Kenzo x H&M: Interview with Kenzo creative directors Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, and H&M creative advisor Ann-Sofie Johansson
Earn your stripes
"We've had the urban sportswear of Alexander Wang, the new glamour of Balmain and now the joyous colour and print of Kenzo," says H&M creative advisor Ann-Sofie Johansson of the fast-fashion mammoth's annual collaboration — and with each drop, the age-old adage 'The early bird catches the worm' applies more aptly than ever. Take for instance, Wang's H&M collection that equalled in eager impatience and overnight queues two years back. Or last year's Balmain collection which saw tent-pitching and a 3-day campout at the front doors of Orchard Building by the first batch of shoppers. This time, with Kenzo's distinctively eclectic spirit and devoted cool-kid groupies, we all know hysteria — possibly, of new proportions — is rapidly building towards its due date.
Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, Kenzo's creative duo who double up as founders of boutique retailer Opening Ceremony, made sure to get it right. "We want Kenzo x H&M to have an immediate emotional pull," affirms Leon. "We try to give everything a true authentic story." The tale Lim and Leon chose to tell is mined from the house's '70s and '80s archives, the era when originator Kenzo Takada unleashed his utmost maximalist burst: Striking fluorescent shades, crazy ethnic prints, to contorted silhouettes that vary from skintight to cocoon-arched. The new kid on the Parisian block that brimmed with haute couture back in the day, Takada was an outsider with his own version of streetwear and dramatic runway shows. Riffing on this individualistic design code, Lim and Leon inject their affluent sense of modernity into their H&M collection — hence, its 21st century tiger tribe campaign crew of diverse personalities sporting striped jeans, beanies atop denim jackets, and sock-sliders combos. It sounds outrageous, but in the Kenzo realm, they look right at home.
Before the awaited Kenzo x H&M collection hits stores come 3 November, Buro chats to Kenzo duo Lim and Leon, and H&M creative advisor Johansson on the lustre of diversity, breaking the mould, and the real Kenzo world.
Carol, you once mentioned that the Kenzo x H&M collection is a look into the real Kenzo world. Tell us the story you're trying to convey with the collection.
Carol Lim (CL): For this collaboration, we want to re-introduce the brand that not many knew about and invite all the customers and fans to the real Kenzo world during Kenzo Takada's days. He brought together all these ground-breaking influences and was such an instinctive designer, breaking all the rules to clash together colours and prints with so many global influences. It's amazing how modern his pieces still look today. The idea is to celebrate where he began and where we've taken it — not only the archive of what he did but what we've worked on. We're taking a look at how the two can merge in a true conversation.
Why the maximalist aesthetic?
Humberto Leon (HL): Kenzo x H&M is like a three dimensional conversation between us and the founder of the brand, Kenzo Takada. He was such an incredible designer, but there are so many people around the world who only know our take on Kenzo. He started the label in Paris in the 1970s, and worked with total freedom — clashing prints and colours. There is so much joy and pleasure in his work, and we wanted to capture that spirit and bring it to a new generation through Kenzo x H&M.
What do you intend for this new generation to feel when they first put on a piece from the collection?
HL: It's about the fun of fashion, the pleasure that you can get from what you wear, and the way that you can use your look to express yourself and your feelings. We're never precious about our pieces, and love it when people wear it in their own way. We want people to try something new, experiment with their look, break all the rules and have the best time wearing it.
Which pieces are your personal favourites?
CL: That is such an impossible question! Really, they are all my favourites, because every piece is special. I love the off-the-shoulder print top, and the long ruffle skirt, because together the pieces make such a statement. They have such amazing volume and movement; and will be so fun to wear in the upcoming party season. We really enjoyed mixing and matching our prints.
What was your main takeaway from working on this collaboration?
CL: It's been our honour to get to know Mr Takada, and to be able to hear his stories and memories about his times in Paris during the '70s and '80s. He is such an inspiration to us, and this is the first time we've ever really played with the archives at Kenzo. We had the best time researching, going through all of his collections and imagery to find the pieces and prints we wanted to bring to life in Kenzo x H&M. It's an energy that's in every single piece of the collaboration.
Following Olivier Rousteing's glam Balmain last year, Kenzo is an entirely different ball game. Why Kenzo?
Ann-Sofie Johansson (ASJ): We love to give our customers something completely different with each of our collaborations, something they have never experienced before. It's amazing to have a collection that connects with the fashion history of Kenzo Takada, as well as Carol and Humberto's 21st century take on the brand. The collection works on so many levels — it tells the story of how the brand started; it celebrates the amazing streetwear energy of Carol and Humberto's Kenzo, and is also a great edit of pieces for H&M customers around the world to wear and have fun.
What was the common ground that brought Kenzo and H&M together?
ASJ: There is so much in common between the two brands. We both believe in the fun of fashion, and that style should be for everyone. Diversity is a natural part of Kenzo, and it's in everything that we do. Carol and Humberto have been so generous in opening the archives to give us their take on the history of the brand, and it's something that our customers are going to love having in their wardrobe.
After the whole whirlwind of the designing process, all the way to the commercial nitty-gritty, what was your experience like working with such a dynamic duo?
ASJ: We've had the best time creating the Kenzo x H&M collection with Carol and Humberto. Their story is so inspiring, because it's all about their love of fashion, and their desire to tell new stories and bring together creatives from all around the world. It's something that they've done since the beginning of Opening Ceremony, and it's an approach that has brought new life to Kenzo. They care about every small detail in the collection, and have such freedom in the way they put everything together. They are the nicest people who work so hard, and yet always manage to have fun doing so. We hope everyone has as good a time wearing the collection as we've had producing it.
The Kenzo x H&M collection will be available at H&M Orchard Building and H&M Ion Orchard, as well as online, from 3 November. See the complete lookbook.