In 1970, a Japanese designer named Kenzo Takada opened Jungle Jap, a boutique in Paris that sold clothes with an ethnic vibe. Fast forward 46 years later, Kenzo is now helmed by Carol Lim and Humberto Leon and IS the latest brand to collaborate with H&M. Talking to Harper’s BAZAAR, the duo discusses honouring diversity with this collection.
When H&M opened the doors to its SoHo store one November morning in 2004, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon were among those who thronged into the Swedish retail giant’s New York outpost, eager to get their hands on the limited pieces from Karl Lagerfeld’s collaboration line. “I can still remember it like it was yesterday,” Lim recalls. “There was so much excitement in the queue.” Twelve years later, things have finally come full circle for the duo, who went from being unknown faces in the jostling crowd to spearheading H&M’s latest designer collaboration as Creative Directors of KENZO. “When H&M approached us, we said ‘Yes’ right away,” Lim adds.
The new 107-piece collection, which hits selected H&M stores worldwide and online on 3 November, carries on the whimsical vein and joie de vivre spirit that catapulted its eponymous founder, Kenzo Takada, to fame in the ’70s. An eclectic selection of bulbous coats, bohemian dresses, colourful sweaters and charming accessories come fashioned from fabrics in graphic prints pulled together from the brand’s archives, updated with a modern, street-infused aesthetic that has made Lim and Leon’s remake of KENZO such a huge runway hit.
“To us, each H&M collaboration is unique because they have always felt like celebrations of the brands it is working with,” Leon says of their turn in H&M’s long list of collaborators, which includes Versace, Lanvin and most recently, Balmain. Individuality and inclusivity were important guiding principles for the brand under Takada’s charge, which makes the joint project with H&M extra meaningful for Lim and Leon. He adds: “It’s a real celebration of KENZO, and we can’t wait to share it with everyone.”
Related article: 15 Things From Kenzo X H&M We Cannot Wait To Get
Diversity is key at KENZO. How does that translate into your designs?
Carol Lim (CL): Diversity is something that’s totally natural to us. Everything we’ve ever done has been about bringing different people and cultures together. We’re really proud to be able to use KENZO x H&M to spread a message of diversity, and to give a platform to amazing creatives and activists like Amy Sall and Juliana Huxtable [who modelled for us].
Humberto Leon (HL): This diversity shows up in the collection in many different ways. It’s there in the mix of prints and colours; the way the global influences come together in the looks. It’s also there in the spirit of the collection, which is about having fun with fashion and being open to experimentation and new ideas.
What do you want people to know about KENZO going forward?
HL: It’s exciting to think of all the people around the world who’ll be getting their first experience of KENZO through the collaboration. We believe that fashion should be for everyone, and it’s great to watch a new generation begin to express themselves through what they wear. We’re also excited for our KENZO customers who’ve made us part of their wardrobe; for them to come and get pieces from KENZO x H&M that they’ll find nowhere else.
Related article: The Entire Kenzo X H&M Campaign Has Been Released
The collaboration with Balmain spawned hashtags such as #HMBalmaination. Who do you see joining the KENZO tribe?
CL: We don’t have one girl or guy in mind; and we never have. The more people that discover the brand and come to love the rich history of the brand and what we’ve created—to us, that’s exciting.
What’s your favourite animal print from the collection?
CL: We’ve really enjoyed mixing and matching our prints with those of Mr Takada for KENZO x H&M. We’ve used his tiger print, our own leopard print, and then mixed them together in the same garment. I’m looking forward to wearing the tiger print on the shirt with frilled collar and cuffs, and the leopard print looks amazing on the reversible dress that’s got pockets to make it so easy to wear.
Takada’s first boutique was called Jungle Jap. When was the last time you spent time in a jungle?
CL: Both Humberto and I have recently had children, so you’re much more likely to find us and our partners with baby strollers in the park than on a jungle adventure! But for us, the biggest adventure was visiting the archives of Mr Takada… He was such an instinctive designer; breaking all the rules. It’s amazing how modern his pieces still look today, and it’s been our honour to use them as a starting point for the collection.
By Gerald Tan