Kenzo Reminds Us Of The Immigrant Stories That Shape The Fashion Industry

Photo: Courtesy of Kenzo.
Kenzo Takada left his native Japan in 1964 when he was just 25 and fresh out of fashion school. The story goes that he travelled by boat to Paris, with little plan other than to find success as a designer. Within four years, he opened a boutique called Jungle Jap — which would evolve into his now world-renowned namesake label, Kenzo. Takada officially retired in 1999, but his self-made success story still deeply resonates with where the brand is today. Its current creative directors, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, reminded the fashion crowd of Kenzo's roots at its Paris Fashion Week show dubbed "La Collection Memento Nº1," which featured prints and motifs from some of Takada's early collections from the '70s and '80s — a nod to the beginning of his immigrant story.
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The first spark of inspiration came from the rich, iconic campaign for Kenzo's '83 collection, shot by Hans Feurer. The bold, warm colours and floral prints set the tone for more archival research, which drove Leon and Lim to resurrect and revamp various textiles, patterns, knits from AW71, AW81, and AW83. To tie it all together, Kenzo hosted guests at its headquarters for Memento Nº1. Takada was sitting front row.
“Our intentions have never been to create a collection that feels historical," Leon told WWD. Takada's journey, though, is not only powerful, he noted, but it's also representative of the familiar narrative of foreigners coming to a new place, establishing themselves, and thriving in that environment. (Last year, the 78-year-old designer received the French Legion of Honour). What's more, his early work reflects the aesthetic marriage of two different cultures, according to Leon: "There was that parallel he was always looking at in terms of these kimono details, mixed with almost French uniforms, and that was always part of his vibe."
Photo: Courtesy of Kenzo.
Photo: Courtesy of Kenzo.
Despite the rich archive available to them, Leon and Lim haven't really made much use of Kenzo's past collections and imagery since they took over the brand in 2011. In recent seasons, though, the duo has made more direct references to Takada's legacy, by bringing back specific graphics and logos or by resurrecting some of the most impressive garments he created for the house (such as the ribbon dress they recreated for the Kenzo x H&M collaboration last year).
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Photo: Courtesy of Kenzo.
Photo: Courtesy of Kenzo.
Although Memento Noº1 wasn't a hit with some critics, it did represent something much bigger, especially in the wake of a highly-politicised Fashion Month: Leon and Lim's tribute to Takada's immigrant origin was a subtle, sincere way to address a topic weighing heavily on many individuals in both the United States (with Trump's immigration order), and in France (where uncertainty of who will win its upcoming election very much exists). It wasn't a statement that was meant to be Instagrammed, staged in a way that would encourage (and ensure) a social media response. Rather, it was woven into the collection — much like multiculturalism is woven into the company. Plus, it reminds onlookers of the role immigrants have played in shaping fashion over the decades, and how the industry has benefited from welcoming outside voices, experiences, and ideas. If the message wasn't clear during the show, attendees were then served Syrian food for dinner, according to the Hollywood Reporter's Booth Moore, to make the parallel that much more apparent.

Kenzo finale

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"We chose chef Mohammad Elkhaldy to celebrate the talent of immigrants and refugees, who bring rich knowledge to the human landscapes of both Paris or New York, where we split our time," Leon and Lim told Refinery29 in a statement. "The food at our dinner was celebrated alongside the clothes on the runway, opened by Alex Wek, and the performance afterwards by Lauryn Hill. We wanted to tell a full story by celebrating different talents and backgrounds through a holistic experience."
Of the collection, the designers wrote in a press release: "[Takada's] path-breaking success opened doors for many foreign designers to come to Paris with similar dreams to make their name in the global fashion capital, and thus created the catalyst for many new and exciting points of view within the world of French fashion. This spirit of openness is still very much alive. Paris is still Paris."
This story has been updated with a statement from Humberto Leon and Carol Lim.
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