Kenzo de­sign­ers Hum­berto Leon and Carol Lim tap into a fre­netic mix of in­flu­ences and fairy-tale bursts of colour to bring H&M’s lat­est col­lab to life.

ELLE (Canada) - - Style - By Stéphanie Chayet Pho­to­graphs by Owen Bruce

HUM­BERTO LEON kneels to ad­just a tiger-striped boot, while Carol Lim but­tons a long faux-fur coat that model Bhu­mika Arora has just slipped into. The scene is the first floor of a pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dio in Man­hat­tan. Leon and Lim, co-cre­ative di­rec­tors for Kenzo, are go­ing through the fi­nal try-on of their col­lec­tion for H&M, which is still top se­cret. Per­haps to pre­vent a leak, the of­fi­cial date for an­nounc­ing this col­lab­o­ra­tion— the 15th be­tween the Swedish ready-to-wear gi­ant and a ma­jor fash­ion house—has just been pushed for­ward and the air is charged with elec­tric­ity. The racks are full of flow­ers and leop­ard spots, lime-green and bub­ble-gum-pink prints, pleated and quilted silk, ki­mono sleeves and fla­menco-dancer ruf­fles—in other words, an ex­otic wardrobe spiced up with streetwear, neon shades and an­i­mal prints: the Kenzo for­mula.

Launch­ing on Novem­ber 3 in 250 stores world­wide and on­line, this col­lec­tion con­firms the suc­cess the duo has had stir­ring up the Parisian house, which was founded in 1970 by Kenzo Takada and sold to LVMH in 1993. Leon and Lim, best friends since meet­ing at the Univer­sity h

of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, made their name with their Open­ing Cer­e­mony stores, mix­ing young in­ter­na­tional de­sign­ers, house col­lec­tions and moreestab­lished brands. “Their style is young, vi­brant, play­ful and mul­ti­cul­tural,” says Ann­Sofie Jo­hans­son, cre­ative ad­viser for H&M and the di­rec­tor of the project. “It’s an ap­proach we like.” Ded­i­cated to ex­pand­ing the reach of the la­bel, Leon and Lim would be hard­pressed to find a bet­ter plat­form than this col­lab. “Peo­ple want to be able to treat them­selves to a small part of a leg­endary Parisian la­bel with­out leav­ing their home­town,” says Leon. “These col­lab­o­ra­tions are meant to in­tro­duce ex­clu­sive brands to a new au­di­ence.”

The de­sign­ers also see this as an op­por­tu­nity to pay trib­ute to the brand’s her­itage. Be­fore now, Leon and Lim had not made use of the Kenzo archives. Hav­ing grown up in the sub­urbs of Los An­ge­les, they drew more upon Cal­i­for­nia’s street­cul­ture codes to re­ju­ve­nate the Parisian fash­ion house. Now, for the first time, they are fus­ing the present and the past. “We’ve brought back cer­tain sil­hou­ettes and cer­tain his­toric prints and closely com­bined them with our own,” they ex­plain. “The en­tire col­lec­tion is a di­a­logue be­tween us and Kenzo Takada. The brand is al­most 50 years old; it’s a good time to present its story to new gen­er­a­tions.”

The back­story is one of a fash­ion­mad young Ja­panese de­signer who landed in Paris af­ter a long ocean voy­age and opened a bou­tique in the Ga­lerie Vivi­enne as brightly coloured as a paint­ing by Henri Rousseau. That was in 1970, and the brand was known as Jun­gle Jap. The fab­rics came from Tokyo and Paris’ Marché Saint­Pierre, and the clothes were pro­duced up­stairs on a rented sew­ing ma­chine. The im­pact was tremen­dous. Well ahead of the rest, Kenzo cre­ated a pop style that mixed all kinds of folk­lore, from Ja­panese flow­ers to African tribal mo­tifs. His style was cheeky, fresh and ac­ces­si­ble. His clothes were worn by the likes of Grace Jones and Jerry Hall and the young peo­ple who danced at Le Palace, Paris’ hottest night­club in the late ’70s. An in­vet­er­ate party per­son, Kenzo also spent his nights at clubs, sur­rounded by an ex­u­ber­ant band of friends.

When the LVMH group handed the keys to the house over to Leon and Lim in 2011, they had no prob­lem re­lat­ing to the founder. Like Kenzo, they started their de­sign­ing ca­reer at the back of their own shop with what­ever was at hand. Also like him, they sur­round them­selves with peo­ple who feed their in­spi­ra­tion. “Kenzo Takada worked with mu­si­cians and artists,” they say. “With Open­ing Cer­e­mony, we adopted the tra­di­tion of group cre­ativ­ity too. We be­lieve in the idea of com­mu­nity.” The duo has tapped every­one from in­de­pen­dent filmmaker Spike Jonze, ac­tor Ja­son Schwartz­man and fash­ion icon Solange Knowles to rocker Kim Gor­don and the eter­nal It girl Chloë Se­vi­gny. Leon and Lim’s affin­ity for the Parisian la­bel is so nat­u­ral that pho­tog­ra­pher Jean­Paul Goude, who knew Kenzo well at the height of his ca­reer, de­scribed them as the de­signer’s “spir­i­tual heirs.”

The col­lab­o­ra­tion with H&M is rem­i­nis­cent of Kenzo’s golden age: For ex­am­ple, de­tails like ruf­fles edged with gros­grain rib­bon are in­spired by a col­lec­tion from 1973 and a tiger­striped look is a reis­sue of a 1980s style. Leon and Lim’s con­tem­po­rary touch is present in tiger sweat­shirts and T­shirts (the land­mark pieces of their reign), base­ball caps, over­sized varsity jack­ets, big leop­ard spots and re­versible styles. Prices range from $14.99 for a mono­grammed T­shirt to $549 for the flag­ship piece—a heavy ruf­fled dress with ki­mono sleeves constructed out of var­i­ous prints from the col­lec­tion. It’s a demo­cratic style that looks like noth­ing else. And that was the orig­i­nal credo of Kenzo him­self. n

Shirt, top and skirt (Kenzo x H&M), vin­tage jeans (Levi’s), tights (Wol­ford), ring (Ja­nis Savitt), ring (Jules Smith), ear­rings (Jen­nifer Fisher) and boots (Roberto Cav­alli)

Carol Lim and Hum­berto Leon with model Bhu­mika Arora

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