Humberto Leon, one of the two creative leads at the helm of Parisian label Kenzo takes time to explain the house’s 2012 fall/winter menswear collection. Sitting with his Opening Ceremony colleague, Alice Newell-Hanson, Humberto delves into who the quintessential Kenzo ‘guy’ is, as well as details on revived pieces, referencing Steve Jobs and his working relationship with Kenzo’s other creative half and Opening Ceremony co-founder, Carol Lim. With mention of what’s to come for the next season, the below interview gives an insightful look behind Humberto’s understanding of the label and what it has to offer.
Alice Newell-Hanson: Hi Humberto! I wanted to begin with Kenzo’s 1983 collection. That was the first year Kenzo Takada did menswear, right?
Humberto Leon: Yes, that was really the first season of Kenzo men’s and it was heavily built on suiting and introducing prints for men. I think for Paris, and for the house, it was a really exciting time and a kind of ethnic approach to menswear.
ANH: Who was the Kenzo guy back then? Who wore the collection?
HL: It was at the height of 80s fashion. So it was based around Kenzo and all the men in his community—dancing at the palace and [creating] all those great Parisian fashion moments of the 80s.
ANH: When you came to make your own Kenzo men’s collection, did you look back to the archive? Is everything filed away somewhere?
HL: Yes, the archive is about an hour outside of Paris. Everything is separated by year, with a lot of different, amazing treasures.
ANH: Next feature: “Inside the Kenzo archives”! Are there specific pieces that you referenced?
HL: I have faintly looked at the archive, but more for spirit and for energy. I did pull this little medallion print from a handkerchief though, and that was a starting point for our men’s collection.
ANH: Was the Jungle Jap tiger on clothing in the original collections too?
HL: The tiger was on a lot of labels; it was used more as a branding technique to talk about jungle. You didn’t really see it much on actual clothing.
ANH: But it’s something that you and Carol have really pulled out—putting it on sweatshirts, for example—and made iconic again. How would you define the new direction that you’ve have taken Kenzo in?
HL: We really tried to approach it with a look at today. One of the things you will notice with the suiting, say, is that there are a lot of places for your iPod and iPhone, and little pockets for you to pull through your headphones. There’s a look at the DNA of the brand—which is suiting, coats, and great knitwear—and then there’s a technological side to it.
ANH: And I heard that you referenced Steve Jobs.
HL: Yeah, Steve Jobs was a big inspiration for this collection. I’ve always been really obsessed with the Internet boom in San Francisco. Carol and I looked to bringing a personal experience to Kenzo and that was a really big moment for us when we were graduating from college in California. All these young people around us were selling companies for millions of dollars; the Internet was beginning and people started dressing differently. We really reference this moment of younger people taking over big companies.
ANH: The KENZO-STARBUCKS cups you used at the SHOW were a perfect example of that idea of reappropriation and expansion. What’s the plan for Kenzo’s global takeover?! Do you want to branch into music or food—or coffee?
HL: I think the brand is very culturally diverse and that allows us to take a look at all kinds of different things. We have done a lot of great collaborations with Kenzo that all really mean something to us. So the VANS are a nod to our California side, NEW ERA is a nod to our New York side, and then working with people like Jean-Paul Goude is a great nod to the history of the brand. I feel like we do things in a very big storytelling kind of way.
ANH: Working with Carol on a new project, rather than OC, have you learned anything about each other or your approach to collaborating?
HL: I think it’s interesting because we have other partners in this endeavor. Whereas at OC, she and I are really checking in on each other, this is a project where we get to work together more closely, and then together we work with other people, if that makes sense!
ANH: Is there any division between what’s a Carol job and what’s an Humberto job?
HL: It changes day-to-day. Carol will make decisions on the branding and I will make decisions on clothing, and then Carol will come in and make decisions on shoes and I’ll make decisions on whatever marketing thing we’re working on. So it really all depends on the day!
ANH: How would you define the 2012 Kenzo man?
HL: I think he is open, he is ageless—he can be anywhere from a teen to someone who is 60 or 70—and he loves color and fun. He is also pretty independent; he isn’t afraid to make a statement with his clothing, and he is into quality.
ANH: That’s something you really notice in the fabrics and the construction of the pieces. What are some of your favorite details from Fall/Winter 2012?
HL: We really deconstructed every kind of garment that the house has ever made and looked at the innards, so that we could make everything with value. If you look at the dress shirts and the suits, we really investigated everything down to the techniques they use to sew on the pockets. I wanted the value to mean that the pieces are lasting.
ANH: Are you in touch with Kenzo Takada?
HL: We met him once, and we also e-mailed him as soon as we got here to say that it is an honor to be at his house. He said he was really excited to see the energy that we were going to bring back to the house—so that was really exciting for us!
ANH: Thinking forward to the next men’s collection, do you have a clear idea yet about where it’s going?
HL: We do! We’re already halfway through. It’s exciting. It’s an evolution. Every fashion show is an evolution. It’s about diving into something that the house was known for and really turning it on its head and making it important. We treat every show as a way of letting people in, to see how we’re progressing.
ANH: And can you tell me anything about the women’s collection that we’ll see on Sunday?
HL: No, I don’t want to reveal anything!
ANH: I am so excited to see it, I can’t wait.
HL: Me too.