ANATOMY OF AN ICON - Kenzine, the Kenzo official blog

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As an omnipresent symbol, the eye sees all and is looking eye-catching this season!


Designers have set their sights on eyes this season. The eye motif peeks out from jackets, pants, skirts, shoes and accessories. Kenzo has given the inspiration an Asian twist: the eye protects its wearer as with the temples in India, Nepal and China. This is clothing worn as a good luck charm. And while its magical powers to ward off misfortune cannot be proven, the eye motif makes an overwhelmingly positive, optimistic statement, giving a passing wink to surrealism. Magritte and Dali made the eye one of their favorite symbols, and it continues to evoke dreams, magic and a desire to experience the world beyond the confines of reality. To experience the world of fashion as it happens. The surrealist reference has been picked up in a quirky Kenzo Fall/Winter campaign by Toilet Paper, who courts the absurd with a barrage of eyeballs.  Coming soon: new images inspired by the campaign – keep a good eye out for the latest from the Toilet Paper team.

 

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The inspiration is mystical as well as artistic. Physical qualities aside, the eye is considered the gateway to our inner world. A “third eye” is thought to sit in between the two eyes. In India a bindi traditionally marks this spot, the sixth chakra, although fashion has long since appropriated the bindi for its own. 

Another historical eye motif can be spotted in Queen Elizabeth I of England’s famous Rainbow Portrait. In this official royal portrait painted in the late 16th century, the monarch wears a gown embroidered with eyes and ears, signifying an omnipotent queen who sees all and hears all. On another level, the eye also sets Her Majesty apart from what came before, demarcating her intention to break with the established order: the overriding reference here is to the queen’s motto “video et taceo” (“I see, and say nothing”). Elizabeth I was more moderate than her predecessors and warlord neighbors, preferring to lend her attention to the theater renaissance and feats of naval prowess rather than religious repressions and conquests. It almost brings a tear to the eye…

 

Shifting our gaze ahead to the 18th century, the all-seeing eye of the Illuminati and the Freemasons continues to inspire modern-day artistes, cropping up on music videos, album covers and photo shoots. The all-seeing eye looking down from the top of a pyramid appears on the American dollar bill and symbolizes the omniscience of these supposed secret societies. The symbol is referenced by “illuminated” celebrities, who hide one eye or place their fingers around it to form a six. Although not affiliated with the organization that has supposedly been plotting world domination for centuries, the stars have appropriated the symbol in a similar way to the V for victory, to celebrate their success in the cutthroat entertainment industry. Fortunately, the runway is more interested in looking the part than secret handshakes. As the apple of our eye this season, the motif is open to interpretation!

Time flies, but some things never go out of style. Aviator wear is a staple that has never left our wardrobes and it is the inspiration for Kenzo’s menswear collection this season. Now boarding for immediate departure!

 

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The bomber jackets, aviator uniform trousers , lace-up boots, flying jackets with sheepskin-lined collars and aviator shades popularized by pilots have made their mark on fashion ever since the glory days of flying took off in the 1920s. Off the tarmac, aviator wear has established itself as a constantly updated classic. Fall/Winter 2013 sees the traditional palette of brown, black and navy blue expanded, with pea coats and double-breasted jackets decked out in sky blue shades and cloud prints. The fighter pilot camouflage print looks more celestial than army surplus, with nylon skinny pants inspired by parachute silk. The iconic backpack of parachute-toting aviators is dropping in all over the place this season, recreated in strap-fastened backpacks and referenced in belts made of straps and clips. Fur-lined lace-up boots – less iconic, but just as essential unless the daredevil aviator wanted frost-bitten feet – have been colorfully updated in graphic styles, with faux laces and zips rendered in strips of fabric. Despite the dizzying number of flying hours under their belts, these updated classics are looking anything but fatigued in a fresh take for this season.

 

Therein lies the eternal appeal of aviator wear. An authentic back story is borne out by authentic materials: leather, sheepskin and tinted lenses were intended to withstand enemy attacks and harsh weather conditions. Modern-day top guns can recreate the distinctive and manly look emanated by the daredevils and servicemen of yore, who wore their flying gear like a second skin, sometimes for weeks at a time... Like the biker jacket or army jacket, aviator gear bestows on its wearer the values of an intrepid and invincible adventurer – albeit one whose adventures are mostly confined to the realm of the imagination. The aviator’s unwavering appeal spans the decades: he is a model of authenticity and resistance, and lives to beat his own record. Comfort and ease of wear are key to the eternal popularity of this truly timeless look, a classic that is at home in any era and has more than earned its stripes. Kenzo’s fresh take on classic aviator getup is on standby to equip modern-day Charles Lindberghs, Howard Hughes and other high fliers this season.

Super-cities, home to super-receptive people, no wonder nature is everywhere in fashion today. We’re dressed head to toe in animal designs (tigers of course, but also pythons, pink flamingos or peacock feathers) and plant motifs, an omnipresent theme from Haute Couture to Ready-To-Wear. Nature is part of the Kenzo DNA: it goes right to the roots of the brand.


