The Kenzo label’s multicultural vision has brought colour to the catwalk for 40 years.
ACARAVANSERAI of 40 models formed a revolving, global fashion pageant under the Big Top of the mid-19th century Cirque d’Hiver during the Paris pret-a-porter season last month. The clothes were a multicultural representation of faraway lands and soaring imagination. They also represented four decades of one of the most enduring brands in modern fashion: Kenzo.
Antonio Marras, the designer and artistic director of the brand since 2003, created the 40th anniversary fashion extravaganza from the Kenzo archives, mixing 70s, 80s, 90s and the last decade in an exotic jumble as fantastical as the original designs of the brand’s founder.
When Kenzo Takada, the irrepressible Japanese designer, set up shop in rue Vivienne in Paris in 1970, he was part of a seemingly never-ending festival of fash-fashion creativity that embodied youth, modernity, fun and freedom – far removed from the old-fashioned milieu of the traditional French maison. His label, first called Jungle Jap, belonged to Paris’s super-club of emerging talent that included Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Sonia Rykiel, Thierry Mugler and Jean Paul Gaultier. Together they rode the ready-to-wear wave, the revolutionary style designed by and for the young.
Kenzo became famous for its clashing colours, patchwork potpourri and eclectic inspiration. One of the first to bring ethnic chic to the street, he delighted in the folkloric fairy tale, whether from Old Bohemia, Mother Russia, Machu Picchu, the Manchu Dynasty or the Samurai era.
Over three decades, Kenzo expanded into menswear, jeans, childrens’ wear, a home collection, fragrances and a flagship The DNA of Kenzo is maintained in the fabrics used. boutique in the Place des Victoires. The 90s also brought change with, firstly, the house becoming part of the LVMH group in 1993, and, finally, in 1999, Kenzo Takada’s decision to step down.
His departure led to several years of fashion floundering before Antonio Marras was named artistic director for womenswear in 2003 and, then, for the entire brand, in 2008. It was a visionary appointment; Marras recently extended his contract until 2014.
Like Kenzo, he has a poetic, at times academic approach to fashion, creating collections inspired by the pastoral tradition and rich history of his native Sardinia, which over 2,000 years has been settled or sacked by Phoenicians, Cartheginians, Saracens, Moors, Greeks and Romans. His intellectual, nomadic spirit and deep understanding of cultural identity and the mix of fantasy and reality are intimately aligned with the Kenzo heritage.
Marras maintains two distinct design milieux to match his twin fashion hats. He is based in Alghero, Sardinia, where he lives with his family, and works on his own-name collections, shown twice a year in Milan. Every few weeks, he and his wife, Patrizia, relocate to Paris, always in the same room at the Hotel Costes, close to the Kenzo HQ in the rue Vivienne.
“I am two different people; I must cut my brain in two,” he says. “When I am Antonio Marras, I work in one direction; it’s more about tailoring, construction and the inspiration may be more melodramatic, like Puccini or Verdi. When I am Kenzo, I start with an imaginary journey of a Japanese boy or girl who discovers Europe. I try to balance the symmetry and rigour of the Japanese culture with the wild freedom of Sardinia, but always respect the DNA of Kenzo.
“The similarity is the special way I work, with fabric and swatches; it’s how an idea can take flight. It was the same with Kenzo. He was a revolutionary of his time, and his mission was to create a new high street of style. He was brilliant. His heritage was of not having limits, a complete crossover between East and West, inspired by the arts, history, tradition, people. It’s what Kenzo was about, and it’s what Antonio Marras has always been about, too.
“When I first met Kenzo, he told me he felt we were like brothers in fashion. People may not think there is much the same about the kimono and the clothes of a Sardinian peasant. But one of Puccini’s most beautiful operas, Madama Butterfly, was set in Japan, so in a way I feel there is a certain destiny to my life.” – © The Daily Telegraph UK 2010 A modern approach for Kenzo’s ready-towear spring-summer 2011 collection.
Attention is paid to detail even down to the headgear. Top gear: Antonio Marras’s clothes are a multicultural representation of faraway lands.
The new collection is inspired by pastoral tradition and Sardinia’s history.