Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
Kenzo seems intent on staying firmly approachable, and rather juvenile at that
The opening electronic strain of Firecracker, the 1978 track from Yellow Magic Orchestra’s eponymous debut studio album, truly has us washed over with nostalgia. That Tomoaki Nagao, aka Nigo, is inspired by Kenzo’s halcyon days also reminds us of the shows Kenzo Takada himself staged back then, when the latter, too, used the techno-exotica of YMO (was it Tong Poo, or La Femme Chinois, or both [in the album, the former segues into the latter], we can’t quite remember now). But our reminiscing stopped there. Mr Nagao told the press that he took the idea of the show, set in a school gymnasium, from a Kenzo presentation of the ’80s, then conceived to evoke a school sports day. But rather than connect that to something akin to, say, the atheleisure style of the present, Mr Nagao has chosen to base his designs on those details usually connected to the uniforms of sailors.
But the clothes are not what Querelle of Brest would wear. Jean Genet’s sea-faring protagonist was portrayed in far sexier togs, at least according to the daring illustrations of Jean Cocteau, which accompanied the first (limited) print run of the book in 1945, then anonymously published. Kenzo’s naval chic is much more in line with the sailor-style school uniforms—or seifuku—of girls worn in Japan since the 19th century that have become quite the symbol of the country itself. Many Japanese are proud of their school uniforms, so much so that the seikufus frequently appear in mangas, even with characters based on their naval-style dress, such as Akebi-chan no sailor-fuku (Akebi’s Sailor Uniform). The most obvious details that Mr Nagao incorporated are the hats and flap collars, which seem to be modelled after the Nagoya collar of seikufus, with the designer adopting, if this was indeed school, a more flexible discipline level to dress. Sailor collars over blazers?!
Under the maritime styles, we see something mundane: The looks are so surprisingly unsurprising that it is hard to imagine them desired by the hipsters that Kenzo seems to be targeting. These are not clothes to stand out in any given crowd, unless in a sea of actual seikufu wearers. There is no reimagining of the sailor suit (or collegiate wear) in ways that would render them not looking juvenile. Shirtless with just a vest littered with Kenzo labels and a pair of jeans? An aviator jacket with the initials KP (Kenzo Paris) and leggings? An off-shoulder, smocked top and A-line denim skirt? An ankle-length sundress and floral broach on the shoulder? Clothes that will delight Shein to no end? Sure, these are not John Galliano’s sailor boys and girls for Maison Margiela, circa spring/summer 2020, but we have been hoping that Mr Nagao would be less The Bathing Ape in his approach. Sure, there is nothing erroneous in paying attention to the school yard for ideas, but much of the pieces look like they would work for the cast of Grease. Or a prim High School Musical.
Yellow Magic Orchestra’s seminal first album used catchy oriental melodies to spoof the West’s obsession with the ‘exotic’ sounds of the Far East at a time when bands exploring the newly emerging futurist electronic music of the late ’70s and early ’80s (later termed ‘synth-pop’) were inspired by the German band Kraftwerk. YMO’s cheeky fusion of arcade game bleeps/blurbs and Chinese classical or folk music was new-sounding and totally delightful. Or, in the case of Tong Poo (the only track of the album entirely written by band member Ryuichi Sakamoto, and recently used by Junya Watanabe for his spring/summer 2022 and reissued), sonic mish-mash imagined as music the Beijing Symphony Orchestra could play. Mr Nagao’s second collection for Kenzo has no such glimmer of brilliance. Just like Firecracker, in actual fact, a remake (of American composer Martin Denny‘s music from the 1949 album Quiet Village), adapting the familiar for the unfamiliar. Whether the clothes pander or please, we can’t say for sure.
Kenzo has a new brand symbol, and it does not growl
Surprising it is not that Kenzo’s creative director Nigo would come up with a new logo of sort to mark the start of his reign at the LVMH-owned house. Mr Nigo (aka Tomoaki Nagao) is, after all, known for his cute graphics, as seen in A Bathing Ape (although the hirsute simian trade mark is not quite adorable) and Human Made. It is not known if the Kenzo tiger visage, first introduced by designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim in 2011 after Kenzo Takada’s stepping-down, will be retired or take a back seat, but it is quite obvious that the freshly-launched flower, a poppy-hued bloom of the quince bush known in Japan as a boke (pronounced as bo-kay), will be given immense prominence.
