When it comes to the jungle of fashion, some may say that KENZO is king. Jungle prints have been at the core of the brand since Kenzo Takada opened his first boutique in Paris in 1970. The walls of the shop were famously decorated in jungle prints, inspiring Takada to call the store his ‘Jungle Jap.’
Fast-forward 43 years, and KENZO’s tale of the jungle continues with the adventures of creative directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, who traveled to the tropical landscapes of Thailand to find inspiration for spring/summer 2013. During their journey through Koh Yao Noi and Khao Sok, the Opening Ceremony founders discovered the clouded leopard and, in turn, the print story for the collection.
As The Thread gears up for summer getaways and of course the fashions that make this time of year so fun, we asked the jet-setting design duo to discuss the importance of travel, the beauty of cloudlike spots and seeing the world through the lens of KENZO.
Destination Thailand: Khao Sok is inhabited by rare wildlife such as elephants, leopards and Malayan sun bears.
The Thread: This season you took us to the jungles of Asia, and then for fall/winter 2013 you found inspiration in the ancient temples of China, India and Nepal. Do you feel your collections represent the multicultural future of fashion?
Humberto Leon: We do so much traveling throughout the year that our inspirations come from every corner of the globe. We constantly keep our eyes open when we’re in a different city, from going to exhibitions to looking at what the kids on the street are wearing.
Both Carol and I have multiple facets to our heritage, Carol as a Korean American and myself having a Chinese mother and a Peruvian father. With the evolution of technology and social networks online, borders have—much like in music or television—been broken when it comes to fashion. We have young fans of fashion in Russia as well as Brazil, Thailand and Iceland. Even though all of these places are hundreds and thousands of miles apart, what remains the same in each of these countries is the fact that every person who walks into a store wants to know that they can afford something that has been well produced, has value for their money and is beautifully designed. If that’s what the multicultural future of fashion means, then we’re happy to be a part of it.
The Thread: Your SS13 collection paid tribute to the clouded leopard. Tell us about your first discovery of this endangered animal, and what in particular drew you to this rare creature?
Carol Lim: At the beginning of 2012, Humberto and I decided to take a trip to the East Asian jungle. We’ve always been intrigued with this part of the world, and when we joined KENZO we discovered that Thailand was one of the places that Kenzo Takada had visited while on his legendary boat trip from Tokyo to Paris. So, we felt it was appropriate for us to visit this special and mysterious place. It ended up being one of the most amazing trips we had ever taken. We discovered the clouded leopard during our many treks into the jungle. It was such a beautiful animal that we immediately thought a print inspired by its coat would be great for the collection.
Purrfect: Backstage at the SS13 show during Paris Fashion Week, the surreal hues of camouflage clouded-leopard print popped with perfection.
The Thread: From the camouflage clouded-leopard print to the psychedelic forest print to the leaf print, take us through your creative process and how you manage the role of both fashion designer and print designer?
Humberto Leon: We usually start by having a conversation about where we see the collection going, the themes, what we really see happening with the garments. Then we usually get started with the research and discussion of fabrics, etc. Working at KENZO, a company so famed for its prints, it’s really not that difficult. They’re such automatic complementary roles that at a certain moment everything merges.
Tiger Tales: The leaf prints reveal a camouflaged tiger. KENZO Forest Print Sweater
The Thread: Beyoncé recently donned the clouded-leopard print to kick off the French leg of her ‘Mrs. Carter Show’ world tour. What went into creating this custom romper? Does a look like this represent the ‘energetic, fun and high-spirited’ vibe you want to inject back into the KENZO brand?
Humberto Leon: When Beyoncé asked us to propose costumes for her tour, we immediately envisioned different looks featuring all of our key KENZO prints such as the clouded leopard, flying tiger and psychedelic rainforest. Beyoncé is a strong force, and we wanted to be able to highlight her energy with our prints. The use of such vivid, vibrant, fun colors and motifs for her custom silhouettes, in our mind reinforces the already abundant brightness she exudes to all who watch her enthralling, and most importantly, energetic performances.
Her costumes for us represent the fun and energy that used to exist at KENZO at the time of its founder, Kenzo Takada, a time and atmosphere we want to bring back and highlight. When we saw Beyoncé wearing the outfits on stage, we knew we had made the right decision to collaborate on such an exciting project.
Fierce Fashions: KENZO Leopard Jacquard Sweater Dress
Runway photos courtesy of KENZO
Portrait by Sebastian Kim
Travel the KENZO way this summer and discover the wonder and allure of Thailand.