NEW YORK — On the eve of Kenzo x H&M’s launch, Ann-Sofie Johansson, the Swedish retailer’s creative adviser, admitted that each collaboration could be the last for the retailer, which pioneered the concept with a 2004 hookup with Karl Lagerfeld. “We never know if we’re going to continue,” she said Wednesday at the fast-fashion giant’s New York headquarters.
Don’t believe her. Especially when Kenzo x H&M, which will bow on Nov. 3 in 250 stores and online, has the word “blockbuster” embroidered all over it. Even two weeks before the official launch, products have started appearing on eBay despite the fact that the only selling took place at a pop-up shop at Wednesday’s Kenzo x H&M runway show in Manhattan for the press and other guests.
A folk dress, priced at retail at $299, is being offered for “preorder” for $719.88 on eBay. Other steeply marked-up items on eBay include a black quilted jacket with flowers, $658; leather jacket, $999; sweatshirt, $450; men’s bomber jacket, $550, and faux-fur hoodie, $500.
There’s a certain utility to the collection with oversize tiered dresses and coats whose lower panels zip off to create jackets. Everything in the collection is reversible.
The higher prices are antithetical to the philosophy of Kenzo co-creative directors Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, who on Wednesday said they took pains to maintain the quality of the products while pricing the collection within reach of a broad audience.
When they were hired to take the creative reins of Kenzo five years ago, Lim and Leon decided to strike an egalitarian note by introducing $60 T-shirts. “Early on, we said, ‘Why can’t one brand encompass a breadth of prices,’” Leon said. “We challenged the process and the pricing. You can enter the Kenzo brand in different ways.”
Lim and Leon approached the collaboration through the lens of the house’s archives. “We resurrected famous dresses,” she said. “By taking a look at the archive, we’re continuing to tell the story of Kenzo, who started the house in 1969.”
“I think it will do really well,” Johansson said of the collection. “When it’s styled, it’s really far out. But there are easy dresses and pieces in there. Hopefully our customer will be able to see that, as well.”
Johansson said she started thinking about a partnership with Kenzo a few years ago, noting that Lim and Leon have brought new energy to the brand. “The timing was really right,” she said.
Kenzo x H&M marks something of a rite of passage for the Parisian brand’s parent, LVMH Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton, since it’s the first label under the French luxury firm’s umbrella to collaborate with H&M. “LVMH was excited,” said Leon. “We’re the perfect brand to test it for LVMH.”
With an ad campaign featuring models from different walks of life, and Wednesday’s runway spectacle staged by Jean-Paul Goude, there’s been a buzz around Kenzo x H&M. That’s just fine with Lim and Leon, who said Kenzo is poised to reenter the U.S. market.
“We’ll definitely open Kenzo stores in the near future,” said Leon. “There hasn’t been a Kenzo store in America in 20 years. We have five freestanding stores in Paris and shops-in-shop at all the department stores. There’s a whole opportunity to open our stores here.”
Lim and Leon, who founded and operate Opening Ceremony, view themselves as outsiders, saying they approach design and marketing differently.
“We’re able to make a bit of noise out there,” Lim said. “We’re doing really fun shows. We had no experience and didn’t have specific processes in place.”
Working with H&M allowed them to see how quickly fashion can be produced. They don’t think see-now-buy-now will be an answer to fast fashion and the Internet. Besides, the concept isn’t news to them. “We already do that,” Leon said. “We call it in-season. It’s producing things in the season you’re meant to wear them. If a product isn’t right, it doesn’t matter what time of year you sell it.”
Lim and Leon spent their first five years at Kenzo “designing from our perspective. We have a rich arsenal that Kenzo created,” Lim said, referring to the house’s archives. The H&M project allowed them to experiment with layering their own aesthetic onto Kenzo’s codes. They followed through to the smallest details, creating hardware for buttons, hangtags using special thread and 20 versions of shopping bags featuring prints from the collection.
Many styles were given modern proportions. “The off-the-shoulder looks will resonate with Kenzo fans,” Lim said. “We re-created them as cropped-top-and-pant ensembles. We did knitwear because Kenzo was superfamous for knitwear. You just twist it and give it your own take. For example, our kimonos are more of a fashion take and cropped.”
Johansson said as long as “our customers aren’t tired of [collaborations,] why should we be tired of them,” adding that ideas for partnerships can come from consumers.