TAKING the helm of Kenzo in September 2021, the streetwear artist Nigo has made his entry into the luxury fashion market a memorable one. In the week ahead of his catwalk debut, the Kenzo Instagram was cleared, marking an exciting new era for the house of Kenzo. Yet despite this somewhat dramatic move, the AW22 collection that was presented this week was understated in comparison.
Entitling the collection Real-To-Wear, the philosophy for Nigo was simple – what we see on the runways should manifest itself in real life. It’s a message that echoes within the designs of Kenzo Takada, who coincidentally presented his inaugural fashion show in the Galerie Vivienne in 1970, the same year that Nigo was born (look closely and the year is embroidered onto a selection of the collection). The connection between the two runs deeper that dates, however, Nigo is the first Japanese designer to front the brand since Takada and in a honourable nod to this, Nigo presented his debut at the same arcade as Takada – the Galerie Vivienne.
In keeping with his pragmatic position, Nigo has built Kenzo its own path in the industry, announcing plans to release monthly limited-edition drops to encourage a considered wardrobe. It is a choice, Nigo argues, that is rooted in Kenzo’s heritage and his own practice. The functionality of fashion that Nigo has cherished and upheld at Kenzo can even be deciphered upon reading the collection notes, which are split into neatly packaged paragraphs outlining the jacket influences, the denim used and the knitwear features to name a few.
The clothes push this narrative into a visual vortex, whereby streetwear and workwear are infused, spliced together across both womenswear and menswear, often producing a genderless silhouette in the process. The same collaging of ideas is applied in the global outlook of the design methods used – ranging from nods to the art of Japanese Aka-e pottery to a celebration of US aviator and varsity jackets. And in the tailoring too, the subversive sartorialism of British subcultures – also revived in 1980s’ Japan – was explored in the baker boy hats and checked biker jackets.
Despite the multitude of references for the designer, the ultimate go-to for Nigo was the Kenzo archive itself. The designer has been vocal about delving deep into the beginning of the house, renovating the inner structures to strengthen the unappreciated and often forgotten creations of a time long gone. It’s these creations that the AW22 collection focuses on. In an investigative fashion, Nigo unearths the experimental prints and sketches of Takada that likely were buried underneath a commercial strategy when establishing the brand. The floral prints, the Harris Tweed coats, and the feline stuffed-animal scarves are examples of this.
Nigo’s love of animal motifs is a well known characteristic of his aesthetic and was most recently realised in his collaboration with the late Virgil Abloh for the Louis Vuitton Resort 2022 collection. Marking their second collaboration, the collection saw wild animals featured on suitcases and shoe tongues, and monogram bags designed in a duck shape. It’s a collection that, when considered, suggests Nigo’s transition to the house of Kenzo, as well as the luxury sphere, could well have been a seamless one. And despite this being a monumental move for Nigo’s career, it is evident that the designer does not plan on embracing the attention for himself, choosing to lace his debut with tributes to the founder. One noteworthy example of this is in the medals used as ornamentation on garments, which are each forged in the signature profile of Kenzo Takada himself.
The show’s soundtrack, which features an exclusive preview of the designer’s upcoming album I Know Nigo with contributions from A$AP Rocky, Kid Cudi, Pharrell Williams, Pusha T, Teriyaki Boyz, Tyler, the Creator and Lil Uzi Vert, is a conclusive note to Nigo’s inherent care for culture. The A-list front row that came to support the designer on his historic venture, further exemplifies this. What other gems Nigo will uncover for his devoted fans are highly anticipated.
by Lily Rimmer