Nigo — the Japanese streetwear pioneer and founder of A Bathing Ape — is the new artistic director of Kenzo, WWD has learned.
He is to start on Sept. 20, and is expected to unveil his first collection for women and men during Paris Fashion Week next January.
The designer, born Tomoaki Nagao, possesses an extensive archive of fashions by Kenzo’s late founder Kenzo Takada and seemed destined for a plum Paris design post.
He was born in 1970, the year Takada opened his first store in Paris; the two men graduated from the same fashion school in Tokyo, Bunka Fashion College, and Nigo started his fashion career the same year that the Kenzo maison became part of French luxury group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
“He has followed Kenzo for years,” said Sidney Toledano, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Fashion Group, confirming his latest designer appointment exclusively to WWD. “I was impressed by his personality, his creativity and his knowledge about Kenzo. He immediately had a vision for the right jacket, the right sweater. He was developing products from our very first conversation.
“He’s an extremely creative person, with that Japanese sense of quality and beauty, and I think the market needs that,” he added. “I think he will bring a jolt to the brand.”
In a statement, Nigo noted that Takada’s “approach to creating originality was through his understanding of many 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 with the team.”
The designer arrives in tandem with a new CEO for Kenzo: Sylvain Blanc, who was most recently CEO of Undiz, a division of Etam Group, is to take up the role on Oct. 18. He takes over from Sylvie Colin, who is leaving Kenzo later this month for a personal project, and relocating to the U.S.
Nigo succeeds Felipe Oliveria Baptista, who parted ways with Kenzo in April after a two-year collaboration. The Portuguese designer brought a sophisticated and artistic touch to the Paris-based house, and was partial to enveloping, nomadic silhouettes.
Considered by many the godfather of urban streetwear, Nigo is sure to bring buzz and cultural currency to Kenzo.
The Tokyo-based designer launched A Bathing Ape (also known as Bape) in 1993, sold the company to I.T in 2011 for about $2.8 million and left the brand in 2013. Among his enduring Bape designs is his full-zip “shark” hoodie, which first came out in 2004 and recently enjoyed a resurgence in interest.
A serial fashion entrepreneur, Nigo partnered with Pharrell Williams to launch the streetwear brands Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream, worked for Uniqlo as creative director for its UT range and also introduced a brand called Human Made. In recent years, Human Made unfurled collaborations with the likes of Adidas Originals, Kaws, Levi’s and Verdy.
Last year, Nigo famously collaborated with Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear artistic director Virgil Abloh on a capsule collection that quickly sold out. The second drop included a duck-shaped bag and monogrammed ponchos.
In an interview, Toledano said he was dazzled by the Nigo x Vuitton collaboration, marketed as LV², and the accompanying pop-up shop at Le Bon Marché in Paris, and a conversation ensued with Vuitton chairman and CEO Michael Burke. At the end of it, Burke suggested Toledano consider the Japanese designer as a candidate, given the designer’s long affection for Kenzo — and track record creating covetable, original and enduring designs. Bernard Arnault, chairman and ceo of LVMH, was also fully in favor of the the appointment.
“I would like to thank Bernard Arnault and Sidney Toledano for giving me this wonderful opportunity,” Nigo said in the statement.
While Nigo has been mainly associated with men’s wear through his long career, Toledano assured that the designer has a vision for women in tune with times, and Kenzo’s legacy of joyful fashions and nature-inspired prints.
Nigo is also a noted DJ, associated with Japanese hip-hop group Teriyaki Boyz, and a music producer with connections to the likes of Williams and Kanye West.
His appointment is the latest signal of a convergence between streetwear and high-end fashions, which has seen Pucci collaborating with Supreme, Dior marketing sneakers with the Jordan brand and Ralph Lauren doing a tie-up with Palace.
To be sure, LVMH has pursued various creative configurations Kenzo since the founder left in 1999, initially appointing Gilles Rosier and Roy Krejberg to design the women’s and men’s lines, respectively. Italian designer Antonio Marras ultimately succeeded Rosier in 2004 and continued until 2011, when LVMH repositioned the brand in the then-burgeoning contemporary zone and conscripted Opening Ceremony founders Humberto Leon and Carol Lim to lead Kenzo. The duo won a following for tiger-logoed sweatshirts, slip-on sneakers and caps during their eight-year tenure.
In an internal announcement seen by WWD, Toledano thanked Colin for leading the company for four years, “during which Kenzo has consolidated its organization and largely renewed its collections, while strengthening its presence in Asia.”
Blanc has had a varied career tinged with an entrepreneurial spirit.
After graduating from the École Polytechnique and Mines ParisTech university, Blanc started his career at French department store Printemps, rising to head of strategic planning for stores. In 2010, he launched Hugo & Victor, a gourmet pastry shop and brand, and four years later joined fashion chain The Kooples as vice president of Europe, Middle East and Asia. He’s been at Undiz since 2018.
“Sylvain is passionate about fashion and has extensive experience in retail,” Toledano said. “He combines an entrepreneurial itinerary with a proven ability to relaunch and develop established brands. He has been tasked with opening a new chapter in the history of Kenzo.”
Takada was a fashion innovator who brought a gust of color, energy and freshness to the Paris fashion scene since the ’70s — and who also made an indelible mark on the fragrance world. He died last October at age 81 due to complications related to COVID-19.