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Exclusive: 5 Questions with Kenzo's Creative Directors on their H&M Collection

Unlike most of H&M's previous collaboration collections, their collab with French luxury fashion house 'Kenzo' is actually coming to Egypt.

Ten years ago, ubiquitous high street brand H&M adopted an ingenious sartorial strategy – to team up with a slew of high-end brands and have them create collections reflective of their own distinct aesthetic but marketed to H&M's massive fanbase. This was somewhat of a trailblazing step, essentially simultaneously tearing down the absurdly high pedestal upon which 'high' fashion props itself, detached from the majority who can rarely afford it, and also allowing high street fashion to elevate itself and incorporate elements from brands who often for decades have been perched on the very top rung of the fashion ladder.

Their initial collaboration collection with Karl Lagerfeld opened the proverbial floodgates for an avalanche of collaborations with divergent design houses across the fashion industry. Over the years, H&M has tapped a myriad of brands to place their imprint on the high street retailer's look - and audience - from longstanding powerhouses in the industry such as Versace and Karl Lagerfeld, to more recently-emerged brands such as cult label Commes Des Garcons and quirky darling Marni. With every collection, virtually the entire globe would wait with breath that was baited for the upcoming sartorial amalgamation to emerge.

This time around, the fashion giants are teaming up with Kenzo; the French luxury fashion house, founded in the 70s by Japanese-born designer Kenzo Takada, gained global notoriety for its eclectic, offbeat, outlandish designs. The full collab lookbook, which you can check out here, is overflowing with kaleidoscopic prints and clashing colours, reminiscent of the sartorial interpretation of an acid trip in the jungle, and unlike the majority of H&M's previous collaboration collections, this one is actually coming to Egypt.

And in a CairoScene exclusive, we got to speak to Kenzo's current Creative Directors, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, as well H&M's Creative Advisor, Ann-Sofie Johansson, to find out more about the collection, the fashion scene in the Arab world, and why they abandoned the idea of models fronting their campaign.

Behind the scenes with Chance the Rapper

How do you decide which designers to collaborate on collections with and what do you think KENZO will bring to the table this time around?

Ann-Sofie Johansson (H&M Creative Advisor): We have many conversations with designers and brands about possible H&M collaborations. With each one, we’re waiting for the right time to collaborate, both for them and us, and sometimes it can take years before we actually do it. We love to get to know the brands and the designers, and when we work together, we do so very closely. It’s great to build a relationship with them and to see the different ways that each of the brands work. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s also always great fun.

We’re thrilled that Carol and Humberto have agreed to make KENZO x H&M our next designer collaboration. They capture a mood for fun and experimentation in fashion, giving people the chance to play with their look and to try new colours, shapes, and global influences. I love that they’re so democratic, and believe that fashion should be for everyone. They’re the perfect brand for an H&M collaboration and we can’t wait for our customers to get the chance to wear the clothes for themselves.

Behind the scenes with actress Chloe Sevigny

How do you adjust or alter - if at all - the pieces you create when you're not just creating for KENZO, but for a collaboration with another brand? 

Humberto Leon (Kenzo Creative Director): We had such a great time creating KENZO x H&M because it was a chance for us to push everything and really have fun. When we’re designing our collections for KENZO, we think about what our customer needs for every hour of the day, in every situation. KENZO x H&M is in stores for such a short amount of time, and is so immediate, we wanted every piece to have a really bold and proud impact. It’s all about breaking the rules and having fun.

Carol Lim (Kenzo Creative Director): One of the great things about H&M’s collaborations is they never want any compromise and only want the pure essence of each brand.

Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, Kenzo's Creative Directors

To front the campaign, you've strayed from using the models du jour - or most models, actually - and have gone for an eclectic blend of people, from musicians to student activists to makeup artists, to represent the collection. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Carol Lim (Kenzo Creative Director): We’ve always seen fashion as part of a wider cultural conversation. KENZO x H&M is a collection that brings together a diversity of ideas, and we wanted to express that with the imagery that goes with it. It’s amazing for us to be able to give people like Amy Sall and Juliana Huxtable such a global platform, and hopefully inspire people around the world to express themselves and their individuality.

Juliana Huxtable, American artist, DJ, and model.

KENZO is one of the few H&M collaborations that will be coming to Egypt. Do you have any thoughts on the fashion scene in the Arab region, and in Egypt in particular, and how do you think an Arab audience will react to the upcoming collection?

Humberto Leon (Kenzo Creative Director): We love the link that we’ve been able to draw between ourselves and the brand’s founder, Kenzo Takada, with this collection. We wanted it to feel like a conversation between us and Mr. Takada, and one of his biggest impacts on fashion was bringing together so many different global influences. When we first started Opening Ceremony, we did it so that we could travel the world, finding new designers and product to bring together into our store. It’s so exciting to us that KENZO x H&M will be available in so many countries around the world, like Egypt. We can’t wait to see how people wear the collection in their own way, and make it part of their own wardrobe, wherever they are in the world. 

Behind the scenes with Iman

How do you think the Middle East has responded to the various H&M collaborations that have come to the region and do you think there will be a collaboration collection with an Arab designer anytime in the near future? Who would H&M like to work with and why?

Ann-Sofie Johansson (H&M Creative Advisor): It’s amazing how social media has made it possible for people on totally different continents to share their own personal style and become part of the global fashion community. It’ll be so exciting when the collection finally hits stores and goes online, and people around the world, especially in the Middle East, can share with us how they’re wearing KENZO x H&M in their own way. We love to think big at H&M, and have so many projects waiting to be announced. We also love to surprise our customers, so right now they’re all big secrets. You will have to keep watching to find out first about our next projects!