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Geometric tiger rugs, minerals such as concrete, white cement, mirrors and varying tones of marble, the brand new place that welcomes the S/S 2017 collection in Barcelona is as singular as the new Kenzo is. Since 2011, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim have been exploring the iconic brand through a streetwise lenses that could only cause a stir.


Humberto Leon and Carol Lim must be the fashion designer duo catching the Zeitgeist like no other – they do not look after the cool, they truly generate the cool. At Passeig de Gràcia 33, the artistic directors of Kenzo were inaugurating the 277m2 store fitted with this singular and effortless lines that Kenzo's signature is once again all about. The shopping experience has been orchestrated as part of an all-immersive brand experience – after all, Kenzo Takada created a culture myth when he brought his Jungle Jap in Paris in the 1970s, while kindly annoying Parisian rigorism. So we took the occasion of the celebration to meet with the two-headed creative core of the fashion house, to talk about the re-invention of Kenzo.

What did the legend of Kenzo use to recall to both of you?
Carol Lim: I think we discovered Kenzo in college, as we were collecting vintage, and we were always amazed by silhouettes and color and print. As we researched then understood the importance of his role in Parisian fashion. It makes sense to us; so we've been super, super excited to learn more and more about the collections, him, his journey and all of it. It was everything that we thought it would be as we were discovering the clothing and even more.
When you took up the reins in 2011, the average female customer was 65 years old – these days she is younger, adventurous, boldly stylish and purely cool. What were the actions you took to lead this shift?
Humberto Leon: We did a bunch of things, I mean when we first joined the brand there the runway was couture and the commercial part was casual and we kinda decided to get rid of those categories and just make one collection that was for everybody. So I think that in itself changed the attitude of the brand. I think that was really important. And then all our advertising, all our branding efforts just brought a different tone to how we approach the brand.
For six years you've been mastering it, what are Kenzo's new codes and icons?
Humberto Leon: I think we've brought energy to the brand, we brought fun, excitement.
Carol Lim: Inclusiveness.
Humberto Leon: Not taking the brand seriously, globally. All these things. I mean when we took the brand, I would say over 50% of it was in France. Now it's a global brand. 
How did you imagine this new space in Barcelona? What kind of shopping experience have you tried to build up in this shop?
Humberto Leon: This shop is an interesting lay out. It's kind of a weird layout: one of the things that we decided to do was to simplify the concept because in many ways you're coming to these weird little rooms. We didn't want to overwhelm the clothing. And we always have ideas that we want the clothing to speak for itself. So we work with this architect Rafael de Cárdenas. They came up with all this great new fixtures for us that would add a modular whimsical fixturing to the place.

How would you position this new experience into the massive online shopping habits?
Carol Lim: I think that retail and physical stores are not gonna go away. I think there is almost a return to coming into a store, feeling the product and engaging with the staff. I mean that's super important, so I think we're proud to have a lot of retail stores, and continue to grow. This is kind of a neutral concept and we're excited cause we're really gonna focus on retail in the coming years.
You've also reshaped Kenzo's aesthetic – from couture to streetwear, you're mixing urban lines with exoticism and high-end clarity like Kenzo himself used to do. Coming from Opening Ceremony well-known for featuring niche and upcoming designers, how are these two perspectives actually brought together into the artistic direction of Kenzo?
Carol Lim: They don't combine but the approach is exactly the same. We approach the creative process in a similar way, but there are different brands with distinct identities and stories. So I think we share similarities in how we design and approach all the elements – how we develop the store. Because at Opening Ceremony we do everything.
Do you tend to inject some avantgarde into it?
Humberto Leon: Yeah. I don't know avantgarde, but we definitely try to bring different things to Kenzo, and we definitely experiment a lot, with the collection, with the films. There is a lot of experimentation, which I guess is the definition of avantgarde.
With Opening Ceremony you've been exploring and celebrating the world as a fantastic repertoire of style – do you also find in your position at Kenzo a fulcrum to experiment the richness of cultures?
Humberto Leon: For sure, I mean we definitely try to bring in as much culture as we can to Kenzo. In every aspect, whether it's working with artists, or an organization. Every show that we have we work with a specific musician that does a soundtrack for our shows, everyone from Blood Orange to M.I.A to the XX. So we definitely find a way to merge culture into the brand, which I think it's important. 
You once said that your duo is really about storytelling: what's the storytelling for next season Autumn/Winter 2017?
Carol Lim: The inspiration started around a commentary on what we are thinking about and what's important to us.
Humberto Leon: So there are a lot of environmental issues that we brought into the collection. Thinking about this idea of Arctic surfing, and asking the question is there where we are heading as humans? Are we gonna start surfing in the snow? That was almost like a rhetorical question.
Carol Lim: The fact that a lot of things that would be normal in the world where we grew up have now flipped on its head. I think of the way we treat the Earth and keep of thinking it's gonna be around for ever and that it's disposable. I mean, in New York it's been extremely warm, and floods in California – all this is directly related.
Humberto Leon: So we presented the collection as a satire, and that's how we started the conversation. We ended up working with two big environmental organizations – Ideas for Us and Earth Guardians – helping them to support some of their causes. The collection was about that, we decided to act upon it as a company and help these organizations.

Words
Doria Arkoun
Fotos
Marc Medina

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