The Nigo era at Kenzo is about to begin: Exclusive interview – WWD

Nigo was in college in the 1980s when Japan was experiencing a fashion designer boom, with Kenzo Takada among the most prominent of the bunch.

“I knew Kenzo very well and wanted him, but I didn’t have the money to buy him,” he recalls. “I followed it in fashion magazines and looked at products in stores.”

Once he achieved fame and success in fashion, as the founder of A Bathing Ape and other brands, Nigo scoured vintage dealers and bought many of the things he coveted from that period of training, amassing a collection of clothes he hasn’t cataloged yet, but probably hundreds.

“They were very helpful when I put this first collection together,” he said over Zoom from his studio in Tokyo. “They provided inspiration and backbone to what I want to do with Kenzo.”

In an exclusive interview with WWD, Nigo shared his passion and knowledge of Kenzo Takada’s fashion heritage, his ambitions for the brand as its new creative director, and his desire to reclaim the “fun and excitement” that Takada brought it into fashion in the first place. .

He is due to unveil his first mixed collection on January 23, the last day of Paris menswear week, taking possession of the Galerie Vivienne, a covered passageway dating back to 1823, its tiled floors bearing the grooves of nearly two centuries. of pedestrian traffic. The place is symbolic since Kenzo Takada organizes his very first fashion show in April 1970 in his boutique in the Galerie Vivienne.

Expect nods to the 1980s, when Nigo discovered Kenzo and anchored his image of the brand’s essence, as well as some of the streetwear sensibility that is second nature to the designer, whose real name is Tomoaki Nagao.

Kenzo’s new brand image.
Courtesy of Kenzo

When he was named creative head of Paris-based Kenzo last September, it already appeared that Nigo was destined for the plum design job due to some surprising coincidences. He was born in 1970, the year Takada opened his first boutique in Paris; both men graduated from the same fashion school in Tokyo, Bunka Fashion College, and Nigo began his fashion career the same year the Kenzo house became part of French luxury group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Nigo shared other parallels, up to and including a similar creative method.

“It may be a Japanese thing, but the idea of ​​bringing in a lot of disparate influences from various cultures and somehow managing to merge them into something that feels like it has its own own identity is something I recognize in the way Takada worked, and it’s something I’m very close to,” he explained, speaking in Japanese with an interpreter by his side. may be different, but I think the process is similar.”

“He could write a book about Kenzo himself,” marveled Sidney Toledano, chairman and CEO of LVMH Fashion Group, which chose Nigo to lead the legendary house. “I was so impressed with the knowledge he had of Kenzo Takada. He has an archive that even we don’t have.

Nigo acknowledged that it was a challenge to put together his first Fall 2022 collections given the time constraints and the context of the coronavirus pandemic, which made travel between Japan and mainland Europe extremely complicated, meaning he’s had to largely acclimate to a new team and ambitious remote project.

Still, the designer seized the moment and took a positive approach.

Nigo, new creative director of Kenzo

Kuba Dabrowski/WWD

“There was no time to doubt the creative direction,” Nigo said. “It was absolutely clear what needed to be done, and I’m very proud of how the teams have come together and understood what I want to achieve, and I’m confident in the outcome.”

That said, the designer confessed that although he has been in the fashion business for nearly 30 years, he is new to runway shows and the judgment of fashion critics.

“I kind of feel like a sumo wrestler invited to fight a UFC-style match,” he said with a laugh. “I can only hope people like what I’ve done.”

The Tokyo-based designer launched A Bathing Ape (also known as Bape) in 1993. He sold the company to IT in 2011 for around $2.8 million and left the brand in 2013. Among his designs Durable bape, there’s his full-zip “shark.” hoodie, which was first released in 2004 and has recently seen a resurgence in interest.

A serial fashion entrepreneur, Nigo also teamed up with Pharrell Williams to launch streetwear brands Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream, and introduced a brand called Human Made, which he wore for the interview: a printed jacket camo and a gray logo T-shirt. shirt.

He said it was obvious his background in streetwear would influence his designs for Kenzo.

“The problem with streetwear is that it’s become the norm – it’s normal, everyday clothing and extremely accepted now,” Nigo said. “But when I started my career 30 years ago, it was sort of a counter-culture and it wasn’t accepted as real design. As a result, very few people paid much attention to streetwear.

According to him, as streetwear has practically become “the default way to dress, or even to design in some ways”, there is a gap in the understanding of what is authentic in the category.

