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Kenzo designers Humberto Leon & Carol Lim on their H&M collab

Kenzo designers on their new H&M collab

Photographed by Owen Bruce Author: Stéphanie Chayet

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Kenzo designers Humberto Leon & Carol Lim on their H&M collab

Kenzo designers Humberto Leon & Carol Lim tap into a frenetic mix of influences and fairy-tale bursts of colour to bring H&M's latest collab to life. 

Humberto Leon kneels to adjust a tiger-striped boot, while Carol Lim buttons a long faux-fur coat that model Bhumika Arora has just slipped into. The scene is the first floor of a photography studio in Manhattan. Leon and Lim, co-creative directors for Kenzo, are going through the final try-on of their collection for H&M, which is still top secret. Perhaps to prevent a leak, the official date for announcing this collaboration—the 15th between the Swedish ready-to-wear giant and a major fashion house—has just been pushed forward and the air is charged with electricity. The racks are full of flowers and leopard spots, lime-green and bubble-gum-pink prints, pleated and quilted silk, kimono sleeves and flamenco dancer ruffles—in other words, an exotic wardrobe spiced up with streetwear, neon shades and animal prints: the Kenzo formula.

 

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Photography: Owen Bruce

 

Launching on November 3 in 250 stores worldwide and online, this collection confirms the success the duo has had stirring up the Parisian house, which was founded in 1970 by Kenzo Takada and sold to LVMH in 1993. Leon and Lim, best friends since meeting at the University of California, Berkeley, made their name with their Opening Ceremony stores, mixing young international designers, house collections and more established brands. “Their style is young, vibrant, playful and multicultural,” says Ann-Sofie Johansson, creative adviser for H&M and the director of the project. “It’s an approach we like.” Dedicated to expanding the reach of the label, Leon and Lim would be hard-pressed to find a better platform than this collab. “People want to be able to treat themselves to a small part of a legendary Parisian label without leaving their hometown,” says Leon. “These collaborations are meant to introduce exclusive brands to a new audience.”

The designers also see this as an opportunity to pay tribute to the brand’s heritage. Before now, Leon and Lim had not made use of the Kenzo archives. Having grown up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, they drew more upon California’s street-culture codes to rejuvenate the Parisian fashion house. Now, for the first time, they are fusing the present and the past. “We’ve brought back certain silhouettes and certain historic prints and closely combined them with our own,” they explain. “The entire collection is a dialogue between us and Kenzo Takada. The brand is almost 50 years old; it’s a good time to present its story to new generations.”

 

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Photography: Owen Bruce 

 

The backstory is one of a fashion-mad young Japanese designer who landed in Paris after a long ocean voyage and opened a boutique in the Galerie Vivienne as brightly coloured as a painting by Henri Rousseau. That was in 1970, and the brand was known as Jungle Jap. The fabrics came from Tokyo and Paris’ Marché Saint-Pierre, and the clothes were produced upstairs on a rented sewing machine. The impact was tremendous. Well ahead of the rest, Kenzo created a pop style that mixed all kinds of folklore, from Japanese flowers to African tribal motifs. His style was cheeky, fresh and accessible. His clothes were worn by the likes of Grace Jones and Jerry Hall and the young people who danced at Le Palace, Paris’ hottest nightclub in the late ’70s. An inveterate party person, Kenzo also spent his nights at clubs, surrounded by an exuberant band of friends.

When the LVMH group handed the keys to the house over to Leon and Lim in 2011, they had no problem relating to the founder. Like Kenzo, they started their designing career at the back of their own shop with whatever was at hand. Also like him, they surround themselves with people who feed their inspiration. “Kenzo Takada worked with musicians and artists,” they say. “With Opening Ceremony, we adopted the tradition of group creativity too. We believe in the idea of community.” The duo has tapped everyone from independent filmmaker Spike Jonze, actor Jason Schwartzman and fashion icon Solange Knowles to rocker Kim Gordon and the eternal It girl Chloë Sevigny. Leon and Lim’s affinity for the Parisian label is so natural that photographer Jean-Paul Goude, who knew Kenzo well at the height of his career, described them as the designer’s “spiritual heirs.”

 

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Photography: Owen Bruce 

 

The collaboration with H&M is reminiscent of Kenzo’s golden age: For example, details like ruffles edged with grosgrain ribbon are inspired by a collection from 1973 and a tiger-striped look is a reissue of a 1980s style. Leon and Lim’s contemporary touch is present in tiger sweatshirts and T-shirts (the landmark pieces of their reign), baseball caps, oversized varsity jackets, big leopard spots and reversible styles. Prices range from $14.99 for a monogrammed T-shirt to $549 for the flagship piece—a heavy ruffled dress with kimono sleeves constructed out of various prints from the collection. It’s a democratic style that looks like nothing else. And that was the original credo of Kenzo himself.

 

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Photography: Owen Bruce

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Kenzo designers Humberto Leon & Carol Lim on their H&M collab