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The Kenzo revival

“X Campaign” ad for Spring/Summer 2013 by world-renowned artist Jean-Paul Goude. (Kenzo)

Publication Date : 29-05-2014


Founded by the Japanese designer Kenzo Takada back in 1970, the brand stirred Paris’ fashion world with its style blending East and West aesthetics


Kenzo probably is one of the most powerful fashion brands today in Paris, home to a number of famed fashion houses.

Founded by the Japanese designer Kenzo Takada back in 1970, the brand stirred Paris’ fashion world with its style blending the aesthetics of East and West.

Since US-born designers Humberto Leon, 38, and Carol Lim, 39, became the brand’s creative directors three years ago, Kenzo has become a brand that draws the eyes of every fashion lover.

Embroidering the large face of a tiger on a sweatshirt, putting human eye-shaped motifs on a coat—such designs are callbacks to the energy the brand enveloped in the 1970s.

“That’s the thing that, for us, is most do you bring emotion into clothing?” Leon said.

At the same time, such bold motifs look fresh in the eyes of young people today, who are accustomed to minimalist fashion.

The two young designers said they always think about what Takada would design.

“We always remember him, he himself as a person, his joy, his, you know, creative ability—that’s something that we always think about when we’re designing and we always pay homage to him,” Lim said.

Born on the West Coast of the United States, Leon is Chinese-American and Lim is Korean-American. Having moved from the United States to Paris, the two designers are emulating the brand’s founder, who moved to Paris from Japan more than 40 years ago and made his own dreams come true.

“When he came in 1969, he created something really revolutionary, and he opened up this idea that people from outside could come to Paris and actually make their dreams come true. So for us, we really want to celebrate that idea, and celebrate him for being such an innovator, in coming and doing this for the world,” Leon said.

Takada visited the brand’s show during Paris Fashion Week this year for the first time in 15 years, and he was very complimentary, the two said.

“The Kenzo that we built in the last three years is Carol and I. It’s our interpretation of Kenzo Takada and what he did and all these amazing things,” Leon said, adding that they hoped to pass on Takada’s spirit to future generations.

The Kenzo Women’s Fall/Winter 2014-15 Collection presented a garment featuring motifs of what is called “tool creatures” in a mysterious space with an object shaped like a massive human face. The tool-creature motifs are expressed by joining wrenches and other tools in various patterns, creating a somewhat comical atmosphere.

The designers said the ideas were inspired by the aesthetics of the US film director David Lynch, who is known for “Twin Peaks” and other works. As a matter of fact, Lynch collaborated with the designers on the set design and music for the show.

“It was exciting to see how we worked together,” Leon said.

Graduates of the University of California, Berkeley, Leon majored in visual arts and American Studies while Lim studied economics. Their passion for fashion prompted them to found the concept store “Opening Ceremony” in New York 12 years ago. From that experience, the two are quite perceptive as to what kind of clothes are desired by consumers.

“We think about the customer...for us we always say we design in this fantasy world, but we bring it to the customer by hand, and we take it all the way through until the customers [are] buying it and wearing it, and then we feel comfortable, and then we feel good about it,” Leon said.

“I think it’s important to always remember, you know, these fantasies that are reachable. When you look at a runway show, and you say, ‘Wow, I like that,’ and you can really buy it. To us, that’s really exciting,” he added.

Their good sense of balance and grasp of where consumers stand may be one of the reasons why the brand draws so much support today.


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