“From a fashion perspective, streetwear has only recently gained respect, when I’ve dedicated my entire career to it. So for me it’s very clear when something is wrong, when something is an attempt.

Certainly, he believes that the industry needs a new design.

“I think a lot of things in fashion right now are boring, and the fashion shows have kind of compensated by making the spectacle element a distraction from the clothes,” he said. “I would like to reconnect with the feeling of excitement that can only come from fashion itself.”

The designer confessed to a “parallel ambition for the creative process, for the people who make the brand to have fun. I believe that if there is a sense of excitement and fun in the internal creative process, that naturally carries over into the stores and into the products.

Certainly, this is the heritage of the Takada itself, a fashion innovator who brought inventive cuts, multicultural inspirations, cheerful colors and exotic prints to the Parisian fashion scene from the 1970s.

“The character of the house is fun and exciting. And it is actually necessary in today’s fashion. In addition, Kenzo offers everyone the opportunity to find fashion fun and exciting, which brings people into the world of fashion. It’s for everyone,” Nigo said.

He praised Takada’s early event-like fashion shows and was among the first to make music an integral part of the show.

While at Bunka College, Nigo did not study Takada directly as he was enrolled in fashion writing classes, but he saw how many fashion students were influenced by him, even though the prevailing mood in fashion at the time was dark and aloof, heavily influenced by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, whose 1982 collection was titled “Destroy”.

While Nigo said he held Kawakubo in high regard, he said he was drawn to Kenzo’s “colourful, fun, and exciting character”.

“He was Bunka’s most prominent and famous alumnus at the time. And he also had a pretty deep interaction with the school. He used to come back and give talks and talks. interact with students,” he said.

Certainly, Takada was a “true pioneer” in establishing himself in Paris as ready-to-wear exploded, and also having a wide influence on the fashion scene, drawing praise from Yves Saint Laurent and attracting other designers such as Karl Lagerfeld, Sonia Rykiel and Issey Miyake at his shows.

“It’s interesting because it’s someone who comes from the periphery, moves to the center and has influence rather than the center extending its influence outwards,” Nigo said. “So it gave me a sense of possibility, that I could do something outside of Japan as a fashion designer… I gained confidence from Kenzo without an example.”

Alongside his Human Made brand and his role as creative director of Kenzo, Nigo is a branding consultant for Japanese digital company CyberAgent Inc. and owns a small chain of curry restaurants called Curry Up. He also has a brand of sake with Williams, a frequent collaborator, under the Storm Cowboy brand.

Renowned DJ and music producer, Nigo has a recording studio in his design offices in Tokyo and does productions for Japanese pop groups. In March, he plans to release a “collaborative album” on Universal Records featuring the likes of Williams, Kid Cudi, A$AP Rocky and Tyler the Creator, all friends of the creator.

Nigo is the latest talent to lead Kenzo since Takada left his eponymous fashion brand in 1999. Takada has continued to support the brand in several creative configurations and has remained a popular and bubbly figure in the Parisian fashion and social scene. He died in October 2020 at age 81 due to complications from COVID-19.

LVMH initially appointed Gilles Rosier and Roy Krejberg to design the women’s and men’s lines respectively. Italian designer Antonio Marras eventually took over from Rosier in 2004 and continued until 2011, when LVMH repositioned the brand in the then booming contemporary area and enlisted Opening Ceremony founders Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, to run Kenzo. The duo won fans for their tiger logo sweatshirts, slip-on sneakers and caps during their eight-year tenure.

Last April, Portuguese designer Felipe Oliveira Baptista ended his two-year design mandate, during which he brought a sophisticated and artistic touch to Kenzo, fond of enveloping and nomadic silhouettes.

“It’s not an old brand that needs a reboot. It is a brand that has maintained its momentum. Kenzo was always on the radar thanks to its previous designers,” Toledano said, while acknowledging the desire to further ignite the brand’s development under Nigo.

“He has a very clear vision, in addition to his charisma and personality,” Toledano said, also praising him as a pioneer in fusing his fashion projects with music, similar to the late Virgil Abloh, who was also a renowned DJ and collaborated with Nigo on two LV2 capsule collections for Louis Vuitton in 2020 and 2021.

“The fact that Nigo has this musical background, he understands this movement, he understands the new global community,” Toledano said. “The new generation is so influenced by music.”

Toledano said it was too early to talk about business ambitions, but cited a “great reaction” within the Kenzo house when Nigo’s appointment was revealed last September.

“Trade is also responding very well,” he said. “We have a man with a passion for the brand and a vision. Nigo is there to write a story in several chapters.


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