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Kenzo’s Carol Lim and Humberto Leon On Their Approach to Perfumery

Called Kenzo World, the project breaks many of perfumery’s traditional codes.

Kenzo for all” has been the label’s unofficial motto since Humberto Leon and Carol Lim became its artistic directors in 2011. Now, that concept has been distilled – and bottled – for their first feminine fragrance at the house.

Called Kenzo World, the project breaks many of perfumery’s traditional codes. Take its eye-shaped bottle with striated plastic cap and dangling gold-colored pupil — designed by Patrick Li. There’s also its advertising film, lensed by Spike Jonze.

The online spot opens with Sarah Margaret Qualley (daughter of actress Andie MacDowell) excusing herself from a stately room where an award ceremony is taking place. Out in the corridor, she starts to twitch – first her face, then her body – then bursts into frenetic movement. Ensuing special effects leave viewers questioning what’s real.

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Kenzo World, due to launch in the U.S. on September 8th, is a Bloomingdale’s exclusive. A 1.7-oz. bottle is priced at $86, while a 2.5 oz. retails for $100.

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Leon and Lim describe the perfume project as “disruptive,” but wholly in sync with their global vision for Kenzo.
How are you parlaying your hip transformation of Kenzo’s fashion business into its beauty business with this new fragrance?

HL: Carol and I and try to tell these really in-depth, personal stories. That’s our first approach. The second is thinking about all the different kinds of clashing elements that go into [each project].
How did you go about developing this floral fragrance?

CL: We started with probably 60 different scents, and it got narrowed down. We worked with Francis Kurkdjian, who is incredible.

We also started working on the bottle. We’ve developed a language and created a lot of icons for the house. The eye for us symbolizes many different things: femininity and strength, protection and insight.
What was the thinking behind the advertising?

CL: She is a very relatable woman; you’ve probably been in a situation like hers, whether it’s a gala event or even an office meeting. Then she goes into this sequence. There’s this aspirational side of it. She takes you on this journey with her, and that’s our girl. She’s me, you, anyone that has the ability to just break free and let go.

HL:  You’re left a little bit with a cliffhanger. That is super interesting to us. That, to us, is the long-lasting part of this.
What was the most fun aspect of developing the fragrance for you?

CL: The smelling is my favorite.

HL: The transformative quality of the fragrance.
How has your retail experience, such as with Opening Ceremony,  which you founded, influenced your perfume-development process?

HL: We always think about the end-consumer. Thinking of the non-fashion crowd was really important, too; paying more attention to how we attract somebody who absolutely has no idea what Kenzo is and has no idea who Carol and I are. That is who we were when we were 16, going into a department store and buying our first perfume.
What is the role of traditional advertising today? What’s the best means of getting a brand’s word out?

HL: Traditional commercials are somewhat over.

CL: What works probably in France compared to the Middle East compared to the U.S. is very different. Obviously, digital is a huge component. But it’s thinking of who you want to see this, and where is it going to really have [strong] impact. People always reference viral videos; but that’s not a formula, right? Sometimes, things happen, like the lady with the Chewbacca mask.
What platforms are you focusing on?

HL: Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram – they all have their own purpose. We grew up without social media. But we also were there for the birth of it, and we live in it and we’re active users. So we understand the vitality of it. We love it. But there are old-school ways that are equally relevant today.
What’s up next beauty-wise for Kenzo?

HL: This is just the beginning of where we think the brand can go.
What inspires you?

HL: Everything that we see, touch, eat. [Venturing] beyond our world is probably some of the most inspiring things.

CL: I’d say family. I think it’s relationships – those are really important and inspiring.
What do you consider cool?

CL: I think there’s a lot of not-cool happening in the world right now. Every day there’s another headline, and it’s almost like you expect it. And then you think: Where does fashion lie in that realm? It’s not like we’re inventing the cure for cancer. But I just think of the quote that Bill Cunningham said about [how] without fashion, life would be dead. He was very much a proponent of [how] it brings joy, builds people and their identity.