 

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Kenzo Takada’s signature "fauna and flora" prints reflected his fascination with the colors and the living energy of nature. As did the name of his first label, "Jungle Jap". The designer brought wanderlust to the 1970s with his cheerful, feel good floral and tree prints, inspired by the naive style of French painter Rousseau. At the time, dreams of travelling the world often remained just that. The modern-day paradise of lush Asian landscapes called to the collective imagination. Kenzo’s prints were a breath of fresh rainforest air that permeated fashion. Style was suddenly as easy as life in its natural state.


The palm tree leaf print emanates that same carefree attitude, now more than ever the stuff of fantasy, a rare species we need to track down. Psychedelic Forest, one key print of the season, is an eco/digital crossbreed that whisks us away to a mysterious destination. So let’s take a walk on the wild side… watch out for leopards!


Our safari begins in the urban jungle, outside the Kenzo store on the Place de la Madeleine in Paris. The storefront display is a vision of greens, blues, ochers and pinks, the rainforest by night, as seen in the Amazon or Thailand. Carol Lim and Humberto Leon have donned their night vision goggles to create their own twist on Kenzo Takada’s much-loved vegetation. Their graphic, unstructured, gif-inspired take on the forest transports us to a modern-day digital fantasy world. Orchid prints feature amidst this tangle of flowers, leaves, palm fronds and ferns. But these are no ordinary flowers. In the contemporary forest evoked here, we are all animal/digital hybrids. It’s Robinson Crusoe 3.0. Just like in the jungle, we have to fight. Just like in the jungle, there are the dominant and the submissive. We dream of escape to the jangàla (the origin of the word "jungle", in Sanskrit), the wild. We clamber aboard our digital ship. This is our lifeline. We take a heady breath. But this modern-day ecosystem, at once virtual and ultra-real, universal and intimately personal, can be suffocating. A splash of greenery and palm trees makes a welcome reprieve.

 

 

With yellow jacquard with a leopard print, and 3D green crocodile knits, knitwear is going wild this season.  With pop colors and animal prints, Kenzo’s original knits are trapped in this new collection.  Let’s follow the trail.
 

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It all started in the Seventies with Jungle Jap (Kenzo Takada’s brand before he created Kenzo) and his colorful knits.  At that time, knits were being released from their bourgeois (and/or comfort) image and were becoming a true element of the fashion world.  Kenzo incarnated the pop aspect of this new knitwear and became a reference.  Ethnic patterns, large flowers and bright colors combined in his knits. 

 

Always inspired by nature, Kenzo mixed up the seasons, using knit in the summer and cotton in winter.  He went even further, reinventing the cuts of knitwear, cutting off the sweater, creating a short-sleeved top with new, original volumes.  His collars, sleeves and hems were often ribbed in contrasting colors, like a sweatshirt, but knit.  His sweaters were worn over a dress shirt or other long-sleeved shirt, launching layering, a look that is still with us today!  Another trick up Kenzo’s sleeve, another emblematic piece: the sweater with kimono sleeves.  This was the perfect mix of Japanese culture and French style that expressed the brand’s very essence, and this new cut marked hearts and minds, and fashion alike.


 

Since then, Kenzo continues to knit dresses, sweaters and accessories (scarves, turbans, etc.), in colorful and innovative patterns and in jacquards.  This trend has continued into this season when Carol Lim and Humberto Leon took a firmer hold on knits according to Kenzo.  With fluorescent yellow, old rose, purple, red, orange and phosphorescent green, colors are exploding, sometimes even from thread to thread, like in the dress with purple that blends into green, for a basket-making effect.  As it is given texture, with this “wicker” effect, its 3D check boards, crocodile or jacquard weave, Kenzo knitwear is given relief and is reinvented once more. 

 

Sweater dresses, trousers and sweaters now have as much character as the brand’s famous tiger.  Many pieces are patterned in its spots, in miniature or fluorescent, while others roar with calligraphy.  It is through the tiger that Kenzo knits rediscover their wild side.  In 2011, in their very first collection for the brand, the two New York designers brought it to life with their now famous tiger sweater.  The 100% wool sweater, embroidered with the feline, has come to symbolize the brand and its renewal.  Once again this season, in prints or embroidery, the wildcat pounces into Kenzo knits and sinks its claws into our style!

"Grrrrrrr"…. Can you hear the leopard roaring in your wardrobes this season? With its giant and colorful spots, what was once thought to be a passing trend from the start of the millennium keeps managing to reinvent itself, earning its position as a contemporary classic. An analysis of this series of reinventions. 

