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New Creative Lead at Kenzo

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has tapped the Opening Ceremony duo of Humberto Leon and Carol Lim as creative directors.

PARIS — Emblematic of the contemporary sector’s vitality, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton plans to reposition its Kenzo brand in the burgeoning zone — and has tapped two cutting-edge merchants to lead the way, WWD has learned.

Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, the dynamic duo behind American specialty store Opening Ceremony, have been named Kenzo’s new creative directors and are slated to unveil their first effort this October for spring 2012 retailing.

An official announcement is expected as early as today.

They succeed Italian designer Antonio Marras, who has helmed Kenzo since 2004 and paraded his last collection for the French brand last month during men’s fashion week here.

“It’s great to bring this young, contemporary generation into Kenzo,” said Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH’s fashion division, which includes the fashion houses Céline, Givenchy, Marc Jacobs, Loewe and Emilio Pucci. “They’re really embracing what was the origin of Kenzo — that Jungle spirit.”

Roussel was referring to Kenzo Takada’s landmark Jungle Jap boutique that enraptured Paris in the Seventies with its joyful approach to ready-to-wear, injected with color, print and ethnic touches.

While Leon and Lim, both 36 years old and California natives, were not yet born when Takada founded his namesake house, the self-described “fashion nerds” insisted the Kenzo name has a legacy that transcends generations.

“Whenever you come across a Kenzo vintage piece, you get really excited,” Leon said, mentioning actress Chloë Sevigny, a frequent Opening Ceremony collaborator, among devotees.

Lim lauded Kenzo for creating “energy and community” around his Japanese-flavored Paris brand and store, and cultivating a light-hearted, inclusive approach to fashion that resonated with a large audience.

The pair will continue to helm the specialty chain they founded in 2002 based on a rotating roster of international designers — Argentina is the theme starting in September — and novelty collaborations with the likes of Levi’s, Rodarte and Maison Martin Margiela. Opening Ceremony has two locations in New York, one in Los Angeles, one in Tokyo and an online store. There are also Opening Ceremony shops in Lane Crawford stores in Beijing and Hong Kong, and the company wholesales its private-label collection to about 300 doors.

At Kenzo, Leon and Lim will be charged with rejuvenating the brand’s fortunes with a new product offering and store environment.

Expressed as retail sales, the total value of Kenzo-branded products, including perfumes, is believed to be close to $1 billion.

It is understood the business has ebbed in Kenzo’s traditional markets, while it has shown some buoyancy in emerging countries like Russia and China, where it operates 12 and 15 boutiques, respectively.

The Kenzo businesses were acquired by LVMH in 1993 for $80.5 million.

Roussel declined to discuss sales projections, but said the plan is to ramp up Kenzo’s top-line growth in vibrant markets like China, and to reenter the American market, from which Kenzo withdrew in 2003.

“The brand used to be bigger than it is today,” he said in an interview at LVMH headquarters, where he was joined by Kenzo’s new ceo, Eric Marechalle, who joined the brand last January from children’s wear firm The Zannier Group.

Kenzo counts about 100 boutiques worldwide, including 11 that are directly operated, plus about 600 wholesale clients in Europe. At present, the business is split roughly equally between women’s and men’s. Key licensed categories include children’s wear, home furnishings and eyewear, Marechalle noted.

Sardinia-based Marras, known for his transporting fashion shows and romantic inclinations, has been “respectful of the heritage of the brand,” Roussel said. “What we need now is something which has more energy, which is looking forward in terms of addressing a new generation.”

Roussel said he interviewed a wide swath of designers both young and experienced, but was struck by the “360-degree vision of the fashion industry” Leon and Lim possess via their multiple creative collaborations.

He said he was also convinced that Kenzo could bring a unique offering to hot contemporary floors distinct from European diffusion brands, and that LVMH could leverage the experience it has gleaned in running the Marc by Marc business. “Kenzo is much closer to that universe than the couture houses in France,” Rousseau noted.

Pricing for the new-look Kenzo yet to be finalized, but Marechalle said dresses would likely range from 200 euros to 1,500 euros, or $285 to $2,135.

Classmates at the University of California, Berkeley, Leon and Lim relocated to New York following graduation to pursue careers in fashion. Leon worked at Gap and Burberry before he joined Lim, who had work experience in finance and a stint doing merchandising at Bally, to set up Opening Ceremony on the edge of New York’s Chinatown.

While not trained as designers, Lim and Leon said they would “build an exciting team” of designers to realize their vision for Kenzo. While Leon said he sketches ideas, “we’ve always worked in a team community.”

The two plan to split their time between Paris and New York.