With Felipe Oliveira Baptista, Kenzo is finally back on track. Forget ‘Tiger’ sweatshirts and endless logos – Oliveira Baptista wants to position the brand among the serious ready-to-wear brands, like in the Kenzo Takada days. “Intuition is a banned word at fashion houses these days. It’s as if there’s no space for it. But there was a lot of that in him,” Oliveira Baptista told Vogue, reflecting on the legacy of Takada, who died in October last year aged 81. Sticking to those values, the autumn-winter 2021 collection is dedicated to Takada, yet at the same time, Felipe didn’t reissue a single garment or print from the master’s greatest hits of the 1970s and ’80s. Instead, the designer paid tribute by evoking the founder’s presence through intuitive ideas. Silhouettes riffed on Takada’s most memorable moments through the spherical and orbital, the folkloric, and the cross-cultural. Balancing, as he does, the artisanal with the durable and sporty, Oliveira Baptista simplified and contemporized materials, turning Takada’s geometric lines into a kind of streetwear for a 21st-century Kenzo. Throughout, he painted the garments in the things the founder loved most: pansies, tulips, hydrangeas, and stripes. Honestly, it could have been one of Takada’s shows, shot in the Cirque d’Hiver, where he often presented his collections, with an original soundtrack by Planningtorock (listening it on repeat!) and models dancing in a harmony of shapes, colors, and patterns. Close-up, it was bursting with new life in a performance-y, vivid way. Refreshingly, Oliveira Baptista’s work for Kenzo doesn’t show many signs of pandering to a social media-driven shopping culture as his predecessors. Before he started working on the collection, Oliveira Baptista was given access to footage of all the old Kenzo shows, which had been undergoing restoration at the time of his arrival. “In the first two seasons, I had only seen the photos and the clothes themselves, so I was struck by the magic of the shows: the intuition, the freedom, how the clothes were always moving. It made me want to portray the movement, the comfort, and the freedom these clothes give you. That’s very much what Kenzo stood for,” he explained. All those things felt like good timing for a post-lockdown proposal. Felipe is looking forward to digging into ‘true’ Kenzo even deeper in the next months. “He was quite revolutionary. When he first arrived in Paris, the way he was cutting clothes and playing with color was so different from the European way of constructing garments. That immediately gave women and men a new freedom of movement,” the designer said, reflecting on Takada’s fashion. “It’s not that he doesn’t have the place he deserves, but sometimes what he’s done is overlooked. The idea of extreme comfort in a very strong look feels very now. He did that first. It’s a very rich legacy.”
“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.
Kenzo is one of those brands, which is always out there, but seems to be unsure of its position on the market for years. Humerto Leon and Carol Lim made Kenzo cool again in the early 2010s thanks to their logomania injection and youthful, colourful approach, but their later, more creative ventures were killed by the brand’s over-commercialised approach. Now, it’s under Felipe Oliveira Baptista‘s creative direction for the second season (I didn’t feel his debut to be honest) and looking at his spring-summer 2021 collection, there’s a chance that Kenzo will turn into a smart fashion brand again. We know Oliveira Baptista for his name-sake brand (which is currently dormant) and few years spent at Hermes and Lacoste. He’s good at reviving French brands that have this sort of “athletic”, active side. In his recent collection, affected by coronavirus reality of course, the designer showed his wit, which actually resonates with the current times. Oliveira Baptista, a nature obsessive with roots in the luxuriant hills of the Azores, wants to instill his work with the harmonious and optimistic aspects of the environment, themes that are also core to Kenzo. He strictly uses recyclable plastic, is working with WWF to double the global population of tigers (Kenzo’s trademark), and has a number of other environmentally conscious projects in the works. The veiled beekeeper suits that opened his collection, however, inevitably felt more Contagion than Honeyland, the 2019 documentary about a beekeeper in rural Macedonia, which served as a reference. The film portrays the contrast between its protagonist, a lady who respects the bees and only ever takes the honey she needs to survive and her industrious neighbors, who deplete the natural resources and end up killing the bees. “It’s one of the most ancient collaborations between man and nature,” Oliveira Baptista said, explaining that the image of the beekeeper came to him amid what he sees as a moment in which humankind is bargaining with the ecosystem. “I wanted to express something about the fragility of the situation we are in. Everyone goes to the low of the situation – fear and anxiety – but we go to the high: dreaming of optimism and a future and going back to the things we’ve been missing.” That may be the case, but the elements with which he imbued his collection felt more geared toward survival than picnics – even if there was a jar of honey on guests’ seats. An adaptable coat with multi-pocketing could be wrapped up into itself and transformed into a bum bag. Out of the zipped bottom of round leather bags came a separate giant shopping bag. A cocoon coat with a caped hood layered over its body easily tapped into said sci-fi quarantine vibe. And floral prints from the Kenzo archives, which had been faded to look clinical and blurry, evoked the effect of flowers sticking to a window in the rain, like something you might have seen in confinement. Oliveira Baptista’s perhaps inadvertent tendencies for the dystopian serve to his advantage. If dark undercurrents didn’t make their way into his delicate veils, lace raincoats, and little summer dresses, they wouldn’t put up any resistance to the flower-power universe of Kenzo. Rather than cute, there was a feeling of self-protection about his collection that hit an obvious nerve in a time when the environment is fighting back, giving us a taste of our own medicine. “We don’t even know what to be afraid of and what to believe in. The whole idea of protection becomes abstract,” the designer said, summing up the broad spectrum of sociopolitical current affairs.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
For some time I thought about these two things- an animal versus a hunter. These two things are quite common in fashion! You know, animal have colours, wilderness, beauty, feathers, fur and so on. And hunters, so humans- not much- a weapon, hunting boots and coats. And sometimes a horse. This pair have something that links them together- fashion! And the AW13 season. For example Jean Charles De Castelbajac and Felipe Oliveira Baptista- both of them have animals on their amazing dresses. Even the atmosphere around them is wild and sensitive. Christophe Lemaire and Sacai are the hunters- coats or jackets, boots and trousers. Only a gun is needed and a hourse to make these two hunters! Animals and hunters will never be friends, the same as in fashion- never gonna match. But still, that’s interesting thing!
🐕🐕Felipe Oliveira Baptista🐕🐕
🐆🐆Jean Charles De Castelbajac🐆🐆