American designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim surged into the global spotlight in 2002, as the co-founders of New York City’s preeminent boutique, Opening Ceremony. With its keenly curated selection of luxury brands, the shop quickly attracted the attention of the fashion world at large, and in July 2011, Leon and Lim were appointed as the creative directors of Parisian label KENZO.
Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, by Filep Motwary.
The strong friendship shared by this creative duo dates back to their years at UC Berkeley in California, where they met as students in early 2000. After a decade of successful project launches and hotly anticipated collaborations with other labels and designers, they continue to challenge fashion habits and to conceive new methods of design.
Today, both are enthralled by the KENZO spirit, which they perceive as a lifestyle all its own, and the label is shaped by the singular creativity born of their partnership. The originality and diversity of patterns and prints, the bright colours, music and rhythms of disparate cultures from around the world are all inspirations behind KENZO’s revival: under the guidance of Leon and Lim, it strives to achieve a universality which will seduce men and women of all ages.
Fashion has been a catalyst and playground for socio-cultural movements. Today’s trends are tracked from street to runway and back again at such speed that subcultures can barely exist beyond the brands. In what way do you feel today’s fashion is relevant?
Fashion has and always will be one of the easiest ways people can express themselves. We love drawing inspiration from everything around us: culture, art, music, food, travel, and from seeing what people are wearing on the streets. Today’s fashion, the product of a more connected world, is extremely relevant for what KENZO stands for today. That connectivity is what brings people together: streetwear melding with tailoring, night and day, comfort and style. All of these elements and more make fashion right now an extremely exciting place to be.
Do you think that something originally pegged as a luxury fashion brand could evolve into something that ends up being a mainstream feature? Is it a good thing being mainstream or not?
What some people seem to forget is that KENZO as a brand was never intended to be “luxury.” Kenzo Takada, when he founded the brand, dreamt of creating collections accessible to the street. We feel that mainstream isn’t a negative word and that mainstream fashion can still be heavily design oriented. KENZO has always been democratic, and since joining the company in 2011, we wanted people to remember this. Mainstream usually means something collectively appreciated and that is something we like to celebrate. We would love for KENZO to be a household name around the world.
Carol Lim, by The Stimuleye.
Do you think it’s always advisable for designers to be very visible, seemingly available to and engaged with their audience? Should relatability, especially in this age of social media and hyper connectivity, always be a goal? How should a designer understand himself or herself in relation to the consumer?
It really depends on the brand. For us at KENZO we love engaging with the customer because that is where you see if your collections are something people will want to buy and wear. We want people to understand who we are as a company, and in order to do that, we have to understand who they are as clients. Social media gives us a direct link to our customers and we love being able to have a dialogue with them. They can ask questions, discover more about our world and become a part of the KENZO community.
Humberto Leon, by The Stimuleye.
You’re surrounded by collaborators coming from very different directions. For KENZO, how important is the idea of “family,” and the creative exchange with its members?
It’s super important for us. Both at KENZO and Opening Ceremony we work with our friends. It creates an open dialogue and brings out the best ideas. Working with collaborators such as Spike Jonze or Chloe Sevigny, people we have known for such a long time, is a joy. It’s important to love what you do, and what could be better than brainstorming or working on projects with people you admire and respect on both a personal and professional level?
Talent is an obvious thing to look for in a contestant, but what other qualities do you think will be important to look for in a designer, right now, in 2014?
We will look for a strong point of view as well as for someone who understands the importance of the whole process of design. It is important to be able to understand the business aspects as well as all the creative ones. Also, we will look for someone who has both drive and a sense of humility.
What is the last thing you saw, read, heard or felt that stimulated you?
Carol: Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, an animated film by Miyazaki.
Humberto: Seeing The XX perform an 40 person intimate show in New York.