Last Paris Fashion Week, Kenzo’s show at the Institut National de Jeune Sourdes was a quarantine from the elements, where a literal bubble wound in a plastic labyrinth throughout the garden. For Spring Summer 2021, however, we were in the open air. Charming little stools, in place of benches, dotted the garden, placed at a regulation of one metre apart. Great black umbrellas were posed over them like parasols, just in case it rained. Exposed and protected — this is just one of the many dichotomies Felipe Oliveira Baptista pondered over for this collection, with ‘contrast’ being the order of the day. 

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One question that seemed to be on Batista’s mind was whether to react to the current state of the world by reflecting a darker tone for this collection, or whether to offer up hope and fantasy. The answer turned out to be a little of both. 

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As if in an answer to the grey drizzly Parisian morning that set the scene, the Spring Summer 2021 collection was colourful, bright and airy-light. The looks were tonal or printed from head to toe, in bright reds, blues and yellows. I imagine these created just the kind of visual spectacle that would be pleasing to the bee mascots that joined the Kenzo tiger this season. Looking closer, the floral prints shared a faded quality that felt melancholic. Batista drew inspirations from Kenzo archival floral motifs and recreated these in a digital print that bled into the fabric. In an anthropomorphised metaphor for the plight of our natural world, the flowers were ‘crying’. And yet these were not sombre but joyous looks. Here was the next contrast we were invited to draw. Our world is surely in trouble, but there is still hope and scope to dream for a brighter future. 

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Protection and exposure was another theme that ran throughout the collection. There were the flamboyant wide brimmed hats with veils draped that sometimes were tucked at the waist and in other occasions skimmed the ground. There were also zippered versions where the veils could be connected to the ensemble as a transformable element. The reference to beekeeper’s protective equipment — and its parallels to Covid PPE — were easy to deduce. While the veils visually marked out a barrier for personal space, the fabrics were soft and delicate, belying their protective potential. The looks that are encased by the veils, however, tell another story. In the utilitarian vests and shorts, weather-proof coats, and futuristic geta-inspired sandals, Kenzo’s nomadic spirit lives on. Perhaps what is inside is stronger than we had believed.

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Interestingly, the parallel drawn to bees and beekeepers may have been serendipitous. Leafing through the show notes, we come across a photo of a beekeeper from the 1900s and an image from Kenzo Spring Summer 1984 collection. The latter shows the model wearing a scarf wrapped around her hat, somewhat mirroring the beekeeper. It seems that this aspect of the Spring Summer 2021 show was a century in the making.  

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The ultimate dichotomy is the bee and the tiger. One is minuscule and vulnerable, while our entire ecosystem depends on their pollinating and regulating role; the other is powerful and resilient, but its survival ultimately depends on the food chain over which the bee presides. The message offered is not to model after one or the other. Batista’s proposition for coping and thriving in these unprecedented times is to find the harmony and balance within all of 2020s contradictions. In other words, ‘Bee a Tiger’. 

All images by Beige Pill Productions