The Dior Men designer joins fashion’s favorite masked cowboy to discuss ego, David Bowie, and finding queerness in country music
Canadian musician Orville Peck and British fashion designer Kim Jones are singular talents, but in their singularity lies a profound connection: Both have established their careers by pushing against the grain, drawing inspiration from a countercultural, and often counterintuitive, approach to established ideas. Jones’s fanboy appreciation of punk and queer subcultures, and his extensive travels to Africa in his youth, have blossomed into one of the most distinctive talents in fashion. After earning his spurs revitalizing the staid British luxury brand Dunhill, where he was hired in 2008 as the first creative director in the company’s history, Jones set about electrifying Louis Vuitton with his refined streetwear aesthetic. His focus on collaboration—including with BritArt bad boys Jake and Dinos Chapman and, more spectacularly, James Jebbia at Supreme—helped change the parameters of luxury fashion. He’s now doing that—and more—as creative director of Dior Men, using his obsessive and completist approach to pop culture as a springboard for a deep dive into the brand’s history. Not for nothing did the industry journal Business of Fashion exclaim, in a review of Dior’s Fall 2020 collection, “The Future is Now at Dior.” Jones has paid tribute to the brand’s extraordinary lineage through creative directors past including Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, and John Galliano, while injecting it with his enormous enthusiasm for contemporary culture. It’s not only his collaborations with Kaws, Raymond Pettibon, Daniel Arsham, and Shawn Stussy that have marked his still-fresh tenure at the brand, but also his ardent appreciation for music, particularly in his ongoing work with DJ Honey Dijon, who develops the soundtracks for his shows.
Given all that, it’s hardly surprising that Jones was drawn to the pseudonymous singer-songwriter Orville Peck who has co-opted country music as a soundscape for his playful meditations on gay identity and desire. On the lush ballad, “Turn to Hate,” for example, Peck croons about heartache like the gorgeous offspring of a union between Roy Orbison and Lloyd Cole. Like Jones, what makes Peck exciting is the broad palate of influences that elevate his work into a league of its own. You can hear his early enthusiasm for punk in his debut album, Pony, but you also hear his love of camp, his fierce understanding of theater and performance, and an abiding love for country music’s torch song tradition. For Document the two artists got together to talk about the beauty of collaboration, the enduring legacy of David Bowie, and Peck’s head-turning Dior moment in Miami last December.
Orville Peck: Thank you for waiting. I just scratched my eyeball last night, and I woke up with a crazy inflamed eye. So I had to go to the doctor this morning, and it took forever because America…you know how it is.
Kim Jones: Where are you?
Orville: I’m in LA.
Kim: You’re skyrocketing at the moment, aren’t you?
Orville: [Laughs] It’s so bizarre.
Kim: Yes, but you should enjoy it.
Aaron Hicklin: How did you come to work together?
Kim: I heard Orville’s music and found the album and put it on repeat and really admired his approach in terms of image and the music. So I contacted him because when I admire someone’s work, I like to work with them.
Orville: It came through really casually. I remember thinking it was fake at first. I was completely flattered and excited and thrilled by it. As a musician, I’ve never really been involved in the fashion world, but I’ve been a fan of it my whole life and, let’s be honest, Dior is not too bad.
Kim: We met up in London and then worked out how many different connections we had.
Orville: It speaks a lot to who you are, Kim, as well. Everybody loves working and dealing with you because when you like something, it doesn’t matter if it’s approved across the board, or if it’s even going to be advantageous to you. You’re the kind of person who reaches out and wants to work with people who inspire you, and I think it’s reciprocated.
Kim: If I like a person’s work, I think it’s important to support it, especially in this day and age when everything gets segregated. To build a community of talented people who inspire people is important.
Aaron: Kim, you’ve referred to the role of the fashion designer in many ways being not dissimilar to the pop star. Music and fashion are handmaidens; they go together. I wonder if you’ve given much thought to where that comes from? Does music give rise to how you dress or does how you dress give rise to your musical taste?
Kim: I think it used to. Everything has blended together now. Subcultures have become more homogenized, just because of people seeing things. And when you see someone doing something on their own, distinct from the crowd, you pay attention to it, which is what Orville has done.