Flowers are, of course, almost synonymous with Kenzo, but a single bloom has never been used atop the logotype (now modified, also by Mr Nigo), as applied on the clothes (shown below). In fact, the five-petal flower is so seemly to the joie de vivre of the brand that we see it taking over the tiger in popularity very soon (wait till the Year of the Tiger is over!). There is a charming sweetness and innocence about the drawing, as if the outlined flower was plucked from a children’s book. The wide-eyed simplicity commensurate to the not-quite-intense fierceness of Mr Nigo’s street style.
Although the boke was shown in Mr Nigo’s debut Kenzo collection for autumn/winter 2022, an 8-piece limited-edition drop for the upcoming spring season will be available in Japan and official online store for the rest of the world, comprising a coach jacket (which the designer wore to take the bow at the end of the runway show), a five-button cardi, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a hoodie (oversized, of course), a pair of belted cargo pants and a version in the form of a skirt (both in a Japanese cotton twill that reportedly was inspired by the uniforms of Gurkhas), and even a blanket. Prices start from ¥34,100 (about S$400).
And just as unsurprising is Kenzo’s foray into offerings for the Metaverse. The brand has also announced that it will debut a limited-edition collection of 100 NFTs to celebrate the launch of the Kenzo Boke Flower collection, which we presume to be digital clothing with the said blossom used conspicuously. Wearable for your wardrobe or collectibles for your avatars? Perhaps it is not at all a choice.
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.
Louis Vuitton’s pre-fall 2022 offers headwear that we have seen at Kenzo’s spring/summer 2021
Left: Louis Vuitton. Photo: Louis Vuitton. Right: Kenzo. Photo: gorunway.com
We really do not wish to talk about the dead in not-so-glorious terms. But some things are just hard to ignore. Louis Vuitton has just released images of their men’s pre-fall 2022 (that’s another confusing season/category), reported to be designed by the late Virgil Abloh, and was finished and photographed before his shocking demise. Among his usual take on workwear-meets-streetwear-meets-sportswear mix-ups, one single item stood out, not because it is incoherent with the looks of the collection, but because it is very similar to those already shown very recently: the beekeeper’s hat and veil. Now, we resist the C-word here, but being inspired by someone else’s idea from not too long ago: we really do not know what else to call that.
In fact, from just last year, when Felipe Oliveira Baptista showed very similar head wear for Kenzo spring/summer 2021, which also included those for men (see photo, top right). Mr Baptista’s version were offered in assorted hat shapes and veils of different volumes and, fabulously, lengths. Some are packable too. They came at the height of the pandemic, when face shields were among the options for protective gear not amounting to the PPE. It is not clear what the adoption rate of these beekeeping wear was, but they made for one rather unforgettable collection of that season.
Now, we have Louis Vuitton also doing these hat-and-face-coverings. Mr Abloh had, in fact, in the past year or so, been rather into obscuring the face, just like pal Kanye West (now rumoured to be succeeding his friend!). This veiling comes after he did a Richard Quinn! Is this beekeeper’s shield also homage to something done by someone else Mr Abloh admired? Or, in the age of the hack, just a simple trick to share output of what is already part of the luxury group (Kenzo belongs to LVMH)? Even if they come in LV’s monogram and the graffiti prints of the Milan-based artist/tattooist Ghusto Leon, are they less first-seen-somewhere-else (some of Kenzo’s veils were printed too)? Or, as we have lamented before, is the world really so confusing to make out?
Some wearable mementoes to remember him by before he is completely forgotten
Do people even remember that Kenzo Takada was a real person? Many Gen-Z consumers that we have spoken to recently did not realise that Balenciaga is the moniker of an actual human being (there were those who struggled to recall the first name)! Ditto for Saint Laurent—few remember Yves, let alone how to pronounce it. None could describe how either designer looked like. When we asked who among designers no longer around that they might recognised, all said Karl Lagerfeld. Not surprising: up till now, two and half years after his death, brand Karl has not stopped producing images and dolls, such as the K/Ikonic collectible, in the likeness of the man. Even without these playthings, who’d forget the Kaiser when his silhouette is part of his logo?
