Kenzo hits up China

For the first time in the brand’s 53-year history, Kenzo showed its new collections in China. Zaneta Cheng reports from Shanghai

Brands are coming back to the East. After a long absence thanks in large part to the pandemic, Kenzo is one of a handful of big players to present a fashion show in the Middle Kingdom. Having originally staged a spring/summer 2024 show on the Passerelle Debilly, a footbridge over the Seine river that links the Palais de Tokyo and the Eiffel Tower, during the men’s shows in June, Kenzo artistic director Nigo took the Parisian atmosphere and his unique aesthetic to Shanghai’s Port International Cruise Terminal overlooking the city’s landmark Huangpu River. Held on July 28, the show marked the first time the brand has presented a collection in China in its 53-year history.

And this was no copycat of its Parisian forerunner. A bona fide celebrity streetwear designer, having worked with the likes of Virgil Abloh and Pharrell Williams as well as launching his own streetwear label A Bathing Ape, Nigo put forth new iterations of the silhouettes debuted in Paris earlier in the summer, all still tightly executed around Kenzo’s East-meets-West house codes.

Of course, the mononymic Japanese designer’s own creative philosophy is itself seated in this duality. So what happens when the house codes established by late Japanese designer and founder of Kenzo, Kenzō Takada, are married with Nigo’s own vision? For one, we get a series of matching sets using traditional Japanese motifs like the seigaiha, printed onto denim – itself adopted by the East Asian nation and reinvented to suit its own aesthetic – as well as jacquards and knitwear. There were also variations of reimagined traditional Japanese garments. Kimono sleeves and waist-tied judo jackets were reinterpreted to sit alongside Western-style bomber jackets and overalls. This sojourn to the East brought the clothes younger.

The collection’s City Pop influences were more prominent in the Shanghai show. It seems Nigo noticed the resurgence of the ’70s Japanese pop-music genre and used the collection to explore what a younger generation’s take on it might mean. So, he enlisted his long-time collaborator Cornelius, who curated the soundtrack to which the models strutted down.

In the women’s collection, Nigo mixed utility with sportswear and tailoring. A grey suit with waist ties had a relaxed, almost kimono-esque silhouette that echoed City Pop’s languid beats. Next came more delicate knitted pieces in elongated silhouettes of baby pink and blue. The Kenzo rose also featured prominently – whether blossoming across long half-buttoned tops or printed onto a denim overcoat. Of particular note was the Eastern inspiration – including traditional Japanese sake bags and rice packaging – that Nigo took for the bags that he sent down the runway.

As for something new, trust Nigo to invite Japanese graphic artist Verdy to create a Kenzo Paris logo, which was emblazoned either on repeat or in pride of place across the edgier pieces of the collection. Think denim minidresses and red logos stretching across the back of a light-wash denim kimono jacket.

Kenzo’s first show in China had a star-studded turnout. From Hong Kong, Twins were representing, both dressed in twinsets. Jayler from Thailand was hugely well received and a host of Chinese celebrities were in attendance, most notable among them Ou Yang Nana. The night was balmy and the twinkling lights of nighttime Shanghai gleamed in the background of the many photos taken, leaving no room for doubt as to the rise, once again, of the East.

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