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Louis Vuitton's Kim Jones talks travel, flightless parrots and the upside of bad animal etchings

Louis Vuitton's Kim Jones talks travel, flightless parrots and the upside of bad animal etchings
Louis Vuitton men's artistic director Kim Jones, left, and a bag from the spring/summer 2017 men's collection. (Brett Lloyd, left, and Ludwig Bonnet / Louis Vuitton Malletier)

Kim Jones, men's artistic director for French luxury brand Louis Vuitton, travels so much you could get jet lag just by scrolling through his social media feed. If he's not traipsing around the Atacama Desert (for research) or trying to catch a glimpse of New Zealand's rare flightless kakapo parrot (for fun), he's probably shuttling between London (where he lives) and Paris (where he works) or jetting around the globe to events on behalf of the brand.

It was for the last of those reasons that Jones found himself in Los Angeles earlier this month. He was here for the unveiling of the spring/summer 2017 men's collection at the label's Rodeo Drive flagship and an intimate dinner in the penthouse suite of the Chateau Marmont for high-roller clients and a cadre of celebrity friends that included Kelly Osbourne, Joe Jonas and Colton Haynes. The London-born designer, who spent his formative years moving around Africa with his family, sat down for a chat that touched on travel (he's been doing it his entire life), his favorite animals (hint: they're all nearly extinct) and how a book of sub-par animal etchings inspired the four menagerie-meets-monogram images (commissioned from artists-brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman) that anchor the spring/summer 2017 menswear collection bags.

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I can tell from your Instagram account that you're on the move pretty much constantly. Do you enjoy traveling?   

Travel is something that always has been and always will be in my life. When you're at a high-end luxury goods house, you need to give people something that is authentic. And once I've done the preliminary research for something like vicuña, for example, then I'll go and see what I can bring to it that's authentic. That's why we went down to the Atacama [Desert] to research vicuña. I ended up buying this beautifully woven, double-faced, 400-year-old vicuña blanket to bring back to give to the factory so they could make one like it for our apex customer.

Let's talk about the attention-grabbing animal graphics that appear on the spring/summer 2017 bags. There's something a bit off – in a humorous way — about the elephants, lions, rhinos and zebras. Is there a backstory there?

I was in South Africa and I found this old book of etchings of animals that were all really badly drawn — like they were being drawn for the very first time — and I sent them to Jake [Chapman] and said I thought they were funny and that we could do something with them. And that's what inspired them. They look like they're somehow not quite right.

Looks from the spring/summer 2017 Louis Vuitton menswear collection referencing, from left, zebras, crocodiles and giraffes.
Looks from the spring/summer 2017 Louis Vuitton menswear collection referencing, from left, zebras, crocodiles and giraffes. (Ludwig Bonnet / Louis Vuitton)

The spring/summer collection is full of animal references far beyond that too: Textured crocodile and ostrich skin are used for shirts and jackets; there are zebra-patterned pieces; and there is nearly a herd of giraffes knit into sweaters and printed on shirts. Do you have a favorite member of the animal kingdom?

There are a few endangered animals I've been working [with conservation groups] to save. One is a rare monkey that's my favorite monkey. It's the douc langur. It lives in Vietnam, and there are only about 500 left. I sponsor the camera-trapping team that's documenting them. Another is the pangolin, which is almost extinct, and there's a very rare flightless parrot [in] New Zealand called the kakapo.

Where did the desire to get involved in conservation come from?

I lived in Africa as a child and I saw animals everywhere. It was an amazing thing to grow up around, and it would be quite sad for our future generations not to have that, you know?

Let's make the last question a silly one: What's your spirit animal?

I always thought that if I was going to be an animal in the wild, I'd like to be an eagle because they get off quite lightly. They're not going to be hunted down too much [because of their place] in the food chain. I wouldn't want to be anything in the sea and I wouldn't want to be one of the big cats because they've got tough lives.

For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me @ARTschorn.

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