Eleven months after Kenzo Takada passed away due to complications from COVID-19 and just a week after the announcement that Nigo will take the helm as artistic director of Kenzo, the Paris-based house has announced that a capsule Kenzo Takada Tribute Collection will be launched this week in Japan via the e-commerce platform Zozovilla (part of Zozotown) that is dedicated to luxury brands. This release could be an attempt to enshrine the legacy of Kenzo Takada by personifying, even just graphically, the man himself on something as mundane as a T-shirt, a sweatshirt, and a hoodie. In death, Kenzo Takada becomes a streetwear icon?
This trio of tops (in different colours), reportedly part of the autumn/winter 2021 collection—a reinterpretation of archival pieces, put together by an in-house team—sport a lined silhouette of the designer with his longish hair and what appears to be spectacles, taking up sizeable real estate on the chest. His recognisable signature is placed under the left jawline. The sum is part kawaii, part hippie. According to Japanese media, the T-shirt will be sold for ¥22,000 (approximately S$269), the sweatshirt for ¥39,600 (S$485), and the hoodie for ¥53,900 (S$660). Not too wallet-straining if remembering someone you admire by wearing his likeness close to your heart truly matters.
The Kenzo Takada Tribute Collection launches in Japan on 25 September. It is not yet known if it will be available in the Kenzo stores here.
Update (13 October 2021, 3pm): the collectionis now available at Kenzo stores. Photos: Kenzo
Nigo has been appointed the new designer for Kenzo. Really!
It was announced a short while ago that Japanese multi-hyphenate Nigo will join the LVMH-owned Kenzo as the brand’s new artistic director. This appointment is surprising as few had thought that the creative helm of Kenzo would be returned to the Japanese. Born Tomoaki Nagao, the founder of A Bathing Ape (the brand pulled out of our island in May this year) is often described as “the OG designer stalwart” of Japanese streetwear and the street culture that followed. The 50-year-old is no longer associated with the simian brand he created, but his links to streetwear is undiminished, not just in his homeland, but throughout much of the world, cemented by his friendship with Pharrell Williams and the like, even helping the Happy singer launch The Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream. The news of Mr Nagao’s appointment, released on Kenzo’s official Twitter account, was met with tremendous enthusiasm online. Twitter user and streetwear retailer @ChaseNCashe posted, “Sign me all the way up for the Nigo Kenzo wave”.
LVMH’s pick for Kenzo leaves no doubt as to which direction the luxury conglomerate wishes to point Kenzo to. The world’s largest luxury group has installed a streetwear designer to oversee the artistic direction of one of their brands before—most notably Virgil Abloh, a Nigo admirer, for Louis Vuitton’s menswear. Kenzo itself, in fact, went through the oscillation of aesthetic change when Carol Lim and Humberto Leo of Opening Ceremony joined the company in 2012 as co-creative directors. The brand took a decidedly street-bent turn and was, by many accounts, successful because of that. It found new, younger customers, but such a following came at the expense of design quality. With gaudy graphics and loud logos to keep the brand buoyant and customers spending, Ms Lim and Mr Leo turned out to be two of Kenzo’s longest-serving CDs—seven years in total—after Antonio Marras (also seven).
When the Opening Ceremony duo departed Kenzo in 2019, LVMH picked Lacoste’s designer, the Portuguese, Felipe Oliveira Baptista as their replacement. Kenzo Takada died a year later from complications due to COVID-19. We are fans of Mr Baptista’s output for Kenzo. He kept to the original spirit of the brand without traipsing too aggressively into the territory of streetwear, yet, at the same time, he was able to give the brand a renewed vigour that was decidedly modern. But, like his predecessors after Kenzo Takada’s withdrawal from the brand he built, such as Gilles Rosier and Mr Marras, both passionately retaining the “romance” of the label’s DNA, Mr Baptista was not able to make Kenzo the cash cow that other brands of the LVMH stable are.
Kenzo store at MBS
A corporate statement was posted on LVMH’s website. It quoted Mr Nagao saying, “I am proud to have been appointed Artistic Director of Kenzo. I was born in the year that Takada Kenzo san opened his first store in Paris. We both graduated from the same fashion school in Tokyo. In 1993, the year that Kenzo joined the LVMH Group, I started my career in Fashion. 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. Inheriting the spirit of Kenzo san’s craftsmanship to create a new Kenzo is the greatest challenge of my 30-year career, which I intend to achieve together with the team.” Yes, we noted the capital F for fashion too.
