In the glittering hierarchy of collaborations stretching back into the last decade, the project between Kenzo and Swedish giant H&M was always going to be commercially on-point. The collection by designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim debuts in stores globally on November 3. The pair have enjoyed success as co- founders of concept store Opening Ceremony on New York’s Howard Street. Since taking over the French fashion house in 2011, set up by Kenzo Takada, they have collaborated frequently, including supporting winners of the H&M Design Awards such as with Minju Kim in 2013.
Collaboration is a part of what they do. If the previous H&M collection with Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing was sexy and glamorous – much like the man himself – then this is fab, fun, youthful, energetic and dynamic. Leon and Lim selected the campaign ambassadors – Chance the Rapper, writer and activist Amy Sall, supermodel Iman Bowie, photographer Youngjun Koo, DJ Juliana Huxtable, musician and artist Oko Ebombo, Love magazine fashion editor Harriet Verney, musician Anna of the North, and others – and chose French icon Jean-Paul Goude to shoot the global campaign. Goude has a luminous portfolio that includes the “break the Internet” shoot for Paper that saw Kim Kardashian pose naked. In this exclusive interview, on the eve of the collection’s debut we delve into the details.
Ann-Sofie, why Kenzo, why now?
Carol and Humberto are such an inspiring duo and it’s great to see how involved they are with every decision. They care about every detail no matter how small. That shows that no matter how big the brand, it’s always about the individuals that work there and make it shine.
Humberto, Carol, why did you align with H&M?
Leon: We’ve always loved to collaborate. It’s something that we’ve done since the beginning of Opening Ceremony. It’s amazing to share know-how with other people. It was so exciting when H&M first approached us to collaborate, because there are so many people who only know our take on Kenzo. We’ve never really played with the archives before and we thought this was the perfect opportunity to tell the amazing story of our founder, Kenzo Takada, through our own eyes.
Lim: Kenzo x H&M brings together our world with that of Mr Takada. He was the first Asian designer to come into Paris and design for women. He really created a new way for women to dress. We had such an amazing time going through the archives to choose the prints and silhouettes we would fuse with our own, and it is amazing to see how modern his work still looks today. We then mixed these with our own prints and silhouettes, so that every single piece is new and unique to H&M.
Ann-Sofie, what’s the trophy piece in this collection?
Everyone is proud of the ribbon dress, which really shows the level of craftsmanship that we can achieve with the H&M collaborations. It’s a handmade piece with some extraordinarily intricate work. We like to challenge ourselves with each H&M collaboration and the ribbon dress is one of the most elevated pieces we’ve ever produced.
Carol, what do you think H&M learned from the project from you guys? What do you think was the most surprising part to them?
It’s been great that H&M are so open and encouraging to our message of diversity in fashion. It’s something that’s natural to us in everything that we do at Kenzo. When it came to casting our imagery for the collection, we wanted to include creative and activists from around the world. We’re happy that we have people like Amy Small and Juliana Huxtable as ambassadors for Kenzo x H&M, able to use the platform to inspire a new generation to stand for what they believe in.
Humberto, given your retail and design experience, what were the greatest surprises about working with H&M?
H&M are the perfect collaborators because they want no compromise in the collections. They only want the true essence of each brand, and gave us complete creative freedom when it came to design. We only ever collaborate with people who understand how we work and H&M have been so respectful of our point of view.
And the biggest challenge?
We like to think of this collection in terms of opportunities rather than challenges. It’s about having fun, experimenting with your look, trying something new, mixing it up and breaking the rules. We enjoyed designing Kenzo x H&M so much because we wanted that playfulness to be in every single piece.
Johansson: Yes. It was so much fun working on the fittings with Carol and Humberto, and watching as they put the looks together. They’d already spoken about the freedom with which they wanted the collection to be seen and it was amazing to watch it come to life.
Ann-Sofie, how involved were you in choosing the ambassadors?
We loved it when Carol and Humberto suggested we bring together a diverse group of ambassadors for Kenzo x H&M. We both share a belief that fashion should be for everyone and it’s been exciting to reveal the looks on these people.
Ann-Sofie, where do you place this in the hierarchy of H&M collaborations?
We are having the best time with Kenzo x H&M. What’s great about our designer collaborations is that each one is so different. It’s really impossible to compare them because they have their own energy. We’ve enjoyed every one, from the process of creating the collection to the moment it hits the stores and we can’t wait to finally see people around the world wearing it for themselves.
Jean-Paul Goude, you’re not short of work. What made you say yes to this campaign with H&M and Kenzo?
Because it’s a unique project and a great opportunity to show this side of my work in an advertising context. There are very few brands who will give a graphic artist like me carte blanche. I usually work with and for people who appreciate what I do and I like to know the people I work for. I like to understand how their mind works, to see if we share the same sensibility. I met Carol and Humberto at the beginning of their time at Kenzo.
I loved their attitude and the way they were so radical and free. To my surprise, they seemed to have such knowledge of my work that I felt immediately at home. And of course, when they approached me to work with them again for the Kenzo x H&M collection, it was the cherry on the cake. Collaborating with a brand such as H&M gives me the chance to do something bigger and bolder than ever before.
How has it been working with two completely different fashion brands such as H&M and Kenzo?
It’s the first time I’ve worked on a campaign for an H&M collaboration and I’ve been really impressed by how much creative control Carol and Humberto have been given. The images are everything that Kenzo is about and yet they’re for H&M. I’ve always loved to have different worlds cohabitate in my imagery. Building a new form of fashion democracy excites me; it’s a crusade I’m ready to fight for.
What was it like to create the campaign for Kenzo x H&M?
It’s been great, because the clothes are so graphic and daring. The combination of the vivid colours of the prints and the roughness of the cut-up technique is what makes this campaign so different. It shows the clothes just like a slick catalogue would, yet, it shows them in a hip way. The choice of the celebrities that were brought together for the campaign was perfect. I have always enjoyed doing portraits − it’s a great opportunity to graphically dramatise an individual’s personality and in a way, each one of the pictures of the campaign is a portrait of a particular celebrity as seen by Kenzo x H&M. So, it was much more than a job; it was pure fun.
What do you think about the Kenzo x H&M collection?
I love the collection. It’s as humorous as it is chic and outrageously nutty without being out of control. Everybody should love it: hip kids, old hipsters like myself...everybody. It’s been a while since I’ve worked with Carol and Humberto...I missed them and I think Kenzo’s temporary marriage to H&M is a great idea that will prove very fruitful.