Orville: The older I’ve gotten, the more I think of art with a capital A. For me that includes music, fashion, visual art, cinema. All of those things feed and inspire me to create. Whether that’s a song or a look, I think those things go hand in hand. I think about an artist like David Bowie, who was a musician first and foremost, but he created so much more art than you could ever just call music.
Kim: He was an inspiration to a huge generation of people, and still is. When you think about how forward-thinking and shocking that must have been to the world…. I was very lucky to have worked with him before he died, and he was absolutely the sweetest. He had all these books piled up…. There was a massive pile of [cinematographer] Derek Jarman books and [British playwright] Joe Orton books. He was reading about all these different things, and telling me about when he’d come up with different ideas, and how. It was mind-blowing.
Aaron: What is the relationship between musical mentors and heroes and your understanding of yourselves? What was it that helped you understand your evolving identities when you were younger?
Orville: The best creators, in any medium, draw inspiration from different places. My music is definitely inspired by fashion and cinema. Everyone has their personal mood board in their head. I grew up listening to punk and obviously country. It makes sense to find inspiration from all those different places. If you have a taste level, that has to be fed by interesting things. You’re not going to find that purely in your medium.
Kim: Yeah, the thing for me is that my eyes are always open; I can’t not look at stuff. I like doing different things all the time. That’s probably why I’m good at fashion, because I’m on to the next thing straight away, hopefully not in a superficial way. I like to be moving forward always.
Orville: I think evolution is such an important part of being an artist because you understand that evolution is a crucial part of art.
Aaron: Kim, you’re well known for collaboration and really valuing the exchange of ideas with artists as part of your creative process.
Kim: I collaborate with a studio full of people, and I respect their tastes, their ideas, and they know what I want. You’re the maestro leading an orchestra, so to speak, when you work in these big companies. It’s not about sitting down and doing everything by yourself because that’s not a feasible thing now. I like working with different people with different ideas. It’s a conversation—it makes me think of things in different ways.
Orville: I came out of a place where collaborating was a necessity because you couldn’t do it alone. I would have to reach out and work with people. I come from a world of everybody making something out of nothing together. I have really tried to keep that collaborative spirit through my career, even though it’s not a necessity anymore. Ego and stubbornness kill art. I have no time for them, so I love collaborating on a creative level, a visual level, a sonic level. I love meeting someone who I can continue collaborating with because building those relationships, that’s where magic happens, at least historically. Sometimes it comes out of an unlikely pairing, which I like even more.
Kim: I like things to feel authentic. It’s not because it’s someone cool and I want to use them, it comes from respect and loving what they do.
Orville: I think it really shows in the diverse people you have around you. It’s not even just fashion people…if anything, fashion people feel like they’re in the minority, and that really speaks to who you are. When I was at [your show in] Miami, I sat next to the Kardashians, and Travis Scott and James Blake and David Beckham and Detox were there, such an incredible group of diverse people, and it’s really a testament to your collaborative nature and the fact that it’s how you like to work.
Kim: At the end of the day, they’re my friends, you know? I get blown away by that sometimes. It’s actually funny thinking about music. Honey Dijon’s my main collaborator in music. I’ve known Honey since 2001. We bonded because I’m really into music, and I’m into collecting club memorabilia. I don’t think I’ve kept everything, but I’m a hoarder. I was thinking of all the people I’ve worked with, like Giorgio Moroder, Nile Rodgers, Drake, Michael Stipe, Diplo, A-Trak—you know, it’s a privilege to be able to do that.
Aaron: Orville mentioned that there’s no place for ego in the creative process. The New York Times said about Kim that he is a designer who never aspired to have his initials on his clothes. Orville, your presentation seems designed to sublimate your ego to your craft. Does that make your creativity more fruitful?
Orville: It’s not that ego doesn’t creep into my life—I think for everybody, it’s something to keep in check—but especially someone like me, who doesn’t have loads of self-confidence, to be honest, I have to fake a bit of an ego to give me a bit of a boost at some point. But I would rather have the work speak for me. When you’re passionate and confident in what you’re making, and you have a vision, the idea of desperately trying to validate yourself through it becomes secondary because you’re so focused on something that you’re passionate about because you love it.
Kim: I just wish I’d been as clever as you and worn a mask from day one so I could have some privacy! That’s a stroke of genius: You’re anonymous, but you’re famous, and that’s a weird thing to be.
Orville: It’s definitely a little bit of comfort.