When we mentioned Mr Nagao’s appointment to an SG designer who formerly worked in Tokyo, he merely said, “Aiyo”. It is debatable if A Bathing Ape is still what it was. No one could say for certain why the brand was sold to Hong Kong’s I.T Group in 2011. Mr Nagao left the brand two years later. He joined Uniqlo in 2014 as the creative director of the retailer’s sub-brand UT (a T-shirt line), after creating Human Made four years earlier. Despite his seemingly prolific output and unceasing global projects and collaborations, it is hard to determined if his brands are that successful or if he, as a designer, is that creative. To some, Mr Nagao is just a T-shirt designer. One successful item associated with Nigo is A Bathing Ape’s first footwear, the Bapesta sneaker, which, popularity aside (BBC’s Jonathan Ross describes it as the “epitome of collectable footwear”), is really based on another sneaker, Nike’s Air Force 1.
Tokyo is not only the capital of Japanese fashion, it is also the heart of Japanese streetwear. It is curious that in this throbbing hub, only Nigo stood out for LVMH. When we discussed this with a marketing consultant who keenly observes the Japanese fashion design scene, he said, “I can understand Kenzo preferring a Japanese designer, but if they need a streetwear fellow, why not Undercover’s Jun Takahashi, a contemporary of Nigo’s. Undercover is unjustly described by the Western press as a ‘streetwear brand’. While I can see the appeal to streetwear consumers, Jun Takahashi in my mind is a better, technically superior designer, who’s also good in womenswear. Kenzo needs someone with a more sophisticated sense of how to bridge the past and the present.”
Obituary | The founder of his namesake label succumbed to this year’s most dreaded disease
One death from COVID-19 that was widely reported last night did not emerge from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Maryland, Washington D.C., but from the American Hospital of Paris in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a commune in the West of the French capital. According to numerous news agencies, Kenzo Takada passed away due to complications from COVID-19, making him possibly the first renowned fashion name to die of this coronavirus infection. The founder-designer of the eponymous label—now owned by LVMH—was 81, and succumbed to his illness just five days after the spring/summer 2021 showing by the label’s current designer Felipe Oliveira Baptista.
With a style considered by many to be a “free-spirited aesthetic”, Mr Takada was what we today would call a trending sensation. In the ’70s, he, alongside Yves Saint Laurent, proved that ready-to-wear could be creatively conceived as the next (big) thing to haute couture and its attendant system. For four years he worked as a free-lance styliste—as Karl Lagerfeld did—after getting to Paris in 1964, the year of Japan’s first Olympics in Tokyo. Members of the media hitherto like to say how he arrived in the port of Marseilles by boat (as if it was more exotic. Mr Lagerfeld surely did not arrive in Paris via sea route!). Although commercial air travel had been available for 50 years, it was still expensive at that time to travel by air. Mr Takada himself recalled that back then in Japan, it was easier to get a passport than a plane ticket. The boat imagery would not fade. According to some reports, one Parisian astrologer told Kenzo in 1969, “You are going to be world famous and rich… rich enough to travel around the world in a huge boat!”
He was born about 50 kilometres to the east of Kobe, in a rather isolated town of Himeji, known for the stately, 674-year-old Himeji Castle (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), which remained intact despite heavy bombing during World War II by the United States’ XXI Bomber Command. Mr Takada’s family operated an inn (some reports say teahouse) when he was a boy, growing up in a household of seven children. To satisfy his parents’ wishes, Mr Takada, at 18, attended the University of Kobe, where he studied literature, but found the subject unsatisfying. He dropped out and moved to Tokyo to attend the famed Bungka Fashion College, where he was one of the first batch of male students (another was Mitsuhiro Matsuda). In 1960, he won the prestigious Soen Prize and the rest was fate prepping his impending renown.
