Nigo’s first collection for Kenzo brings the show back to where it all began. A charming start for the founder of A Bathing Ape
Nigo taking a bow at the end of his first Kenzo collection. Screen grab: kenzo.com
A Japanese, designing a collection for a label founded by a compatriot, debuts where the brand began its journey is not exactly the stuff of emotional pull. Yet, there is something charming about Nigo—on his passport it reads Tomoaki Nagao—going back to where Kenzo Takada opened his first store, Jungle Jap, and staged his first show: Galerie Vivienne, north of the Louvre in the 2nd arrondissement. Not just the actual venue, but in the spirit of the clothes too. To be sure, there is nothing retro about the show and the men’s and women’s collection. Galerie Vivienne looks swanky, not the same space that housed a little shop offered to Mr Takada cheaply back at that time. And Mr Nigo is a streetwear star not from America. This is like a manga classic remade, and respectfully rendered.
Trace it to the outset, that itself is unusual in that so very few designers desire to reprise the house codes of the brand they’re tasked to revive or make more visible. Making a mark is more important for a designer’s debut collection than really revisiting the legacy of the label. Mr Nigo’s looking at the halcyon periods of Kenzo, specifically of the ’80s, is reverential without being duteous. There is a free spirit about the looks, just as there was back in 1970, a collection reportedly made from a puny US$200 of fabrics. Mr Nigo clearly had significantly more than that. But as it was in the past, these are clothes to live and move in. There is nothing precious about them, not a tad delicate either. Kenzo’s clothes in the early years were so fun-seeming and so not soignée that the members of two major fashion camps at that time—one aligned to Yves Saint Laurent, the other to Karl Lagerfeld—were willing to risk charges of disloyalty to wear Kenzo.
“Kenzo san’s approach to creating originality was through his understanding of many different cultures. It is also the essence of my own philosophy of creativity,” Nigo wrote on Instagram following his appointment as CD at Kenzo. Philosophy of creativity is not necessarily tenet of design. Although also an alumnus of Bunka Fashion Collage (he once said that what he learned from Bunka was “zero”. The best thing was meeting Jun Takahashi of Undercover), as Mr Takada was, both men’s approach, we sense, are quite different. Mr Takada had always worked a significant measure of romance into his designs, while Mr Nigo, if we go by what he has done for A Bathing Ape and, recently, with Louis Vuitton (together with the late Virgil Abloh), has always been, for a lack of a better word, street. Surprisingly, his Kenzo isn’t an amalgamation of A Bathing Ape, Billionaire Boys Club, Store by Nigo, and Human Made.
The men’s looks are, unsurprisingly, better conceived than the women’s, at least for now. Kenzo is synonymous with floral prints, bold graphics, and vibrant colours—not necessarily in that order. Nigo takes all that and mixes the prints and patterns (sometimes no mixing at all) with considerable ease, and, at the same time, not trying too hard with the necessary visual branding. There is something almost collegiate about the styling. Some observers think that this is not an impactful first collection. “Boring” is bandied about, even “awful”. Is fashion waiting for the next Demna? Look what happened to Mr Nigo’s predecessor Felipe Oliveira Baptista. Kenzo Takada was never a radical designer, such as Issey Miyake (whose Miyake Design Studio was founded in the same year as Kenzo, but the Paris collection didn’t debut until 1973, when prêt-à-porter was institutionalised). Nigo has never assembled a ready-to-wear line of this scale. That he has produced a collection of considerable joy and with heart is an encouraging start.