“I was once told that it was impossible for a Japanese man to work in the fashion industry in Paris,” Kenzō Takada told the Financial Times three years ago. However, not only did the late designer prove the industry wrong – his ability to merge his Japanese heritage with standard European tastes disrupted archaic notions of what constitute haute couture, and for the better.
Takada was born in Japan in February of 1939, seven months before the official start of World War II in the European theater. However, he found inspiration in Parisian fashion, particularly from iconic designer Yves Saint-Laurent. Takada would later move to France in 1964 in pursuit of his dreams.
However, it would be six years until he launched Kenzo. (It was actually begun under the name “Jungle Jap.” He would change his company’s name to his own six years later, after working with the American market showed the original name to be pejorative and inflammatory.)
The brand started out with women’s clothing, but exploded in popularity and eventually expanded into men’s apparel, a children’s line, fragrances, and even a home collection. Kenzo was acquired by LVMH in 1993, but its iconic tiger didn’t appear as the line’s primary figure until 2011, when Takada’s assistants Humberto Leon and Carol Lim took over as the company’s co-creative directors (which also made them the first Asian-American creative directors in LVMH history).
Kenzo made history at this this weekend’s Paris Fashion Week 2022 with the debut of Nigo (real name Tomoaki Nagao) as its newest artistic director, fifteen months after Takada’s death from COVID-related sickness. Nigo’s first line for the label was its Fall/Winter 2022 collection, and the moment was a star studded breakout party of sorts. Many celebs like Kanye West, Tyler the Creator, and Pharrell came to support and see what twists the streetwear innovator would add to the 52-year-old company.
Flowers, bright colors, and even sketches from Kenzo’s own 1970’s sketchbook were incorporated in the designs, harkening back to Takada’s approach when he first landed in Paris. Nigo also blended his go-to Ivy League style with some understated tones to present “an understanding of the synthesis between Japanese and Western wardrobe traditions.”
At 51 years old, Nigo becomes only the second Japanese person to occupy that role for the brand since its founder and namesake Kenzō Takada. He also is one of two Asian creative directors to currently hold that title for a European luxury house. (The other is Bally’s Rhuigi Villaseñor, who is of Filipino-American and was installed a few days ago.)
“I am proud to have been appointed Artistic Director of KENZO,” Nigo said in a statement last September. “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… 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. Inheriting the spirit of Kenzo san’s craftsmanship to create a new KENZO is the greatest challenge of my 30-year career, which I intend to achieve together with the team.”
Along with this weekend’s show came news of the official release date of Nigo’s next album I Know NIGO. The project will is scheduled to drop March 25, and it will be Nigo’s first official record since 2004. More so, Nigo’s good buddy Pharrell will executive produce it.
“Originally, it was supposed to be just Pharrell and maybe Pusha-T,” said Steven Victor, CEO of Victor Victor Worldwide in an interview with Complex. But eventually, others like Lil Uzi Vert, Kid Cudi, and some more artists yet to be named.