Mr Takada’s designs were not what Parisians familiar with couture were used to: youthful, loose-fitting, light, fun, and a mish-mash of ethnic influences
Mr Takada’s early professional days in Paris was as a freelancer. His first sketches were sold to Louis Feraud, whose wife Gigi reportedly bought five of them at US$1 a piece. In April 1970, just five years after stepping on Parisian soil (on which he had initially thought of staying for just six months), Mr Takada debuted a collection in his first boutique—called Jungle Jap—in Galerie Vivienne, a covered passageway/arcade first built in 1823. That collection, by most accounts, was considered a success. There were mini-kimonos in floral prints, knitted shorts, playful scarves, and even aprons in conflicting colours. It was all rather a happy clash—pieces of fabrics, mostly cotton, found in Paris and pieces bought in Tokyo (he returned home before the first show), pulled together with folksy embroidery. Everything could be mixed and matched. Mr Takada’s designs were not what Parisians familiar with couture were used to: youthful, loose-fitting, light, fun, and a mish-mash of ethnic influences, not always from Japan. The French—and soon global—press loved this cherry blossom-dappled blast from the East.
Kenzo Takada’s popularity, especially in his adopted city of Paris, was amazing for a newcomer and a non-European. At that time, he was the only Asian designer working in Paris. Unlike the other Japanese after him, Mr Takada arrived in the French capital as an unknown: In Tokyo, he was only an anonymous “company designer”, as such a job was known then (the one company often cited was Sanai, a now-defunct chain store). His compatriots who came later—Issey Miyake (1973), Hanae Mori (1977), Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo (both 1981) were, more or less, established designers back home (Ms Mori started in the ’50s). It could have helped that the set-up of his first boutique in the space that was then described as a “dump” was the anti-thesis of a couture atelier, augmenting the exotic factor of his origin story. He spruced up the place himself, painting the walls with tropical leaves and flowers, as homage to Henri Rousseau’s Snake Charmer. Upstairs his friends sat behind sewing machines to sew. The clothes flew off the racks.
There was a social component too. Back in the ’70s, Mr Takada was very much a part of the Paris beau monde, and hung out in the same club that Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld did: Le Sept—the Paris version of the New York discotheque Studio 54 (but Le Sept opened earlier, in 1968). It was a heady mix of thumping music, total glamour, and free-flow of alcohol. According to Loulou de la Falaise, Mr Saint Laurent’s veritable muse and a friend too of Mr Takada, in all the partying, “Kenzo and Yves were the ones who paid, the ones who could foot the bill.” This could be indication that Mr Takada was already sufficiently well-known and financially successful in the early ’70s (with a reported revenue that amounted to US$10 million by 1977). According to Ms de La Falaise, “Kenzo was the first competition Yves had in years. They greatly admired each other. Kenzo really invented the laid-back look; his stuff was not so proper.” In 1976, Jungle Jap gave way to Kenzo and a spanking new flagship in the more upmarket Place des Victoires.
In the ’80s, winds of change could be felt in Paris, but this time, without the whiff of cherry blossoms. The duo anarchists of Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo (via Comme des Garçons) had arrived in Paris, with deconstructed looks that suggested “Hiromshima’s revenge”. Everyone in Paris was talking about them. Mr Takada, too, joined the conversation. “(They) were a big shock to the system,” he later recalled to the media. “But I understood their construction of the garment. What really threw me were (Thierry) Mugler and (Claude) Montana, and then Azzedine (Alaia). For me, someone like Montana was the polar opposite of what I was doing. Fashion had changed completely.” Not only was the wind from Japan blowing, the dizzying mood from within Paris was rising: Mugler with a vampy space cadet look, Montana and his suited fierceness (and upturned collars), and Alaia with his concentration on the body.
The pressure was on. Rumours emerged that Kenzo the label was not doing well and the designer was under tremendous stress to churn out clothes that had to capture the rage of the moment. By the mid-’80s, while the company was growing, the turnover declined. “I had to follow trends and I was not happy,” Mr Takada had said. It seemed Kenzo had stalled on a creative plateau. The unhappiness permeated the brand and it lost the energy with which it seduced the world in the ’70s. In 1993, Mr Takada sold his brand to LVMH for a reported US$80 million, and continued designing till his retirement in 1999, which coincided with Kenzo’s 30th anniversary. After he left the fashion house he built, he turned to painting and costume design; he also dabbled in home furnishings through Gokan Kobo, the lifestyle brand he conceived in 2004 and interior design through the firm he co-owned, K3, formed early this year.
