Kenzo's Humberto Leon Tells Us About Folio 1 and How He Avoided Cultural Appropriation

Speaking about the campaign and what it’s like meeting with Kenzō Takada himself.

1,710 Hypes 0 Comments

Kenzo’s latest campaign is the work of Nigerian filmmaker Akinola Davies Jr and photographer Ruth Ossai. While the two hadn’t worked together before, both had garnered praise for their work that looked into identity, specifically Nigerian identity. In previous interviews Ossai has spoken about how she was infatuated by the power of photography and the way it captures moments and tell stories. Davies Jr’s directing work has often been interested in the same themes as Ossai, but approached it through the moving image medium.

Fashion and art are bedfellows, so it’s no surprise that Kenzo tapped the two to work on its latest campaign, giving them free rein to shoot the collection in an environment congruous to both of their work. The duo chose to base the campaign around ceremony, focusing on the indigenous Igbo communities of southern Nigeria, naming the resulting pictures “Gidi gidi bu ugwu eze,” meaning “unity is strength.”

Kenzo celebrated the launch of this campaign in London recently, with NTS delivering a set and an after party with Kelela performing. Also in town was Humberto Leon, co-founder of Opening Ceremony and co-creative director of Kenzo, and we caught up with him about a variety of topics in the middle of the packed and bustling event.

Why Kenzo Chose Akinola Davies Jr and Ruth Ossai

Kenzo Folio 1 Campaign

The first question we asked was simply why he wanted to work with Ossai and Davies Jr. “Number one, I’m a fan of their work,” before explaining that he preferred to use Kenzo as a “platform” to showcase the work of interesting creatives. “It’s exciting to bring on new people, new stylists, and new photographers to look at the clothing,” explains Leon. “I’m not a fan of showing a look on a runway and then advertising with exactly the same look. You have all these different mediums, so you should let people go at it and see it in a different expression.”

This different expression also ties into how Leon and Carol Lim have dealt with taking on the demands of a house that has a founder, Kenzō Takada, who’s very much able to still agree, or disagree, with the brand’s dealings. The duo have spoken before about how they regularly meet with Takada, is this still the case? “We do! He comes to our shows and he’s been very supportive of what we’ve done. He definitely feels we’ve brought the spirit back to the brand,” says Leon. “I don’t think there’s too many houses where the founder is still alive and that the current creative directors have such a tight relationship with them.”

The Connection Between the Kenzo of the Past and the Kenzo of Now

Kenzo Folio 1 Campaign
In previous interviews they’ve spoken about how they plan to move the brand story forward rather than solely relying on the archives and this campaign was part of that. “We try to think of new ways of working with the brand that make sense for us. Tonight is not a night about us, but about [Ruth Ossai and Akinola Davies Jr] and it’s their night. We just happen to be the ingredients – it’s their work.”

Leon was quick to point out that while they are moving the brand forward, there is still a continuing thread between the work of today and Kenzo’s past. So, while Takada hasn’t seen this campaign, Leon think he’d approve. “If you look back to those amazing Hans Feurer images of Iman – it’s not the same photographer, it’s not the same work at all – but the emotions resonate [in the same manner]. This campaign goes even further, in a different way, but I’d imagine that he’d be proud. And he was such a cultural freak too, his whole vision of the brand was about all his travels and really expressing his those through the collection, so he’d absolutely approve of this.”

Avoiding Cultural Appropriation

Kenzo Folio 1 Campaign
It’s difficult to point out what’s so enjoyable about this campaign without bringing up the topic of cultural appropriation. As in, this shoot is as great as it is because it avoids being as groan-inducing as most culturally appropriating topics are. How did Leon manage to avoid falling into something that many brands fall into? “It’s about choosing artists that have an authentic voice, an authentic representation and we surrender ourselves to them,” he says. “This is an expression of them, when they grew up and the story that they’re trying to tell. I don’t think we’ve tried to look at an image and reappropriate an image, we really tried to go into this authentically.”

Humberto finishes on this note, “There aren’t too many images that look like these images out there in the world. It’s a fine line but that’s where I feel very proud of it.”

Read Full Article
Image Credit
Ruth Ossai

Join Our Discussions on Discord

The HYPEBEAST Discord Server is a community where conversations on cultural topics can be taken further.

100 Users Online

What to Read Next

HAVEN’s Latest Lookbook Explores Denim’s Diversity

HAVEN’s Latest Lookbook Explores Denim’s Diversity

Featuring Kapital, visvim and SUICOKE.

The Life Hotel Is a Modern Space With Just the Right Hint of Vintage

The Life Hotel Is a Modern Space With Just the Right Hint of Vintage

For your next stay in the Big Apple.

Elon Musk Unveils the Future of Tunnels With the Boring Company

Elon Musk Unveils the Future of Tunnels With the Boring Company

He’s going underground.

Off-White™ Toronto Reveals New Lookbook Titled “US”

Off-White™ Toronto Reveals New Lookbook Titled “US”

Showcasing a varied assortment from the brand’s 2017 spring collections.

adidas Announces Premium Busenitz Pro Collaboration With Horween Leather Company

adidas Announces Premium Busenitz Pro Collaboration With Horween Leather Company

The Horween x adidas partnership will be available for a limited time only.

These Are Instagram's Best Shots of the adidas Originals YEEZY BOOST 350 V2 "Cream White"

These Are Instagram's Best Shots of the adidas Originals YEEZY BOOST 350 V2 "Cream White"

Clean pictorials for the cleanest 350 yet.

More ▾
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Gain access to exclusive interviews with industry creatives, think pieces, trend forecasts, guides and more.

By subscribing, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Help us serve you better

We appreciate your support in allowing HYPEBEAST ads, where we can share contents from the latest fashion, to those culturally relevant. In adding HYPEBEAST to your ad blocker's whitelist, ads on our sites will show while you continue to browse.

Help Support Us

We need ads to keep the lights on and to continue providing free news to our readers. We’d appreciate your support by whitelisting HYPEBEAST on your ad blocker. That way you can keep reading all the great stories for free.

If you have already whitelisted us, simply refresh this page. To find out how to whitelist us, click the button below.


Add Us to Whitelist

We appreciate your support in allowing HYPEBEAST ads. Most ad blockers have similar whitelisting steps and settings. If you need assistance, please contact us.

Adblock Plus

  1. Click on the red ABP icon in the upper right corner of your browser.
  2. Click “Enabled on this site” to disable ad blocking for the current site. In Firefox click “disable on HYPEBEAST”.
  3. Refresh the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.


  1. Click the AdBlock hand icon.
  2. Click “Don’t run on pages on this domain”.
  3. A new “Don’t run AdBlock on…” dialog may be displayed in the middle of the screen.
  4. Move the “Site” slider to the right. After that, click “Exclude”.
  5. Refresh the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.


  1. Click the uBlock icon.
  2. Click the large blue “power” button in the menu that appears to whitelist the current website.
  3. Reload the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.

Firefox Browser

Firefox Tracking Protection may activate our whitelist notice, which can be disabled temporarily for a browsing session by clicking the shield icon in the URL bar and following the instructions.


  1. Click the Disconnect icon.
  2. Click “Whitelist site”.
  3. Refresh the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.