On a cold January evening in Paris, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon presented their Autumn/Winter 2017 collection for the luxury label Kenzo. The collection—a mix of arctic surfing combined with urban style—was typical Kenzo style; colour loud and prints bold. But what really set this show apart, was how the entire backstage area was laid bare. The stage was backstage or vice versa, with the whole process on display—makeup artists, hair stylists and all behind the scenes activity was exposed. Lim and Leon were making a rebellious statement with this exposé, and promoting ethical fashion and eco-awareness. In lieu of spending thousands on a fancy set, they opted to donate these funds to two environmental organisations, Earth Guardians and IDEAS for Us.
This isn’t the first time Kenzo has revolted against the status quo. In 2011, Lim and Leon were charged with reinventing the age-old fashion house—formerly run by its Japanese founder, Kenzo Takada. Foregoing the usual psyche of high end French fashion houses, the duo, who built their own names in the fashion industry through their New York City boutique Opening Ceremony, have always been the types to go against the grain. Few believed that the pair were capable of turning the house around, but they have done so with aplomb. Collaborations with artists, filmmakers, musicians and actors, as well as explosive ad campaigns and runway shows that delve into politics, performance and conceptual ideas are not only the norm, they’re expected.
Take, for example, the label’s most recent commentary on political power artfully communicated in their new ad campaign. Kenzo collaborated with filmmaker Kahlil Joseph of Lemonade fame on a short film starring Jesse Williams titled Music is my Mistress. The film’s opening sequence contains a warning: “strong language and overt blackness throughout”. The recent racially charged events in the US have impacted on many, but Lim and Leon, who spend most of their time there, have addressed the issue head on.
Another glimpse into the duo’s activism was seen during Paris Fashion Week in March this year. Guests were served Syrian comfort food for dinner, paying tribute to Takada’s immigrant roots. The show reimagined Kenzo’s 1983 advertising campaign photographed by the legendary Hans Feurer. The campaign starring the beautiful Iman, overturned the concept of the traditional campaign image through the use of a non-white muse. The collection amplified and revamped some of Takada’s iconic prints and motifs seen in his early collections. With Takada sitting front row, the underlying message was not tailored for a social media outburst, but rather a subtle reminder of the cultural contribution of immigrants in the fashion world and beyond.
When it comes to Kenzo’s clothing, Lim and Leon have strayed wherever their imaginations have led. Strong references to original motifs exist, yet, the designers have completely reinvented the brand by churning out covetable, streetwear pieces. As an endorsement of sorts, nearly every street style star has donned the Kenzo tiger logo sweater. It has been seen on the likes of Alexa Chung, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Solange Knowles, Selena Gomez, Dakota Fanning and Chance the Rapper (who was named the face of the label’s H&M collaboration last year). The staple has become one of the label’s cult pieces that is sold each season in new iterations.
While fashion diehards may have associated the original Kenzo with its jungle print dresses, the new Kenzo has appealed to, and is immediately identifiable to all. No small feat, considering that when Lim and Leon started at Kenzo, the average customer was 65-years-old. Today, Kenzo appeals to a much wider demographic.
Kenzo’s statement of political intent extends far beyond the surface of runway performances and short films—it is intrinsic to their approach to pricing too. “People ask what ‘luxury’ means to us. For me, it’s really luxurious to look at a runway show and say, ‘I can buy that’,” stated Leon to W magazine. “So at Kenzo we’re not doing a show simply for a show’s sake, or making clothes just for the runway, which happens a lot in fashion.” This all makes sense, Kenzo does things differently, and despite the celebrity following, they’ve made their brand simultaneously high end and accessible.
With all that, there’s a certain sense of duality. Kenzo presents their shows in Paris, the unofficial capital of luxury, yet unlike Céline, Chanel and Loewe—brands that also present in Paris—a current season Kenzo sweatshirt or handbag is affordable. That being said, Kenzo’s runway shows are far more than banal presentations of clothing the masses can afford. In most cases, every project Kenzo engages in, be it an advertisement or a catwalk show, is a piece of art with a serious focus on social commentary.
For more visit www.kenzo.com