Why NIGO for Kenzo Is a Perfect Pairing
Why the appointment promises a bright and playful future for the LVMH brand.
If there’s one thing to know about NIGO, it’s that the Japanese multihyphenate is an avid collector of… everything. His multi-million-dollar clothing archive even includes a large proportion of Kenzo Takada-designed garments — which is fitting, given that he was yesterday announced as the brand’s new creative director.
NIGO touched upon the significance of his new role in his Instagram announcement post, saying, “I was born in the year that Takada Kenzo san opened his first store in Paris. We both graduated from the same fashion school in Tokyo. In 1993, the year that Kenzo joined the LVMH Group, I started my career in fashion. Kenzo san’s approach to creating originality was through his understanding of many different cultures. It is also the essence of my own philosophy of creativity.” It’s those last two sentences that carry the most weight: when he founded his brand in 1970, Takada wanted to bring his Japanese influence into a Western market, and likewise, this is exactly what NIGO has done with brands including BAPE, HUMAN MADE, and Billionaire Boys Club.
In his heydays of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Takada was designing Kenzo collections dominated by Japanese florals and animal graphics, but he tailored this to a Western sensibility, quickly becoming a sensation in Paris alongside his contemporary Issey Miyake. He had a knack for dressmaking, especially with traditional influences, but subverted the overriding trend for Thierry Mugler’s figure-hugging sex appeal and Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel with color — and lots of it. His expansive palette and bohemian prints were an entirely new proposition for the luxury market at the time.
NIGO is another who’s not afraid of color. While streetwear labels like Fear of God and YEEZY focus on muted hues, and Palace and Supreme continue to put the limelight on graphics, NIGO’s BAPE and HUMAN MADE rely on color and prints that have become a mainstay throughout the years and are a signature of each brand, identifiable even in the busiest of crowds — just like a Kenzo garment. It’s likely that this will form the template for his vision of the brand when he presents his first collections.
It’s rare to find someone who is the personification of a cultural melting pot, but it’s this encyclopedic nature that is sure to make NIGO’s Kenzo succeed.
Aside from the comparisons between the two Japanese designers, NIGO’s cultural influence and inspirations around him should also play a considerable role at Kenzo. He’s a lover of collaboration, having recently enlisted Lil Uzi Vert for HUMAN MADE, but also working as a standalone creative alongside Levi’s, Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton, Pharrell Williams by the way of adidas Originals — and of course Pharrell consistently at BBC and ICECREAM — and much more outside of the fashion sphere. Of course, luxury houses becoming collaborative hubs is nothing new — Kim Jones at Dior Men has, in many ways, become the most dominant of collaborators.
But NIGO brings with him an authenticity within the streetwear scene — and a rolodex of foundational voices within that world whose talents he can draw upon. It’s rare to find someone who is the personification of a cultural melting pot, but it’s this encyclopedic nature that is sure to make NIGO’s Kenzo succeed, and hopefully restore the brand to cultural prominence.
Its last era of commercial success — under Opening Ceremony founders Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, in 2011 — was uneven. While certain styles, like the brand’s tiger-emblazoned sweatshirts, became retail dynamite, the house seemed unable to forge a consistent vision, swinging between heavily designed pieces and logo-emblazoned merch. By the time the pair left, in 2019, it had become a sale-rack staple. Their successor, the Lacoste designer Felipe Oliveira Baptista, had a strong debut, but his restrained, minimal take on the brand’s signatures struggled to break through.
With NIGO at the helm, Kenzo has a chance to be its old self: capturing the poppy playfulness of Leon and Lim, but with a more grown-up, considered appeal. It is, undoubtedly, being marketed towards a younger, more streetwear-literate audience, but one that will respect NIGO’s clout and track record so far. Equally, by looking to the past — and that expansive archive of NIGO’s — Kenzo could return to a more sophisticated aesthetic, and a move forward from tiger head overkill.
And with a friendship group as wide as NIGO’s — who can count Virgil Abloh, Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, KAWS, and Futura among his associates — we suspect Kenzo will attract the attention of global celebrity once again.
His first collection for the house is slated to appear next January, during the men’s collections. It’s already a fair assumption that it’ll be the debut of the season — keep an eye on HYPEBEAST for more information as it emerges.