswear is massive now and has evolved as it has grown. Everything in fashion has changed so much in the last few years. Nowadays, men want clothes that make them feel confident, smart and comfortable, with and without formality.
Your menswear taps into the interests, aspirations and desires of men like no luxury fashion brand. How do you predict what people want to wear — how do you even begin when it comes to starting on a fresh collection for Dior Homme?
I just really listen to the people who like my clothes, those I meet in the street, in a store or I see wearing them. That helps me design, I like to make things people want to buy. Basically, anything can inspire me, but it has to be authentic and fit into what’s going on at the time. It’s all about perspective, how you look at things. It’s hard to describe, it’s more a feeling that something is right and then I act on it.
What do you think of the resurgence of the Dior saddle bag for men? You re-create it to appeal to an entirely new audience.
I immediately thought of the Saddle Bag when I thought about bags for Dior Men. It seemed logical to work with it because a saddlebag feels like an incredibly masculine object and is surprisingly practical and multifunctional for a mid-sized bag. We just had to adapt it a bit. It’s become very successful.
Trends can ruin the integrity of a craft, how can you make sure people see menswear as a true timeless craft, and not a vertical that relies on collaboration or even gimmicks?
Dior is known as the preeminent couture Maison with an atelier in Paris. The products created by this craftsmanship, above all, create a clear distinction from competitors. We’ve taken couture expertise and we’ve brought it to men’s ready–to–wear, in the feather shirts and the embroidery, for example. Couture is hard-wired into Dior.