 

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Today for a chic or offbeat look, unfailingly fashionable in every case, leopard print has woven its way into the fabric of style. But this was not always the case... seen in turns as vulgar, punk, political, feminist and tribal, it dates back much further than the 2007 collections. There's a complex socio-historical tale here, making the leopard the king of the prints. In fact, it was this connotation of kingliness, an association with power and strength, that brought leopard print into fashion in the first place. In pomp and finery, every time. African tribal leaders, and in particular the Nuer tribes of South Sudan, would make its skin into a throne and wear it as a loincloth, dress or cap. Among the Nuer, the person called upon to resolve disputes is even called "the man in the leopard skin". Don't forget that the leopard is a powerful and clever animal; it runs at 80 km/h and is known for covering its tracks with its tail! So catching it is quite a feat, and wearing it is therefore a symbol of great strength. QED. Due to the effects of colonization, the leopard as an emblem of power is inevitably found during other periods and in other countries. The Dragons (clearly, roaring is essential) of the Régiment de la Garde Impériale (Imperial Guard Regiment), created in 1806 by Napoleon, for example, proudly wore a helmet encircled at the bottom with a leopard band. Real fur for the officers, but imitation print in cow or calf hair for NCOs and soldiers. 

 

So, what do you know! Real or fake, tanned or printed; yet another distinction in the leopard hierarchy. But of course, the print itself is nothing new. Even Napoleon (him again!) had a leopard print wool rug in his bivouac camp during the Russian campaign in 1812.  So it was not, as one might imagine, the appearance of the animal rights movement in the 60s that turned leopard into a print. Until then, wearing real leopard didn't shock anyone, it was simply a luxury. Even more interestingly, in the 50s, the leopard skin coat brought it back to its original function as a symbol of power. The only difference is, this time, strength had been replaced by money. The analogy between the coat, the garment for which leopard was most widely used, and tribal animal skin is obvious. And yet, from the 20s onwards, and especially in the 40s, designers were working with the print. First considered cheap and vulgar, it failed to find its audience. But like any good classic, all it needed was a few style icons to wear it and the spotted print became stylish. Jackie Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Catherine Deneuve, even Brigitte Bardot singing "a tiger skin dances at the top of my thigh, and I have only this leopard print coat on my skin..." in the song "Mon léopard et moi": they all wore it (real for the most part). And before long the fashion world followed. It was also made popular by famous cinematic roles (Marilyn in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and Carole Lombard in "Twentieth Century"), worn as detailing on a collar, hat or sleeve. But, whether a luxurious coat or understated velvet detail, in the 50s and 60s, leopard print was a must-have.

A must-have, yes, but more importantly it was considered to be respectable. But this was not always the case.  When it first arrived on the scene leopard print was disliked for being cheap ("Fur, yes, but not fake!"), and its reputation as a promiscuous animal made the print a style for the only the most ‘wild’ of women.  Despite being a symbol of wealth when it was real, at the same time leopard print became an emblem of frivolity, sexuality and vulgarity. At the time, the pin-ups, those femme fatales who had not yet benefited from the glamorous gloss of the vintage treatment, began to drape themselves with its spots. Adorning women in swimwear, in underwear, or simply nothing at all, leopard print began to be showcased on a completely different range of photographic advertisements. Ava Gardner, Betty Page, Elizabeth Taylor and actress Elaine Stewart posed languidly in leopard bikinis and one-pieces. It became the preserve of vamps. Just like the tribal leaders, they too wore this (fake) skin to symbolize their identity. Feline, like the leopard, simultaneously sweet, predatory, wild, unpredictable and independent. By appropriating and subverting this symbol of power, as masculine as it may be, these femme fatales transformed it into something ultra-feminine. They made it into another symbol, that of their sexual appeal.

So now we have our leopard (the innocent that he is, whose round spots are simply for camouflage in the forest) used as a symbol, both sexual and bourgeois, both animal and high society. For society's agitators, it was an opportunity not to be missed! In the 50s, “rockabilly”, a sub-genre of rock closely related to the pin-up scene, began to use it, and even today, coordinated with black, leopard print is a popular accessory to the retro-rock look. But it was the post-modernists of the 80s who turned the print into something truly provocative. What could be better than leopard print for this art movement with its ironic rejection of the establishment and modern society’s rigid ideas of "good taste"? Indeed, at the time, post-modernists and punks were purposely introducing "bad taste" into art and life, aiming to shock and provoke. They began to wear the clothing of prostitutes (so... leopard print!), among other alternative styles. In fashion, as well as in design and music, the provocative arts couldn't get enough of it, with the 80s rock scene at the forefront. Once again, it is the animality of the leopard that is celebrated. It is about showing the animal in all of us, or at least letting it speak. Out with the bourgeois; dry humor, bestiality, instincts and impulses are back! And yet, as with any movement, provocation eventually becomes the norm, and leopard print was re-re-democratized in the eighties. 

So it is with this history and these perceptions that the leopard made a come-back in the 00s, going on to reinvent itself yet again, becoming a core part of our wardrobes. They say a leopard never changes its spots- really? It seems that fashion has decided to prove the famous saying wrong!

 

 

 

credits:

"Masai warrior talking on a smart phone" by Mehmed Zelkovic

"Matching Fur" by Chaloner Woods

"Gene Tierney" by Silver Screen Collection

"photo of Sid Vicious" by Richard E. Aaron

"Kenzo campaign - 1983" by Hans Feurer