Felipe Oliveira Baptista has captured the founding spirit of Kenzo without directly reprising the past
Could this be the most joyous collection of the season? We are not referring specifically to Paris, since Kenzo presented their newest collection outside PFW. There have been so few exultant shows these past months, whether ‘phygital’ or not, that Kenzo’s autumn/winter 2021 joyous set of skip, spin, strut, sway, and swing was truly heartfelt and spellbinding. Felipe Oliveira Baptista has put what would usually be sombre autumnal moods under the spotlight of tremendous fun—and movement. These clothes are not only for within the parameters of domestic walls that are now work spaces, but also for moving in and, when the time permits (or a future that is held in high hope comes), dancing in, wherever you choose to be. The clothes move with the wearers unbounded, and with the same high and free spirit that the free-form moving projects. There’s a tender feeling of the tribal, the nomadic, the celebratory.
The whole presentation is, in fact, a frolic of some unknown jubilation. Watching it, you’d feel like moving along with the dancers (not models, right? Since they groove so well?). The clothes are not skimpy or body-hugging. They offer cold-weather coverage with massive yardage of fabrics, but we do not sense the clothes are encumbering. They turn and shift and stir as if gravity has minimal hold on them. They gesticulate as expressively as the wearers cavort in them joyfully. We want be part of the play-action, in those as-comfortable-as-blanket wraps and outerwear. Mr Baptista, in this presentation, seems to share the Japanese penchant for lively shows that show off the abstract or organic shapes of the clothes when in kinetic articulation. Issey Miyake comes to mind.
The clothes are not archive-driven, but they are evocative of the joie de vivre that the late Kenzo Takada himself brought to the runways of much of the ’70s. In fact, as Mr Baptista told the media later, the collection is dedicated to Mr Takada, whose designs—Oriental but not quite, with folksy details that didn’t necessarily trace to his native Japan—took Paris by storm for their untypical ease and roominess that contradicted the more soigné leanings of French couture. (Even those on the Yves Saint Laurent camp in that era, such as Loulou de la Falaise, were known to wear Kenzo.) For now, the nomadic and the folkloric are put through the lenses of the sporty and outdoorsy, concurrently amenable to strong colours (tone-on-tone!), unmissable stripes, and all-over flowers (hydrangeas!) that Mr Takada himself was partial to. But the effect is not a jumble. In fact, to describe the collection as kaleidoscopic might be overblown. These clothes have their own distinct personalities, not possessed by the ghost of its namesake founder, but expressed by a designer who clearly appreciates what the brand stands for and what it brought to fashion at the height of its popularity. It is refreshing that Mr Baptista embraced as much as he could a creator’s past once thought to be visionary, rather than leave it in the forgotten realm of long ago.
These are roomy clothes, but not the exaggerated over-sized shapes of some follow-the-trend houses, or those that deliberately churn out the anti-fit. That they are a-cultural and a-historical give them a decidedly contemporary power. We are particularly drawn to those pieces that can transform from bag to clothes and from clothes to other clothes. Or capes that can do so many different things. Versatility should be the new black! Even the menswear has an undefinable adaptability to them, being so gender-neutral. Captivating too are the dresses that really evoke the OG Kenzo—boat-necked, and seemingly cut flat and joined as if two rectangles (or three), or those quilted, full-skirted coat-dresses that hint at distant lands than familiar cities. If Zhang Yimou’s 1993 film The Story of Qiu Ju (秋菊打官司) were to be remade in a more fashionable setting, these could be what whoever shall play Gong Li’s role would wear. How delightful that would be.
Screen grab (top) and photos: Kenzo