Kim: I’m sure you get some stalkers who see you out and about and recognize your tattoos.
Orville: It happens more these days than not, but it’s fine.
“A lot of the themes in classic country were about loneliness and disappointment and heartbreak and isolation, so it made complete sense that country music would appeal to a gay audience even more so than to a well-adjusted straight white man.”
Aaron: Can we talk about the Dior pieces that Orville wore as part of the F/W Dior Collection?
Kim: It was the cowboy version of Dior, with the beaded fringing on the mask. It was fun to do just for one person. Even the fringe boots are a luxury for me because I don’t really do that very often.
Orville: I’ve always been so flattered and grateful that Kim respects that I have a certain look, and I think the kind of genius of it is that instead of trying to figure out how to work that, he just knows that’s my aesthetic. And he does Dior for me, and it looks and works like a perfect collaboration.
Aaron: Orville, you’ve talked about the challenge of being a gay country musician—the bullying and the discrediting that you have to deal with. How do you use your craft to disrupt the conventional associations we make with country music?
Orville: Sadly, to be quite honest, like any genre, if you go far enough to the top, it’s generally dominated by old white straight men, like most things in this world. But country, particularly, has been associated with very little diversity through the years. It’s funny because I grew up loving country music, and I was always obsessed with cowboys. I grew up in Africa actually—Kim and I have that connection as well. My connection to cowboys was very pastiche; the idea of a cowboy was the Lone Ranger. A lot of the themes in classic country were about loneliness and disappointment and heartbreak and isolation, so it made complete sense that country music would appeal to a gay audience even more so than to a well-adjusted straight white man, which is a funny stigma about country. It’s this really heartbreaking music that should be made for people who’ve experienced those things, and that’s what I connected to when I was younger. When I knew I wanted to be a country musician, I wanted to portray that connection with country music that I had growing up. I saw that there was something missing from it, and when you see something missing, it’s usually good to jump in.
Aaron: Kim, growing up in Africa was a seminal thing for you in terms of your aesthetic, and the way you perceive dress and color.
Kim: I’m so grateful for that experience. It made me realize and appreciate that all over the world, everyone was very different. One thing that my father really instilled within me is that everyone’s equal. It doesn’t matter about money; it doesn’t matter about skin color. You have to be around different people. So my group of friends was a real mix of all these different people. And then my love of nature. One of the most amazing powerful images was in Ethiopia, seeing these super tall people wearing all this jewelry, and with these amazing wraps around them, and then these huge Kalashnikov machine guns. Just seeing that and thinking, Wow, these are the coolest people you are ever going to see.
Orville: Kim’s hit the nail on the head. I feel so proud and grateful to have grown up there. You experience so much culture and life that I think a lot of people in the West don’t necessarily get to. The nature element is a really big one. I feel so clearly connected to the natural world around me, and I don’t think of myself as separate from that, whereas a lot of the mentality in the West is that nature is something to look at rather than to be a part of. Kim and I have that in common. Oftentimes, we will send each other pictures of animals because both of us love wildlife so much, and I attribute that to our upbringing.
Aaron: Which animals did you send to each other?
Kim: It was a possum last time. Orville put it on Instagram, so we got talking about different marsupials.
Orville: Kim sent me some sharks recently.
Aaron: Kim, as well as your love of animals, you’re a collector of books.
Kim: The books I’m collecting right now are related to the Bloomsbury set, particularly Virginia Woolf. They lived their lives the way they wanted to live them in a time when it wasn’t really possible, and yet they were still respectable in society. My two favorite books are both copies of Orlando: One is inscribed to [Woolf’s lover and subject of Orlando] Vita Sackville-West by Virginia, and Vita has written in it as well. Then, I have a copy inscribed to [Woolf’s sister] Vanessa Bell, inscribed ‘from your slave and sister.’ I’m very into stuff like that, of historic importance.
Orville: I love hearing Kim talk about things that he likes because he gets so into it. I think it’s so important these days because a lot of art is made from a place by people who aren’t fans of other things. You have to be a fan of art to make it, and it’s actually less prevalent than it should be.
Kim: When I’m at home, I’m like a librarian, organizing everything, rearranging books until they’re perfect. My friend came over to help me, and I said, ‘People must wonder what a designer’s life is like,’ and there I am in my pajamas on a Saturday night organizing books.