In continuing the legacy of Kenzo Takada (pictured here), Felipe Oliveira Baptista (near left) has cast a roving eye on the brand’s kindred relationship with playfulness and adventure – from tromp l’oeil prints of roses that resemble camo to chic coats and sheaths with a cool, nomadic edge.
Of the fashion designers who came up in Paris in the 1970s, few are as universally admired as the pioneering Kenzo Takada. His boutique Jungle Jap changed the fashion game in the French city by offering a youthful and exuberant alternative to the stuffiness of its couturiers. His most lasting influence is the way he drew from and melded together influences from different ethnic cultures and styles – a mode of expression exemplified in the vibrant, clashing prints that made him famous.
Kenzo today is a very different brand from when Takada left it in 1999, six years after the LVMH group acquired it. The brand first got its modern revival when Carol Lim and Humberto Leon of Opening Ceremony fame were hired to design from 2011 to 2019, undergoing a streetwear-apropos era of graphic sweatshirts and punchy graphics. Now the brand is returning to a more poetic and artful approach thanks to new creative director Felipe Oliveira Baptista.
Baptista, in his debut Fall/Winter 2020 collection, cites the creative impulses of travel by way of Takada’s personal weeks-long journey from Japan to France, travelling by boat through Singapore, Bombay and Spain. It references Takada’s free-spirited approach to fashion, combining “Asian poetry with the rigour of European cuts” – Baptista’s way of tapping into not just Takada’s creative output, but the thoughts that drove them to begin with.
A nomadic spirit informs the protective silhouettes of billowy parkas and cocoon-like dresses. The idea is to offer shelter to an adventurer: reversible coats with prints on one side, plain monochrome on the other; down jackets that can transform into sleeping bags and dresses that are expandable with an armature of zips.
Prints, a cornerstone of the brand’s visual language, have also been given an artistic update. What seems like camouflage is actually trompe-l’oeils of roses – a witty take on Kenzo’s archival floral patterns. The tiger, the brand’s most iconic motif, gets a remix by way of the Portuguese neo-realist painter Julio Pomar, who created a major series of paintings in the ’80s based on the animal. These works are applied to Baptista’s designs in a fluid way: onto what he dubs “painting-dresses” – monastic tunics and sheaths with a bohemian edge that epitomise the idea of wearable art.
It’s perhaps apt that the collection was presented earlier this year during Paris Fashion Week within a plastic greenhouse of sorts. The set suggested the act of sheltering and caring for something precious. Baptista is now tending to the house of Kenzo – one of the most influential in modern fashion; a legacy made clearer yet by Takada’s passing last month – and here are all the signs of budding blooms.