Britney Spears is Kenzo's new campaign star. This is why it matters

Britney Spears is Kenzo's new campaign star. This is why it matters

The Brit factor

Text: Jolene Khor

Kenzo creative directors Carol Lim and Humberto Leon get real about the reason why Britney Spears is fronting their latest collection

If there's one point the creative duo powering Kenzo wants to drive home with the La Collection Memento N°2 spring/summer 2018 collection, it is that icons are not born every day. There are catalogues full of luxury brands out there, but is only one Parisian-Japanese Kenzo. Hollywood is littered with pop stars up and down Sunset Boulevard, but there is only one Britney Spears. Many photographers have and will continue to come and go, but there is only one Peter Lindbergh. 

Once Lim and Humberto unearthed Kenzo's iconic prints — the tiger, the bamboo, the waves — from the 1986 archives, assembling the rest of the A-team was easy. Lindbergh, whose first paying client was incidentally Kenzo Takada, was a no brainer. His black and white photographs of Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Tatjana Patitz, Cindy Crawford, and Christy Turlington turned them from models to supermodels — the very term derived from Lindberg's critically acclaimed January 1990 Vogue cover. This man transcended stylish photography; he was one of the founding fathers of fashion iconography.

And as for Britney Spears and her induction into Kenzo's hall of fame? We'll let those responsible for her sartorial comeback tell the story...

This collection stems from the launch of Kenzo Jeans in 1986. Kenzo has such a rich history, why did you zero in on this moment to hark back to?
Humberto Leon (HL): It was a really important time in the company and also in Paris. At this time, designer denim had come and gone. Kenzo Takada was taking this super Western material and really owning it. The collection has a cool American vibe to it with his Japanese background mixed in. This was the hey-day of when Paris was really taking in Western culture. Aside from Kenzo, I think not too far after that, Gaultier and Montana and all those other brands also looked to the West for inspiration. America was dominant with their denim brands. I like looking at these times, especially when these kinds of Americanisms come into these Parisian houses, because I feel like we're today's version of that. Where I'm looking at both and really kind of saddled between balancing my American side with the heritage of the Japanese brand and us being a Parisian house. When that synergy can work, it makes the most modern expression.
Carol Lim (CL): That's what we've strived for from the beginning, is to always make this brand modern.

This collection is super motif-heavy. There is the wave, the bamboo, the tiger. Can you talk a little bit about how it's saturated in these prints?
HL: Kenzo Takada bought these wave prints early on, and his first motif onto the denim was the wave. In the history of the brand, that memento tiger is one of the first icons that he developed in the '70s. His original logo was a tiger with bamboo. Those feel very much a part of the history of the brand and that bamboo print was done in the same period of the '80s, when the denim was launched. From a story-telling perspective, it felt really interesting to kind of use these three motifs as anchors to the collection. We wanted to be pretty specific about what we were launching. Then there's the print with the bamboo with the tiger in it, which is actually an archival print. Memento is really based on archival and Carol and I are taking the archive and twisting it into modern times.
CL: We were telling a story through these icons of the brand. To me, I use the word 'icon' a lot in memento because it is meant to celebrate the icons of the brand.

Is there one that speaks to you the most?
HL: The wave is super-cool because I feel like it really harks back to Japan, and the tiger and the bamboo are inspired by his trips to Thailand. He travelled through 11 countries before he landed in Paris.
CL: I agree. The wave is cool because it's both historical for Japan, but it's also modern. It feels super-modern. When I think of brands I paid attention to growing up in California in a very kind of like surfer lifestyle, it feels like a really elegant and chicer version of what I would say is modern surf brand.

The collection also has some wildcard retro flourishes.
HL: We really went after the bucket hat. Growing up as a kid in the late '80s and '90s, the bucket hat was a staple of the era I grew up in.

A lot of what you guys do with Kenzo is very personal and it's connected to you guys as teenagers. Where does Britney Spears come into all this?
HL: I don't know how to word this eloquently. Number one, Britney Spears is an icon, so in terms of her iconography, she fits into our Memento project perfectly. We will remember her for the rest of everyone's lives as an icon. She's up there with Michael and Madonna and everyone who we consider icons. She is a legend in her field. In many ways, growing up, she is also synonymous with denim with me. When she and Justin came out in their denim outfits, that was an iconic moment. Do you remember that?

Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake at the American Music Awards in 2001.

Of course!
When we were designing the collection, I was like, "If I can have a dream person, who would I want to be in denim? It has to be Britney." Britney is the queen of denim. That was kind of the starting point. It was super-exciting to give Britney a different expression.

It's definitely a wildcard but it also makes perfect sense because she's both the quintessential American and also in a way, an eternal teenager.
 Totally. It's really interesting because you think about her career... She could have been attached to so many brands. She could have been the fashion of thousands of them, but she hasn't. This is the first time she's entering this foray, which is super cool and an honour for it to be Kenzo.

How was the shoot?
Oh. The shoot was great and the shoot was exciting. It was great to see Britney in her element. She would go on the set and just really be herself and move. That's what we ended up choosing, is a lot of these kind of great in-between moments or between Britney doing some of her classic moves. It was so cool to see her in her element because you realize why she's Britney Spears. She has an incredible body; she can dance like no other.
CL: When she walks onto set, she's really professional. She just owned it... The minute she got into the outfit, she owned the stage. Her presence was really magnificent. That was exciting.
HL: I look back to really iconic images of Cindy Crawford in the Pepsi ads and things like that and I feel in many ways, there are some amazing moments from this shoot that felt iconic.

Kenzo — La Collection Memento N°2 as modelled by Britney Spears is available in stores and online.