In the past decade, Mr Takada was a rather frequent visitor to Singapore under the auspices of the now-quiet, mission-unclear Asian Couture Federation (ACF), spearheaded by the also now-muted Frank Cintamani. In one of his last sojourns here—in 2014, when he attended the 1st anniversary gala celebration of the ACF as its Honorary President, Mr Takada told SOTD that he was “happy to be an observer of fashion.” He added cheerfully, “I don’t have to do it to enjoy it.” When asked if he could contribute to a couture (by name mostly) federation when he had not been a couturier, he seemed amused, and said cheerfully, with diplomacy intact, “I am just supporting them. There are many talents in Asia.” For many that night, Kenzo Takada was the elder statesman of Asia’s still fledgling fashion world. In Paris yesterday, mayor Anne Hidalgo posted on Twitter that the city was “today mourning one of its sons.”
Felipe Oliveira Baptista’s sophomore outing for Kenzo is protective gear that is not quite PPE. But beekeepers will get it
Kenzo’s Felipe Oliveira Baptista sure knows how to move with the times. For the follow-up to his debut collection for the house, he showed clothes with protective components, but nary a single face mask. Instead, there were the beekeeper’s hat and veil, and fascinating variations of them. We can’t be sure if, outside apiculture, these covering will not arouse curiosity. Unless you are a 6th century Chinese xianu (侠女, swordswoman)! Face shield are, of course, not encouraging stares any more (even fellow LVMH brand Louis Vuitton is selling them), so it is possible that stylish beekeeper gear may blend in the company of other virus-shielding coverings.
Keeping oneself from aggressive bees was not the only potential attack Mr Baptista was concerned with. Four of the hat-and-veils go all the way to the feet, not unlike a burqa. Total protection. That, to us, looked like mosquito netting, which is, of course, really useful in this part of the world, where mozzies carrying the dengue virus are a very real and serious threat, even indoors. Double protection—from bees and mosquitoes (who knew Mr Baptista has such entomological pursuits?)! Would it be a more affordable alternative if we took one from some infant’s baby hammock? But it would be near impossible to nick a floral mosquito netting.
Some of the nettings (the men get theirs too) are part of outerwear (for men as well), which looked to be Mr Baptista’s strength. These are lightweight coats, some possibly rainwear (we could not really tell), with zip fastening so that the hat and veil can be removed when not required, or when no insect is buzzing around. Take away the gimmicky netting (some are packable!) and we see a few intriguingly cut and draped dresses—with piping that meanders trough the bodice, with lace and (more) netting in asymmetric configurations, and with cut-outs and those holes that appeared to be the result of the swirling of fabrics. There was quite a lot to fascinate and delight.
As we go into the final fashion weeks of the big four, it seems that designers are largely split into two camps: a low-key approach that corresponds with the mood of the moment and a high-octane push that seems to punch above the less than positive energy surrounding fashion now. Felipe Oliveira Baptista struck a balance: Offer something visually compelling and, at the same, score with pieces that are wearable—even cute, with utilitarian details (more useful pouch pockets!) and carryable veils and nettings (some can be folded into bags). Mr Baptista has proposed that, while we drive ahead with restoring normalcy in our lives, fashion need not take a backseat.
Felipe Oliveira Baptista steadies Kenzo with a strong debut by going places, and with some desirable outerwear
For a long time, Kenzo the label has lost its way. Under the stewardship of Opening Ceremony founders Umberto Leon and Carol Lim, the brand began to waver after a promising start, adrift in the sea of aimlessness. At some point, Kenzo became what is thought to be “entry-level fashionista”. It, too, was street in a way founder Kenzo Takada probably never intended, and lost its initial cool veneer just as Open Ceremony was beginning to shed its down-town edge. Under their watch, Kenzo became widely associated with T-shirts and hoodies bearing the frontal face of the house tiger, with the Kenzo logo across an already busy delineation, what some euphemistically called “playful branding”. The tiger and the logo were, at one point, gaudily embroidered, and so poorly that the standing joke among some local fashion professionals was that even the same-same on the road side stalls of Guangzhou, shoppers are not picking them up. Kenzo became the de facto brand for shampoo girls trading up to designer labels.
