The pair dissect the enduring design needs of the tech and the tactile for Document’s S/S 2019 issue.
This conversation appears in Document No. 14, available for pre-order online now.
What will our future look like? According to Kim Jones and Jony Ive, it will be lighter and more dynamic, and yet more careful and considered. When it was announced last January that Jones would be the new creative director of Dior Men, menswear took on new trajectories: unchained from cynicism, it looked toward a richness of form and spirit as yet unseen.
Meanwhile, for nearly 30 years, Ive—the famed chief design officer of Apple—has reordered our vision, right down to the pixel and the pupil. It’s hard to comprehend the magnitude of Ive’s influence on our personal and professional lives. His work—on the iPod, iPhone, and iMac, for instance—is largely credited with cementing the brand’s aesthetic and reordering how we communicate, consume, and maybe even see. His designs permeate culture well beyond the products he and his team create: more often than not, when our eyes are reflected back onto us, it’s in one of his screens, on one of his devices. Designers and brands construct their products knowing they’ll be seen, and purchased, on Ive’s screens. We see digital media, which means we perceive fashion, among other things, through Ive.
In the thick of it, his friend Jones transforms how we’re seen through his designs. Jones’s appointment at Dior Men signifies an explosion of the label’s past restraints. Suddenly, the brand is rejuvenated with a delicate, yet powerful approach to masculinity. His recent Fall/Winter 2019 collection, a collaboration with artist Raymond Pettibon, saw drawings and tailoring elegantly merge as models coasted down a conveyor belt.
Prior to that, his pre-Fall collection was unveiled in the round at the Metropolis of Tokyo, with cherry-blossom imagery coating the floor and a massive metallic robot—a futuristic partnership with Japanese artist Hajime Sorayama—towering in the center. Classic Dior codes (houndstooth, pink, panthère prints) were reconstructed with Jone’s signature styles: suits were masterfully tailored in a modest, but boldly contemporary method, and the textiles were manipulated to emulate the sheen of futuristic armor. Belts, buckles, and hardware (made in collaboration with Alyx Studio’s Matthew Williams) were emblazoned on many of the pieces. The capsule seemed both an apt response to the growing proximity of fashion and tech, as well as a statement on the necessity for fashion houses to produce truly functional items.
Here, the two designers look to the future as they ruminate on the work of the hand and the work of the machine, design’s moral responsibility, and technology’s ever-changing role in their work—and in our lives.
Document—Technology and creativity are increasingly moving together at an ever-faster pace. How has it affected your work?
Kim Jones—I mean, I graduated in 2002 and it was pre-social media. That all started around 2003 to 2004, maybe, when we were using MySpace—you know, the music channel?
Kim—I was good friends with Lily Allen and that’s why I went on [MySpace], and it was just interesting to see the feedback. I had my own label, Kim Jones, which was just a small London label, but [MySpace] was a direct route to the consumer and to people who appreciated your work, so that was really the key thing for me in terms of that kind of technology. And then the other big thing in technology was sportswear [design], for Nike and all those different brands. I was still hand-drawing—designing on computers took me a while to be fast at.
Jony—It’s funny, isn’t it? Because I suppose that for everybody, technology is one of those words that’s so broad it means almost nothing. There’s the primary technology that, for us, enables our products, whether that’s the silicon or the displays or the sensors. So there’s the sort of foundational technology that defines the capability of the product. But then there’s the technology that really represents the tools we use to be able to help our process and assist our creativity, and I’ve always found that it doesn’t in any way define how I work. I’ve always felt that it’s been with a great deal of intention that I’ve tried to use technology as something that, in a hierarchy, helps enable my process. But it doesn’t define it or spear it. We remain physical beings in a physical, material world and I’m shocked at how much work is done with very little understanding of what’s physical and what’s three-dimensional and what’s real. What’s analog and not digital.
Kim—We have this amazing atelier—people with experience. Some of them have 40 years of experience in making products, making clothes, and making things with their hands. It’s very tactile. At [Louis] Vuitton, things like a sketch got sent off to a factory, and then would go into a computer pattern, and then get made through the pattern. The thing I love when I think about my job now is working in a couture house—it’s the hands and the drawing and the tactility and the feeling of things that is very rich and exciting for me to work with.
Jony—Often, you think about developing a certain attribute of a design and you think, ‘Okay, I’ll use this tool.’ Are there particular people, particular craftspeople, who make you think, ‘This is the person I want to help me develop this idea?’
