Nigo is exactly what KENZO needs right now
On a solemn day in October 2020, before a chorus of wailing from the fashion world and friends far beyond, Japanese designer Kenzo Takada died at the age of eighty-one from complications from COVID -19. On social media and the pages of high-end fashion magazines, the praise was plentiful and sincere. And rightly so: Takada, along with people like Yohji Yamamoto, has opened the door for Japanese designers to claim their well-deserved right in traditional Western fashion. More importantly, Takada held this door open and urged the others to follow him. Others that undoubtedly include his newly appointed successor: BAPE founder and Teriyaki Boy, Nigo, who has just been officially announced to replace former Lacoste Creative Director Felipe Oliveira Baptista as big boss of solo design. of the brand.
I mention Takada’s passing here not to be tearful but because, of course, it’s a name and a legacy that is always worth mentioning. And also for another reason: because that was probably the last you heard of KENZO until Nigo’s hiring as art director became public knowledge on Wednesday. Before that? Possibly the H&M collection from 2016.
Honestly, who knows?
So it’s a meeting that, in many ways, makes perfect sense. Not because he’s also Japanese and Takada was a great sartorial nationalist – far from it, in fact; KENZO, after all, has long been headquartered in Paris and has always embraced designers from all over the world. No, that makes sense because Nigo is exactly what the KENZO brand needs right now.
A not entirely mistaken (but still slightly charitable) view is that KENZO is simply following in the footsteps of its other LVMH peers: having seen Louis Vuitton and Givenchy attract new audiences and generate substantial – if not always favorable – press by appointing streetwear designers to senior positions, it stands to reason that KENZO could use some of the same. Bringing in Nigo certainly fits the same mold as hiring a Virgil Abloh or a Matthew M. Williams.
But there are notable differences: First, A BATHING APE – a brand now fully entrenched in collective counter-cultural consciousness – is almost double the combined age of Abloh’s Off-White ™ and the 1017. Williams Alyx 9SM. Second, that Nigo founded Billionaire Boys Club in 2003 with Pharrell Williams and Human Made in 2010 alongside sk8thing, making both labels huge successes. And third, the fact that all of this, really, is a way of saying that – now at fifty – Nigo has an almost unmatched CV of nearly thirty years of groundbreaking design, brand building, and bustle on the ground.
It’s also worth mentioning that pointing out any cynicism on KENZO’s part here also completely rejects the brand’s history as a silent and constant maverick – of always making the choices that are right for the house rather than the choices that the convention does. current might otherwise dictate: Beyond that, perhaps Opening Ceremony celebrity Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, none of Nigo’s predecessors – Giles Rosier, Antonio Moras or the outgoing Baptista – have been named to make headlines or to “reinvent” the label. Rather, they were made to continue and build on Takada’s incredible work.
Something else such as skeptical analyzes ignore too: namely the possibility of streetwear fatigue in the fashion arena. Beyond those already mentioned, there are – among countless others – Demna Gvsalia at Balenciaga and Heron Preston working at Calvin Klein. And, with that in mind, there’s a good chance that haute couture’s appetite for relevance that comes with the weight of streetwear is waning – either after you’ve been sated and exploited to its limits, or because the industry doesn’t. t is not yet ready for what this means in terms of accessibility, democracy and diversity.
The point is, Nigo is not a novelty rental of any kind. Yes, it has weight – it has relevance to an audience that now spans generations of streetwear enthusiasts – but it also has the authenticity and the proven ability to create, organize and define. He’s spent years – decades, now, a lifetime – not, as many do, listening to what people want and reflecting to them, but rather showing us what streetwear could and should be, and what it means to build an identity and a community around these ideals.
None of this suggests, however, that we can assume a complete reimagining of the KENZO brand under the artful and contemporary leadership of Nigo. Yes, there will likely be changes – but they will be much needed, carefully choreographed turns.
Instead, we might expect a return to KENZO’s roots: to the accents and iconography that have the potential to make the Parisian house’s pieces so special – to the building blocks of the brand and to the foundational creative principles. of the brand. Nigo, of course, won’t be building this brand from scratch – but now he knows that’s where to start.
It has long been reported that Kenzo Takada’s first impression of Paris was a city of a “gloomy and dark” nature and it would be doing the late creator a disservice to suggest that KENZO, the label, aligned with his. And yet, it would be fair to say that – at least in recent years – the house may have succumbed to its surroundings and the rigors of the fashion industry schedule; Identity documents are too often found in leftover stores and stagnate at resale sites. It’s not what the label promised or what it was built upon, and Nigo – if one thing can be said for sure about his upcoming tenure – will not stand this way of thinking and working on it. ‘to come up.
It is without a doubt the start of a new era for KENZO. One that honors the legacy of its namesake and the potential that its name still carries.