Modelled by two of Dubai’s very own design stars, Aliya Tair and Gulnar Tyndybaeva, the upcoming Kenzo x H&M collaboration is the glorious jungle mash-up that we’d hoped it would be. Here, we exclusively speak to the designers behind the label, as well as the woman responsible for every H&M stampede to date.
Creating a mini-maelstrom on the high street every year is something that Swedish mega-brand H&M makes look like an absolute breeze. It is now tradition that every November, we are all rendered without any kind of autonomy, out-of-body plotting how we can be the first to get our smug little hands on whatever designer collaboration they’ve managed to majestically conjure this time.
It’s not our fault. Such is the power of H&M, folks – the Scandi stalwart that has successfully risen above mere high street status, largely due to its now-synonymous power partnerships with everyone from Karl Lagerfeld to Stella McCartney. As such, it is not only the king of democratising fashion, but is also savvy enough to have, over the years, offered a collaboration for literally everyone. If you’re a fun-loving, boho sort with a fondness for neon, you had Matthew Williamson in 2009. Of the model-off-duty, athleisure persuasion? Alexander Wang answered all your urban dreams the year before last.
It means that, in all likelihood, we may have sneered when we saw the feral, smash-and-grab videos of people skidding across shop floors to snatch H&M x Versace, but we might well have been skidding with them – even over them – when it came to Lanvin. After all, one woman’s Margiela collab is another woman’s Marni. But the point is, none of us are completely immune.
Our next opportunity for such shop-floor acrobatics will come on November 3, when, quite possibly to the sound of a million hashtags being deployed, Kenzo x H&M will hit stores worldwide (including the UAE). No stranger to fashion hype, the Paris-based, US-helmed Kenzo brand was something of a sleeping giant before creative directors Carol Lim and Humberto Leon got their hands onto its steering wheel.
Founded in Paris in 1970 by Japanese-born Kenzo Takada, his handmade womenswear soon became known for its incongruous blend of meticulous construction, European, high-fashion sensibilities and Asian-inspired cuts. At the time, a thrilling breath of fresh air that shook up the fusty Parisian fashion scene, seducing fans like Grace Jones and Jerry Hall along the way and simultaneously making its mark long-term. LVMH bought the house in 1993, getting Lim and Leon – founders of so-hip-it-hurts NYC concept store, Opening Ceremony, on board in 2011. The first thing they did? Put those iconic tiger-print sweatshirts on the lips, chests, wishlists and Pinterest boards of every fashion insider worth their salt.
Sold out everywhere, their scarcity fuelled their demand (naturally), and set into motion our feverish appetite for the super-luxe sweatshirt and the resurrection of the cult of the logo. Wang, Givenchy, Christopher Kane et al jumped on board – and if you want further proof of its continued influence, Vetements are still jumping with a vengeance.
The reason for Kenzo’s sweatshirt’s stratospheric popularity was, among other things, that it was an entry-level luxury item – much like pieces in the H&M collaborations themselves. Peas in a pod, they both know how to play the game.
“Before we started, there were no sweatshirts at Kenzo,” Carol told us. “But to us, they were a natural part of the way we dressed. Now, Kenzo is famous for them. When we started as creative directors, we wanted to bring a reality to the brand. We have so much respect for Mr. Takada, and how connected he was to his times. We wanted to do something that felt modern and contemporary and connected to how people wear fashion today. The sweatshirt is the perfect example.”
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It’s yet another parallel you can draw with H&M – their high-end collaborations were revolutionary when they introduced them twelve years ago, what the modern fashion press would term as ‘disruptive’. But, as it turned out, the public had been waiting for this kind of innovation. “When we started the designer collaborations with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004, so many people couldn’t understand what we were doing,” Ann-Sofie Johansson, creative advisor and all-round head honcho at H&M told us. “Now the barriers have been broken down, it’s natural for brands to want to collaborate with H&M.”
So who approaches who, then? Does one party play hard to get? How does it all work? Humberto told us, “We had our first conversations with H&M a couple of years ago. The great thing about them is that they were happy to wait for it to be the right time for us, so that we could do this collaboration in the right way. Once we agreed, it was a really smooth process. Like us, H&M work with a small team and are very personable. It’s been a lot of hard work, but also great fun.”
Ann-Sofie adds, “We give each brand complete creative control for their collaboration. And for Kenzo x H&M, we’re thrilled that they’ve looked back to their archives for the very first time. It’s a truly special collection, bringing the past together with the future. Since they started as creative directors, Carol and Humberto have really captured the mood of a global fashion tribe who love colour, print and joyfulness in their wardrobe. They understand the attitude and energy of the street.”
But for a high-end brand so used to crafting pieces from the best fabrics available, and working to a different scale altogether, it surely must present a challenge to retain an uncompromised version of the brand’s DNA? After all, H&M has 3,900 stores in 61 markets, the collaboration going out in 250 of them.
“We loved designing Kenzo x H&M because we were really able to push the design,” Humberto says. “Usually when we’re creating our collections, we have to think about what our customer needs every hour of the day, for every situation. Kenzo x H&M is going to be in stores for such a short amount of time, we wanted every piece to have an immediate impact, to be really playful and full of attitude.”
Attitude is right; the whole collection being a love letter to punchiness and print. The famous tiger stripe is realised in clashing brights, from knee-high sock boots to beanies and faux-fur coats. A traffic-cone orange, animal-print, quilted kimono-style jacket is reversible with florals on the underside. Elbow-length leather gloves come stamped with ‘Kenzo’ on one arm and ‘Paris’ on the other. Even the hallowed sweatshirt is reimagined with a Mandarin frill collar. It’s a million miles away from the cerebral minimalism of the Margeila collaboration, but this is entirely the point.
“I love that each of our collaborations shows a different side of designer fashion,” Ann-Sofie says. “It’s great that in the past three years we’ve had the urban sportswear of Alexander Wang, the new glamour of Balmain, and now the colour, print and excitement of Kenzo. Our designer collaborations are a like a celebration of fashion; a party to which the whole world is invited. It’s always such a thrill to see people’s reaction to the collections, and how excited everyone gets as the launch date approaches.”
After the unprecedented success of last year’s Balmainia (in Seoul, queues started a week before the launch), you’d be right to wonder if anything can measure up. But with H&M’s well-oiled marketing machine raring to go, a clutch of campaign images shot by the legendary Jean-Paul Goude featuring Iman, Chance The Rapper and Chloe Sevigny, and the collection speaking for itself, we have no doubt that shop floors everywhere are due to see that famous stampede once again.
Aliya Tair is the founder of fashion label Tair and Gulnar Tyndybaeva is the founder of fashion label Salta. The KENZO x H&M collection will be available in selected stores in the UAE on November 3.
Words: Olivia Phillips
Styling: Carmel Gill
Images: Farooq Salik