The fashion press has now begun to speculate that outgoing designer of the label, Antonio Marras, now simply must be in the running for the Christian Dior job, which, Dior's recent couture show reminded the world, remains painfully vacant. But while the rumor-mongers gossip, changes are afoot at Kenzo, which Marras has designed since 2004. His last collection for the house walked at Men's Paris Fashion Week in June, meaning Leon and Lim's first line for the house will walk at Paris Fashion Week in October.
Kenzo's retail sales total around $1 billion, a good chunk of that coming from Russia and China. With Leon and Lim at the helm, LVMH says Kenzo will reenter the American market, which it exited in 2003, and continue growing in Chinese and Russian markets. WWD spoke to Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH’s fashion division, about the unexpected appointment:
Sardinia-based Marras, known for his transporting fashion shows and romantic inclinations, has been “respectful of the heritage of the brand,” Roussel said. “What we need now is something which has more energy, which is looking forward in terms of addressing a new generation.”
Roussel said he interviewed a wide swath of designers both young and experienced, but was struck by the “360-degree vision of the fashion industry” Leon and Lim possess via their multiple creative collaborations.
Those include Chloë Sevigny's Opening Ceremony collection, along with collaborations with Levi's, Rodarte, that Wild Things movie, and others. Leon and Lim operate two stores in New York, one in L.A., one in Tokyo, and shop-in-shops in the Lane Crawford stores in Beijing and Hong Kong. Their in-house Opening Ceremony line also wholesales to 300 doors. The entrepreneurs have clearly demonstrated a savvy understanding of high fashion markets in the U.S. and Asia and are certainly regarded as two of the coolest people in the fashion industry. Yet they possess no formal design training, and at the age of 36, were not born when Takada Kenzo founded his label.
But perhaps all that doesn't matter so much in building a successful luxury house today. Though Leon does sketch, the new creative directors promised to "build an exciting team" of designers to work alongside them at Kenzo. Such an arrangement between the non-designer creative director seems to be working at at least one house, the recently revived Mugler, where stylist Nicola Formichetti creatively directs alongside a main women's designer, Sébastian Peigné, and men's designer, Romain Kremer, whom he happily takes bows with at the end of his shows. And yet at other labels, trained designers with little public name recognition are taking over. At the house of John Galliano, Bill Gaytten — Galliano's right-hand man for years — now oversees design. At Balmain, Olivier Rousteing was promoted to replace Christophe Decarnin, after working at the label since 2009.
Promoting designers from within seems like a safer if less marketable bet than hiring someone buzzy in the industry who is not a designer to run a label. In the very, very extreme example, going outside a label for a name rather than inside the industry for a proven talent was disastrous at Emanuel Ungaro, when Lindsay Lohan took over.