Here's Kenzo's collab with David Bowie's go-to designer
Spearheaded by Felipe Oliveira Baptista, Kenzo x Kansai Yamamoto is an extroverted celebration of two legends of Japanese design.
Photography Raffaele Cariou
The extent to which Japanese designers have shaped Europe’s fashion landscape is so significant that it’s hard to think of this particular transcontinental cultural exchange as anything but timeless. In truth, it only goes back just over fifty years, to when a young Kenzo Takada first arrived in Paris in 1965. His arrival, and the success he earned throughout the 70s and beyond, was an effective green light for a wave of Japanese talents, who decamped to Europe to change how the game was being played in its fashion capitals. Among them was Kansai Yamamoto, who first presented in London in 1971.
In the cases of both designers, they tapped into the bubbling fashion cultures of their time -- Paris in the wake of Courrèges, Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin; London on the cusp of a punk revolution -- bringing to it a fresh, graphic exuberance. “They both revolutionised fashion through their colourful and practical extravaganzas,” says Felipe Oliveira Baptista, Kenzo’s incumbent creative director. “In their own distinctive ways, [they] were the pioneers in fusing eastern and western cultures.”
In a new collaboration issued by the house, Felipe has braided the legacies of the two seminal Japanese designers together to create a collection that includes menswear, womenswear and accessories. Its roots go back as far as his arrival at the house in July 2019, when he “immediately started to think of artists, designers and creatives that I would like to collaborate with,” he says. “One of the ideas that first came to my mind was a collaboration between Kenzo and Kansai Yamamoto.”
Accordingly, Felipe set about identifying links between the late designers’ respective bodies of work, finding aesthetic points in common with which to anchor the collection. Even if you’re not a self-professed aficionado of either’s work, you’ll gather at first glance that both “were obsessed by animalia, and both endlessly reinterpreted traditional representation of animals in Japanese art,” Felipe says, with the collection’s tiger motifs and prints that run the full gamut of Japanese artist expression serving as surefire proof. “Animals and animal prints often gained a pop/manga treatment at Kansai, while at Kenzo it was more about their celebration and interaction with nature.”
While the fusion of archival Kenzo prints with reworked versions of Kansai’s wildly maximalist artworks and motifs may serve as the collection’s visual backbone, what it celebrates, at heart, is a sense of “joy, intuition and freedom” that the two designers shared, says Felipe; the idea that fashion should be something for anyone to partake in and enjoy. As such, for the collection’s accompanying imagery, Felipe enlisted photographer Raffaele Cariou who “followed a group of young Parisian friends: actors, photographers, models,” shooting them on streets, dancefloors and even in bed. “We wanted to keep things very real, raw and spontaneous,” Felipe says.
In light of both Kenzo and Kansai’s tragic passings earlier this year, that the end result should reflect how they both “dedicated their lives to [infusing] joy into the world through their work” was especially important. Throughout their careers, they offered needed counterpoints to fashion’s occasional stuffiness and sincerity, creating clothes that brought a sense of blissfully naive happiness, that were “a true celebration of life,” Felipe says. “I believe this is probably how both Kenzo and Kansai would have liked to be remembered.”
Kenzo x Kansai Yamamoto launches today on kenzo.com.
All images courtesy Kenzo