Kim Jones brought a youthquake to London with an exhibition and runway show inspired by Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation of writers.
Kim Jones brought an American spirit of freedom, the rebellious energy of youth culture — and the Brits’ knack for offbeat fashion — to the Dior men’s runway at Kensington Olympia in west London on Thursday night.
It was the first time since 2003 that Jones has staged a show in his home country, and he returned with a vengeance. He presented an eclectic pre-fall collection, followed by a massive, champagne-fuelled party — topped off with a surprise performance by Grace Jones.
His pre-fall 2022 range, brimming with color and optimism, took its cues from Dior archives, 1950s Americana, vintage Jack Kerouac book covers, and the creative mavericks of the Beat Generation.
The showcase also included a museum-grade exhibition of his private collection of rare books, manuscripts, and personal letters by Jack Kerouac and the author’s friends, family and colleagues.
After passing through the exhibition in the cavernous venue, guests were led onto the catwalk space which featured a sprawling show set inspired by the 120-foot scroll that Kerouac used to write “On the Road.”
As the lights went up, the scroll — covered in Kerouac’s typewritten words — unfurled on the runway. A recording of Robert Pattinson reciting lines from Kerouac’s works was also worked into the show’s soundtrack.
“He wrote on a scroll so he’d never have to stop to turn a page, and interrupt his spontaneity and flow,” said Kerouac’s nephew Jim Sampas, literary executor of the Estate of Jack Kerouac, during a walk-through of the exhibition ahead of the show.
Sampas added that while the estate has previously worked with artists and musicians such as Patti Smith, Pearl Jam and John Cale, this was the first time it had collaborated with a fashion designer.
“I was floored. He’s from such a different world,” Sampas said, adding that Jones owns one of the largest private collections of Kerouac’s work, alongside the artist Richard Prince.
While Jones may have been inspired by Kerouac and the Beat Generation, he was happy to be back on British turf, at least for the moment.
“It’s weird being able to just go home at the end of the day,” said Jones, who lives between London and Paris, during a preview.
He’s been in town for the last few weeks. After attending the 2021 Fashion Awards, where he was named Designer of the Year, Jones has spent much of his time putting the final touches on the pre-fall collection from the basement of Victoria House in Bloomsbury, lighting up the historic building with techno music, rows of Saddle bags and plenty of sequin-embroidered Fair Isle knits.
His idea was to create the kind of clothes “you’d find in a traveling suitcase,” and nonchalantly throw on, while on the road. The Beat writers and their trips to Paris’ Left Bank in the ’50s were his main reference point.
“They were waking up hungover and all those sorts of things. So we were thinking about this idea of living out of a suitcase and just pulling things out, mixing things that don’t really match,” said Jones.
He paired formal tailored jackets with technical nylon shorts and added a hefty dose of vintage-washed denim and leather in the range, reminiscent of Kerouac’s big American road trip in the 1940s, just after the end of World War II.
A hand-painted leather jacket and trenchcoats worn as backpacks were among the standout pieces.
“Modern Americana was what they were wearing, and that ties into what was happening in Paris as well, how the kids were dressing up in Paris around the ’50s and ’60s.
“That was also the time that [the house of] Dior passed on to Yves Saint Laurent, who was equally involved in that fight for youth and rebellion,” said Jones, who often references Saint Laurent’s styles.
1960s silk foulards, heritage tweeds and Fair Isle knits from the archives made their way into the collection, and Jones gave them a modern, sportier twist by way of relaxed silhouettes and abstract photographs taken from the covers of the Kerouac first-edition books in Jones’ collection.
Christian Dior’s New Look was another defining moment in youth culture for Jones, and even if Dior never crossed paths with the Beats, their mutual flair for rule-breaking — and all the ways they revolutionized their respective communities — helped to bring Jones’ pre-fall narrative together.
“I like people who change the way others think, I can go from the Bloomsbury Group, to the Beats to punk, but it’s always about people who change the world, and are very much part of youth culture,” added the designer, who has been obsessively collecting Kerouac’s work ever since he visited The Beat Museum in San Francisco as a teenager.
Times have changed dramatically, but according to Jones, the kids defining youth culture today are still hungry for storytelling, rebellious fashion — and the printed word.
It’s why he designed his show set as a gargantuan version of Kerouac’s “On the Road” manuscript, and worked with Sammy Jay, of the antiquarian book dealer Peter Harrington Rare Books, to curate his collection of Kerouac’s books, manuscripts and memorabilia for the show.
The exhibition showcases handwritten letters from Kerouac to his mother (asking for money); to a first edition of “On the Road,” and subpoenas summoning Neal Cassady to court in California.
“I wanted to show what goes on behind a collection, just like we did with the first Fendi show in Paris. No one could come, but there was an exhibition of my old collection of rare copies of Virginia Woolf’s works.
“It’s nice to tell the story and show your entire process. People are actually interested in research and details. We have a lot of young designers from Central Saint Martins coming to the show,” Jones added.
“Kids are into print now, lots of kids are getting bored of digital and they want to see things in real life, they want to see what the next page is — not just what they Google.”
In a world where digital currencies and the metaverse are rapidly gaining ground, one would hope Jones is right.
But even if the kids don’t go the extra mile to read about the collection’s literary references, one thing’s for sure: They will Instagram the heck out of the striking show set and head to Dior stores to buy the Kerouac-inspired accessories, from the sequined beanies to the monogrammed iPhone cases designed to resemble classic book carriers and the new iteration of the Saddle bag, adorned with climbing cordons — which is likely to become yet another testament of Jones’ ability to bring out one blockbuster after the next.