PARIS — Kenzo for all: That appears to be the new house motto as Humberto Leon and Carol Lim put the finishing touches on their first collection for the Paris-based label.
The duo behind American specialty store Opening Ceremony, who will make their Paris debut on Oct. 2 with a presentation at Kenzo’s Rue Vivienne headquarters, want to bring back the community spirit of founder Kenzo Takada, 72, who staged his first catwalk shows in the Seventies in a shopping gallery on the same street.
“One of the things that we’re really excited about is looking at Kenzo when he first came to Paris, and that energy and that sense of freshness and newness,” said Leon, sitting by an open window overlooking the courtyard of the 17th-century mansion. “It’s about this idea of having a very democratic experience, a very welcoming, a very inviting experience and also a sense of discovery,” he added.
Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s fashion division, which includes Kenzo as well as Celine, Givenchy, Marc Jacobs, Loewe and Emilio Pucci, said the brand is being repositioned at the top of the contemporary range with a new approach to product.
“The core offer of the brand is not sufficiently attractive today,” he said. The spring-summer 2012 collection, due to hit racks from February, will feature more accessibly priced outfits for everyday wear alongside higher-end pieces for special occasions, though both will benefit from the same degree of creative input.
“We don’t want a first line and a secondary line,” Roussel explained. “I don’t want a commercial variant of an aspirational product in order to achieve attractive price points — I want a product that has been conceived as a creatively interesting product right from the start.”
That’s where Leon and Lim’s background as retailers comes in. The pair founded Opening Ceremony in 2002 based on a rotating roster of international designers and novelty collaborations, and they are approaching their new task with a 360-degree view.
“Since we’re close to actually affecting all parts of the business in terms of the retail, the wholesale, even digital, I think it gives us an interesting perspective because we see the full picture,” noted Lim. “We inherently understand the value per piece, and I think what will be interesting and exciting for us is to make each garment stand on its own and to be priced in a way that you see the value.”
Leon and Lim have already brought in a slew of fresh talent, who are working with the house’s existing teams on everything from redesigning the brand’s Web site to developing a new retail concept. “We’re starting from scratch,” Roussel said of the Web site, which he hopes to relaunch by yearend. “We want to work fast.”
Renewing Kenzo’s network of about 100 stores worldwide could take several years, though some changes will be visible by next spring. “I think they’re going to take away the features that are a little too luxury, a little inaccessible, even the way we present products in closed cases. We have to make it more accessible, less intimidating,” Roussel said.
Leon and Lim, who met at the University of California, Berkeley, before relocating to New York, will also be able to draw on an eclectic tribe of friends and creative partners, which ranges from actress Chloë Sevigny to contemporary artist Terence Koh and film director Spike Jonze.
Roussel said that when he was mulling how to regenerate Kenzo, he originally considered rotating designer collaborations. “When I saw Humberto and Carol, I thought, that’s their spirit, because they have based their know-how on collaborations, so they are chameleons. They are capable of collaborating with others but they are also capable of building something,” he said.
And although the pair are keen to relay the history of the brand, their main goal is to capture Kenzo Takada’s spontaneous, creative approach. “If he felt like making sandals for men, he made it,” said Leon. “It was really about this idea of doing what your gut feels is right. That’s something that we really want to bring into this.”