Then in came Felipe Oliveira Baptista, who was head of design at Lacoste until 2018 (his position filled by Louise Trotter, formerly from Joseph). Prior to his tenure with the Alligator, the Paris-based Portuguese had his own eponymous haute couture label before ending it in 2009, reportedly to concentrate on his remunerated duties. The media was mostly thrilled with Mr Baptista’s surprising appointment, noting that his eight years at Lacoste allowed the French label to earn in access of €2bn annually, mouthwatering enough to lure LVMH, owner of Kenzo, into making him an irresistible employment offer. A couturier with a flare for sportswear must have added to Mr Baptista’s professional appeal.
What’s heartening is that Mr Baptista did not merely expand on what the Opening Ceremony duo did before, except to reprise the tiger, but differently (it was said that the two found running tigers inside waistbands and jackets in the Kenzo archive, and introduced the first of the embroidered cat on a sweater in the autumn/winter season of 2012). This time, the tiger takes the form of those imagined in the ’80s by Lisbon-based painter, the late Júlio Pomar.
Or, make it Lacoste 2.0. Rather, Mr Baptista salutes Kenzo’s nod-to-nature heritage through the eyes of an adventurer/traveller who absorbs the dress of a people as readily as the heritage of their land. Acknowledging to Financial Times that “there’s a nomadic spirit to Kenzo,” Mr Baptista delineates a world traveller with exploration, rather than expedition in mind. You have probably seen these individuals seized by wanderlust, backpacking to lands less travelled or coming from there, and then busking to earn their way back. Their clothes are oftentimes variations of the tunic, placing blanket-like comfort above trend-led restrictiveness.
Mr Baptisda’s Kenzo is, however, not Jungle Jap—Mr Takada’ first Paris store in Galerie Vivienne, opened in 1970, as well as a visual style that saw him wildly pastiche what he brought from Japan and what he saw in Paris. But, aesthetically, Kenzo the label was never identifiably Japanese, nor was it thoroughly French. Mr Takada drew from varied sources, from continents, from tribes, embracing globalism before it became the thing to enfold. In his final Paris show in 1999, that diversity came together in a delightfully heterogeneous collection that predates today’s call for inclusiveness amid the risk of cultural appropriation.
Mr Baptista takes the obvious, but paces them through less trodden routes. He adopts, for example, Mr Takada’s love of flowers, working them into avant-garde, cocoon-like forms (or as lining of coats), rather than the latter’s playful shapes, and the babushka by attaching large veil-like pieces to hang from the rear of caps and hats, sometimes covering shoulders like a blanket. Itinerant, too, does not have to mean embracing the gaudily exotic. Mr Baptista casts his sight beyond the usual ‘resort’ styles, beach wear, or details that tell of cultural character for what seems like those that hint at places further afield: the highlands, the grassland, possibly deserts, too. Appealing are the tunics (including those for men), the ponchos, the sweater dresses, all with the spirit of non-city travels.
It could be the clear break away from what Mr Leon and Ms Lim had established for Kenzo or the redefinition of a brand that, at least for now, appears to be merging borders. Regardless, this is a good start for Felipe Oliveira Baptista. And an exhilarating refresh for Kenzo. Question is, will the new abstract, painterly tiger face appeal as much as the former cartoonish, logo-like version? Much, much more, we hope.
Spring/Summer 2015 dots. From left: Kenzo Men, Marc by Mark Jacobs, Junya Watanabe, and Dolce & Gabbana
Not since George Clooney’s appearance on the cover of W in December 2013 as Polka Dot Man (well, not quite DC Comic’s supervillian) has polka dots been headline fashion news. How did things get so dotty is a little beyond our comprehension, but we think it has a lot to do with today’s weak preference for plain fabrics in solid colours. Of late, the fashion-consuming public seems to be enamoured of patterns, from floral to abstract shapes. We’re tempted to blame Givenchy’s Ricardo Tisci for it: thanks to him, stars (especially those that encircle the neckline) have led the way, peppering garments with repeated geometric shapes in the same vehemence once reserved for vintage illustrations.
The current fate of polka dots is sealed when Pharrell Williams introduced them to the Stan Smith, which, sadly, has lost much of its humbler looks since the pop singer re-styled the classic tennis shoe into sneakers that seem destined for the streets of Legoland. This is, to us, ironic as the Stan Smith’s appeal is in its inherent plain simplicity. Hipsters took to them as a stand against the over-designed excesses of designer kicks. Mr Williams’s initial dalliance with the Stan Smith saw him working bright colors into the shoe. Then he had them covered with micro-dots before spotting the current ones with those the size of doll-house saucers.
