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Image: Kenzo

LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned Kenzo has a new creative director: Nigo. The tenure of the Japanese streetwear icon and Bathing Ape and Human Made founder – who will fill the top creative role that was left vacant following Felipe Oliveria Baptista’s departure this spring – coincides with the impending arrival of new CEO Sylvain Blanc. Taken together, the two new appointments will undoubtedly result in a sweeping revamp of the 51-year-old fashion brand that has been itching for a boost of relevance since even-earlier creative directors (and Opening Ceremony founders) Humberto Leon and Carol Lim cemented the modern status of the brand with their trademark $500 tiger-emblazoned sweatshirt that sold like hot cakes and dominated style blogs and street-style photos beginning in 2012. 

With Leon and Lim (and their prowess for perfectly tapping into the zeitgeist) out of the picture at Kenzo since mid-2019, LVMH is without-a-doubt looking to Nigo to help reinvent the brand that the late Kenzo Takada launched in 1970 for current consumers. Given LVMH’s overarching push to consistently modernize its brands in order to reach younger consumers, including more recently, those who have a penchant for streetwear and hard-to-get collaborations, the appointment makes sense. Not only does Nigo have a track record of creating products – including Bathing Ape’s shark hoodies, signature camouflage wares, and BAPE STA sneakers – that have enjoyed longtime demand, garnered a cult following of their own, and presumably generated high margins, he has a long list of collaborators, such as Virgil Abloh and Louis Vuitton, adidas, Pharrell, Pepsi, Lil Uzi Vert, and Kanye West, among others.

Beyond that, the appointment makes sense in light of the fact that Kenzo has significant room for revenue growth and is ripe for an overhaul. As of 2019, the brand was reportedly generating less than €400 million ($472 million), making it a smaller entity under the French luxury goods conglomerate’s umbrella. It is unclear how much Kenzo’s sales improved during Mr. Baptista’s two years at the helm, as LVMH does not break out individual figures for its smaller houses. The group did name-check the brand in its 2019 full-year report, stating that Kenzo “continued its growth, strengthened its positioning in ready-to-wear with designs mixing bold prints and high-impact hallmarks, and stood out in accessories with the launch of [Leon and Lim’s] Tali bag.” LVMH made no significant mention of Kenzo in its annual report in 2020 or for the first half of 2021, aside from references to its fragrance offerings.

Chances are, Nigo, who is a bona fide pioneer of modern fashion, is the jolt that the brand needs to grow on the apparel and accessories front (and I will be surprised if he does not venture into the metaverse and virtual fashion realm) in order to reach the level of sales of some other LVMH-owned houses.

“I am proud to have been appointed Artistic Director of KENZO. I was born in the year that Takada Kenzo san opened his first store in Paris. We both graduated from the same fashion school in Tokyo. In 1993, the year that KENZO joined the LVMH Group, I started my career in Fashion,” Nigo said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Sidney Toledano, who serves as the Chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton, hailed the appointment, stating, “The arrival of an extremely talented Japanese designer will allow us to write a new page in the history of the House that Takada Kenzo founded. I am convinced that the creativity and innovation of Nigo, as well as his attachment to the history of the House, will fully express all the potential of KENZO.” 

The news comes on the heels of LVMH revealing in July that in addition to taking a 60 percent stake in upscale fashion/streetwear brand Off-White, it has entered into a new “arrangement” with Abloh to “jointly pursue new projects across luxury categories.” LVMH asserted at the time that the new partnership will “leverage the Group’s expertise to launch new brands and partner with existing ones in a variety of sectors beyond the realm of fashion,” with initial discussions already underway, according to the French luxury goods conglomerate.

Nigo’s tenure officially starts on September 20, while new CEO Sylvain Blanc joins Kenzo on October 18.