Kenzo designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, who split their time between New York and Paris, were inspired by French dressing this season. But if you’re thinking about the same tired old references — Bardot, Birkin, Breton stripes — think again. “We actually really wanted to move away from any of those references for this collection,” said Leon after yesterday’s show. “It was really about us talking and interpreting what is French to us.” After all, he added, “Kenzo [Takada] was a foreigner who fell in love with Paris. And we wanted this collection to really represent us falling in love with Paris in that same manner, so it’s less of, I think, the way actual French girls dress, but more as a foreigner, how we interpret what that means to us. So it almost is coming from like an outside perspective into the Parisian landscape.”
That was the starting point for a refreshing, cliché-defying collection with tongue-in-cheek takes on Breton stripes (which they turned into boxy Josef Albers design on a shift); bold, if at times bordering on clownish, print mixing (multicolored stripes meet polka dots, anyone?); and kitschy tourist motifs, like a tiny Lady Liberty seen printed on fabric and engraved on coins that decorated the models’ flat sandals. Leon and Lim were clearly having fun with the original concept of “resort” as a voyager’s wardrobe for the one percent, countering it with a joyfully loud and populist fervor and elevating all things “touristy” to the level of luxury.
The cultural implications of their juxtapositions were also exciting — a boxy, Asian-inspired printed silk jacket over a pair of straight-out-of-Deauville striped shorts or a sharp nautical suit accessorized with East-L.A.-style door-knockers. The liberal use of gold accessories recalled the gonzo-Gallic vibe of the French stylist Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele — though, for what it’s worth, Leon and Lim said she was not an intentional reference point. “We wanted to be — not shy about the excess. We wanted to have fun with the excess,” said Leon. “To us, that’s our interpretation of how not only French people are, but about foreigners who visit — the tourists who visit Paris. I think they embrace a lot of the excess and we wanted that excess to be a part of it.”
The logo that the brand splashed across blockbuster sweatshirts extended to bags this season, as the duo debuted the neon Bike style. Even the zipper pulls on their clothes were logo’ed. “We tried to really get nostalgic about how we got into fashion,” said Leon. “I think as young kids in the suburbs [in California], the way you enter luxury is through logos. When we first came to Kenzo, [the logo sweatshirt] was the first thing that I made for myself and I wore it at the end of the runway for that first show. It’s exciting because generally a French house would never embrace the logos. But we looked at it, again, as foreigners and as suburban kids loving a brand from the outside.”
Perhaps Leon and Lim’s biggest coup, though, was a Lazy Susan–style runway setup that reflected editors and celebrity well-wishers (including Dakota Fanning and Chloë Sevigny) in its mirrored background — turning every Instagram shot into an unintended group selfie. “The reflection was definitely intentional,” admitted Leon. “I think we’ve always been one of those brands where we want to include everyone. And we want everyone to feel a part of the presentation, a part of the brand.”