“We remain physical beings in a physical world and I’m shocked at how much work is done with little understanding of what’s physical and what’s three-dimensional and what’s real.”
Kim—Yeah, completely. The thing that’s different from my role as a designer and a creative, compared to yours, is that we have these time restrictions, where we have to produce collections. I’ve made three collections in the last nine months, and there are things you think about, and details you obsess about, but can’t perfect them in that time.
The first collection I did for Dior involved toile de Jouy, which is a very famous Dior motif, and there was only one specialist in Paris. There was Lemarié, the famous house that uses feathers, but our technique needed hand-cutting, digital cutting…all different things to make the feathers into shapes. And then they get sewn on the tulle, and we needed it at a certain time, and had to use a few different people to get the result we needed. I like that challenge, and it was ultimately really perfect for me, but I would like it to be so perfect that it could then be sold in retail rather than just be for a certain person to order. I’m very lucky to work in a place where there’s 21 brilliant people in the atelier. You give them a sketch and an idea, and in three days they will come back with, say, ten different versions of it, and ways of how to resolve a problem and details. That’s a dream to me in fashion.
Jony—Wow. I’m always intrigued that, in developing an idea, despite the sophistication of the tools that we use, it still comes down to an individual. When we’re trying to solve a problem, while of course the tools are profoundly useful, it still comes down to an individual’s expertise.
But then what happens for us is that as we get closer to the final prototypes and the final builds, we’re trying to remove variability because we have to produce in such high volumes. Inconsistencies and variability ultimately express themselves as quality problems. There’s this understandable—but I think inherently false—idea that if you make something by hand it somehow has more integrity than if you make something in high volume. And I think while [making something by hand is] necessary as part of the development process, to me, the real issue is care. You can make something by hand without caring and it’s going to be dreadful, and you can make something in high volume with care and it can be phenomenal.
Kim—I completely agree. I mean, when I look at an iPhone, I think of everything that you can do with it. I can’t even fathom all of the things that go into that process. With what I do, there are basic things in terms of making clothes, where, you know, it’ll be a suit, it’ll have a shoulder pad. But if it’s really well thought out and manufactured properly, it’ll be a really beautiful suit.
Jony—Yes. Yes. Yes.
Kim—I kind of like when we’re designing and we have an atelier and we get someone to embroider something, or do something else, and a mistake comes out. And then the mistake might be more beautiful than the actual thing we’ve asked for. That’s a very rare thing in terms of design, but it’s exciting. I can imagine it doesn’t really happen in what you do. I’m always on a really short deadline. When I see something and I don’t like it, but I know it could be a hit, I’ll leave it beside and then I’ll develop it again. Then after two years, it’ll go in a collection and it’ll be a hit. And also, sometimes things just aren’t right for the time.
Jony—That’s interesting. My equivalent of that is when we have an idea that’s beyond the enabling technology. When we’re absolutely certain that the idea can’t even be prototyped. So often, we have ideas and we’re waiting and working on the technology that will enable the idea. It’s just a strange sort of patience that’s necessary when you feel really good about a direction and an idea, and you just have to wait for the technology to mature.
Kim—That is very complex for me to think about—having that thing, and then not. Just in terms of developing a fabric, or even sometimes doing things like a bag, especially at Vuitton. If it wasn’t looking very right for the time, it was really just about having that feeling, ‘I’m quite confident in what I do,’ and knowing it wouldn’t be a thing people would like now. So you just put it aside.
Kim—It’s an innate thing rather than a technology. It’s like talking about the new iPhone, which is all glass on the outside. I couldn’t even know how to start something like that. But then, getting a coat in leather that’s a new thing that you can use as a bag…it’s that sort of stuff.
Jony—How much do you think about, ‘I am designing for now,’ and how much do you design what you just feel is right? I’m living, you know, two years in the future, so I never get to think about now, if that makes any sense.
Kim—Yeah. I’m always six months ahead but sometimes I do plan the content of full collections so that whenever things are in store, it all has to fit together. So I have to think about color and know the collection. And part of the collection sells out and the new collection has to fit in with it. When I look at Apple, you go into the store and everything is so solid and looks harmonious, and it’s kind of like what I want in a Dior store—for people to go in and they see it’s got the same handwriting.
“When I look at Apple, you go into the store and everything looks harmonious, and it’s kind of like what I want in a Dior store—for people to go in and they see it’s got the same handwriting.”