Clockwise from top left: Kenzo Nylon backpack, Pharrell Williams X adidas Originals Stan Smith, Hellolulu Ottilie backpack, Fred Perry Mini Classic Bag, Nike Roshe Run NM “City Pack” QS “NYC” and Comme des Garçons leather zip-top case
To us, polka dots are evocative of Mini Mouse’s dress and, inevitably, the oversized bow on her hair: clearly a cartoon celebrity in need of Smurfette’s stylist! They, too, remind us of Comme des Garçons, a label that has made repeated dots attractively modern. In all sizes (big, apparently, is better), they have been very much a part of the CDG graphic arsenal, and they appear in almost everything, such as those Croc-like slip-ons in collaboration with Native Shoes back in 2013 as well as those season-less Play cardigans worn by stars such as Justin Timberlake. That’s why, to us, Pharrel William’s new iteration for adidas Original’s Stan Smith (above, top right) is nothing new (the dots are embroidered on the leather upper, an idea first seen in Dior Homme shoes last season). It is really not beyond the ken of the average fashion follower that he took a page from the CDG playbook (perhaps to score extra points so that those shoes can be carried in Dover Street Market) rather than dream the pattern up.
Polka dots are to CDG what rectangles are to Mondrian. In fact, CDG loves them so much that black-filled circles, sometimes way larger than dinner plates, are used in their visual merchandising or as decorative motif for shop fronts or building facades. In 2010, when I.T Beijing Market (left), an offshoot of the brand’s retail business Dover Street Market, opened in Sanlitun of the Chinese capital, the blockish building’s façade was half-covered with oversized dots. In a neighborhood of ultra-sleek luxury brands such as the Euro-chic Miu Miu next door, I.T Beijing Market stood like a defiant upstart, striking as it is cheeky—a Damien Hirst in a sea of unadorned glass and severe concrete.
The thing about polka dots these days is that they have become rather gender-neutral. When once mostly women embrace them (the odd bow tie favoured by a few fellows did not mean they were popular with guys), today they are not conspicuously absent from men’s wear. Even blokes’ label Fred Perry has embraced them, introducing polka dots—noticeably large—with such regularity that they have become as recognisable as the brand’s laurel wreath (interestingly nearly as circular as a dot). Has the repeated dot then clearly become a sign of change for men’s attitude towards patterns? We’re not sure it’s clear enough.
From left: Kenzo’s current campaign image, Alexander McQueen + Damien Hirst scarf, Lanvin silk top
Welcome to a season of bugs. Have designers abandoned their horticulturist for their favourite entomologist, given the swarm of insect-inspired clothing and communication designs? It’s not an unreasonable assumption when pest is preferred to petal.
Fashion’s appropriation of insects is not necessarily a reflection of consumers’ changing attitudes towards creepy-crawlies. For the longest time, flowers, rather than bugs, were used for print on fabrics or appliqué on garment. In fact, bugs have traditionally appeared as jewellery rather than as clothing. From ancient Egyptian scarab rings to 18th Century Swiss beetle timepieces to present-time Cartier bee pendants and Gucci ladybug purses, insects have been used as accent pieces rather than motifs to flock the body. Considered irksome in nature, but admired in fashion, especially when rendered in precious metals and stones, even unsightly bugs such as the cockroach and the wasp have found favour among those who like their accessories off-beat. However popular they may become, it is doubtful that women will embrace beetle-covered skirts with the same zeal as those festooned with flowers.
The beetle print of a Lanvin silk blouse
Unlike floral print, bug motifs do not convey a sense of economic supremacy even when both blooms and vermin are products of nature. A woman emblazoned with roses, for example, may suggest wealth or person in possession of private grounds in which rose bushes thrive or the possibility of adventure in exotic (and expensive) locales, usually of cooler clime where the flora can flourish. Insects, on the other hand, point to places of questionable hygiene—usually dark and dank—or, like in Harry Porter, a predilection for the dark arts. Flowers are associated with aromatherapy, while insects with potions and spells!
Insectival styles are here to stay for a while. Squeamish or not, let not some trends be the season’s bugbear.