Document—You’re both working for firms with very long histories. How did you step away and bring your own story to a place with that much background? How much of yourself do you put in and how do you account for what’s already there?
Kim—I look at what’s there first. I see what’s appropriate for now and in this time, and I look at the things that I feel are a part of what I’m interested in. From the House [of Dior], we took key elements. We took the houndstooth but warped it, so it looked like it had been distressed in the archive. Then we looked at the cherry blossom, which was something Mr. Dior loved, and re-interpreted it with Hajime Sorayama. We took the leopard-skin prints, which came from the Dior dresses, and put that across knits and across technical fabrics. Then we added metallics on top to give it a new life. Then we looked at the oblique again in various forms, and again applied the metallization process. We also looked at the last tie that Mr. Dior was given before he passed away. It was Japanese silk. We liked the simplicity of the fabric and the ease.
Jony—To me, what the institution represents first and foremost is a set of values and a clear sense of why Apple exists, and what contribution we can make to culture—what contribution we can make to society. What I can bring to that is to practice what I do within those values and to extend them. I think it stems from my sense of curiosity. I’m absurdly, frantically inquisitive. Given that I’ve been at Apple for nearly 30 years now, I think I’m sort of steeped in those values. I think the values are powerful but they’re general, and it’s how you turn your curiosity and ideas into vision. I think that very simplistically describes my relationship with Apple.
Document—Could you both talk a bit about how you’re seeing materials differently and how you’re looking forward?
Kim—With Dior, I look at things in the archive that are relevant for now. I take those things and then I look at all of the latest in fabric technology, or pattern-making technology, and that’s what brings the newness to it. Using classic bases and enhancing them with a super-modern technique is really interesting to me. That’s how I think a house should be worked with. The metallization process we’ve used is super interesting—it’s all done in a vacuum. It can be applied to certain fabrications successfully and others not so much, so that was a long trial. We tested and got great results on puffer jackets and swakara, and also on tailoring fabrics. The other thing I really liked was laser-cut leather, which was printed in a metallic coating, and then laser cut to create a very soft feeling—almost like a jersey effect. I also take stuff that I really like from 1955, like womenswear, and I turn it into menswear.
Jony—We have a big team of material scientists and what we’ve found is that with the material, there are so many different attributes that range from a sort of physical performance to an environmental performance, down to color and texture. We’re constantly either improving existing materials we use, like glass and aluminum, and then we’re developing new materials that might have a very specific application or that might have much broader applications. So much of our design starts with the material and trying to better understand the material.
“There’s a whole range of responsibilities. But they start with your motivation and your reason for doing things. Your values precede anything.”
Document—I think that there’s more than just a time-cost of design, whether it’s emotional or environmental. Can you each speak about the responsibility you feel as designers either in your work or to the world?
Jony—There’s a whole range of responsibilities. But they start with your motivation and your reason for doing things. Your values precede anything. Then I think there won’t be issues, because ultimately the work we do stands testament to who we are and what we care about. I think there’s certain responsibilities that are easier to measure and easier to understand—like, for example, the environmental responsibilities, and implications of our work. That’s something that we’ve had a really tremendous motivation [toward], for many years, but I think we lacked the understanding and expertise. Lisa Jackson, the head of the E.P.A. for [Barack] Obama, joined Apple many years ago, to bring that expertise and that understanding. So in that area of our environmental responsibility, I think we’ve made remarkable progress. The much more complex responsibilities are in the realm of the social and the cultural because, by definition, if you’re innovating and doing something new, there will be consequences you can’t foresee. One of the most important things is where you say your responsibility is, chronologically. I don’t think it ends when you ship a product. If you make something new, and there are unforeseen consequences, you have a responsibility to respond to those.
Kim—I worked with Sorayama on [Dior Men’s Pre-Fall 2019 and Fall/Winter 2019] collections because he’s an artist in Japan that I admire very much. When I go to Japan, I feel like I’m in the future rather than actually looking toward the future. And [this collection] was just a statement about the power and the beauty of Sorayama’s work. I care about the environment a lot, but I was just looking at an artist that I admire, who hadn’t been referenced, or hadn’t been referenced properly, and I just wanted to make that show as beautiful as possible. And I felt privileged that I could do a show in Japan with Dior because it was Mr. Dior’s favorite country apart from France. It was a lot of different things. It wasn’t about looking at the future, it was about celebrating now.