Nigo, the evolution of “II”.

In today’s era of brand overload and new season’s products, NIGO’s sense of crisis always comes from the mainstream market. Therefore, he is always vigilant, leaving more space for independent thinking, he does not like to follow the direction of the tide in the environment, and will not intentionally meet the expectations of the crowd, so he looks more or less a little bit anti-bone; but on the other hand, or thanks to his oriental background, he follows the concept of white space in the oriental aesthetics — keep hungry in order to continue to “evolve”. Stay hungry in order to continue to “evolve”.

At 12 p.m. Beijing time, the day before the launch of Kenzo’s Fall/Winter 2023 collection, Paris-based Nigo wrapped up a tight, hour-long cover shoot before stepping in front of the video interview with his interpreter.
The designer, who is the same age as Kenzo, has an air of seriousness about him, and during our conversation he expressed his thoughts in a calm tone to the translator at his side, calm, restrained and deliberate, occasionally pondering his answers with his hands wrapped around his head, wearing his trademark dark sunglasses and newsboy cap.
Nigo’s global co-branded collections and strange queues are perhaps the first things that come to mind; the news that he is joining LVMH’s Kenzo brand as Artistic Director in September 2021 has led to some heated discussions in the industry, with topics such as “Is LVMH banking on trend culture to help Kenzo get back to the top of the game? Topics such as “Is LVMH looking to trend culture to help Kenzo get back to the top” have been gleefully circulating on the lips of the media. In the midst of all this buzz, Nigo calmly completed his two fashion shows – both presenting a Kenzo that exists in the present day: alive, three-dimensional, and unobtrusive.
Nigo’s name generates buzz wherever he goes, as if it were his own special quality, and many see him as a trend-setter with a network of friends ranging from the artist KAWS to pop stars Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, to former Louis Vuitton menswear creative director Virgil Abloh. ……
When I asked him why he named his brand “Human Made”, Nigo amusingly told me that in the first phase of his career, the ape-headed Bathing Ape ended its long journey as a monkey, which then evolved into “Human Made”. Human Made”.

Nigo’s growth path, to outsiders, seems to have stepped right on the wave of the times and catered to the mainstream market, from running a brand, to opening a store, to co-branding, to writing music, to joining Kenzo.
But the truth is, in this day and age of brand overload, where new seasons are being followed by new ones, and the market can be eliminated at the drop of a hat, Nigo’s sense of crisis has always come from the mainstream. Therefore, he is always vigilant, leaving more space for independent thinking, he does not like to follow the direction of the tide in the environment, and will not deliberately meet the crowd’s expectations of him, so he looks more or less a bit anti-bone; but on the other hand, or thanks to his oriental background, obedient to the concept of the Oriental aesthetics of leaving white space – there is a gap to have more space. The only way to have more space is to have gaps, and to stay hungry in order to continue to “evolve”.
1. After the New Wave
Looking at the moment when Japanese design had a great impact on Western fashion, starting with Kenzo Takada in the 1970s, followed by Issey Miyake’s “re-contextualization” of fashion design, and culminating in Rei Kawakubo’s and Yohji Yamamoto’s fashion whirlwind on the runway in the 1980s, these Japanese designers created a wave of oriental philosophy and aesthetics in Paris. These Japanese designers created a wave of oriental philosophy and aesthetics in Paris, abandoning class and status, tailored fashion expressions, and gaining a “reputation” that was so different from Western fashion that it profoundly influenced a generation of young designers, as well as Belgian designers, in the second half of the 20th century.
Nigo remembers his time as a fashion student in Tokyo, immersed in the New Wave of fashion and surrounded by young people who were influenced by these New Wave designers, which opened up his “perception” of fashion at a very early age.
However, Nigo took a very different path from that of the New Wave designers. After prying into fashion culture through the pages of Popeye magazine, he studied editing at the Nippon Bunka Fashion College, met Jun Takahashi at a nightclub in Tokyo, and became Hiroshi Fujiwara’s assistant, known as Hiroshi Fujiwara Nigo because of his resemblance to Hiroshi Fujiwara, and was later called “Nigo” by those who knew him well. Nigo” (which also means “Niji” in Japanese).
Twenty years ago, before youth culture became mainstream, Nigo created his own youth culture and trend in the Harajuku area, and his design motifs were already formed when he collected different clothing styles over and over again during his youth. “He formed the punk band Tokyo Sex Pistol with Jun Takahashi and Mitsuki Iwanaga, the former started Undercover and the latter started Bounty Hunter, and these three men went on to create the fashion scene. These three figures went on to start a series of fashion trends and marketing campaigns.
DJ, model, stylist, columnist, editor, Nigo tried his hand at almost all of these positions, and on April Fool’s Day 1993, Nigo and Jun Takahashi’s label NoWhere opened in Tokyo’s Satoharajuku, and with no signage or advertisements, NoWhere quickly festered and gained a lot of “devotees” among a small group of people. “NoWhere Young people queued up on Sundays before the store opened to buy a T-shirt, and A Bathing Ape T-shirts were always sold at 2-3 times the price. …… Even though this is a common occurrence today, the cultural phenomenon created by Nigo and his friends 20 years ago remains irreplaceable.
Youth culture became an important issue in Nigo’s subsequent career, and a label he could not escape, with many trying to call him the “father of trends”. But 30 years on, trends have never been at the center of the mainstream vortex, and it’s hard to associate youth trends with haute couture or luxury brands; and in response to the changing tides of the times, fashion houses are no longer singing haute couture’s dirge to themselves, and youth culture has moved from the streets to the mainstream, with democratized fashion everywhere.
Perhaps it is because of the change of self-expression of young people’s clothing, or perhaps it is because of the rapid change of the industry, Nigo, who used to work in many different roles, prying the youth culture, got the ticket to LVMH, and after Kenzo Takada, he became the second Japanese creative director of Kenzo’s brand house.
If 30 years ago Mr. Kenzo Takada found a way to dialogue between Eastern and Western fashion in the context of Parisian fashion, and Nigo pried up youth culture in Tokyo, what will Nigo do now, 30 years later, when their destinies are intertwined once again under the change of the market and the promotion of culture?
2. Intertwined – deconstructed and reconstructed
In January, the streets of Paris were chilly and damp, and the Musée de la Pleyel, built in 1893, was located on rue Saint-Honoré in downtown Paris, the center of European classical art, where Kenzo’s fall/winter 2023 collection was staged.
In the venue, the 1966 Quartet, an all-girl group of classical artists, played Beatles classics, a classical expression of the vibrant rock music of the 1960s. This renovation, like Kenzo under Nigo, uses the language of classical fashion to break the shackles of contemporary clothing, so that traditional Japanese design is fused with the suit silhouettes popularized by the ’60s mod crowd, tapered pants are layered with miniskirts to give a sense of formality to contemporary garments, and Japanese collars are grafted on top of denim jackets, linking East and West and breaking through into a new paradigm of fashion. The breakthrough became a new fashion paradigm.
Like a reincarnation, even though he has never met Kenzo Takada, Nigo has been tirelessly searching for links with the archives during the creative process. The deeper he got into the archives, the more Nigo realized the power of culture over clothing – the fascination of bringing different cultures from different parts of the world into one garment.
From the archives, Kenzo’s irregular stripes from the 1980s were punked up and adorned with plaids and chevrons; and based on the begonia flower, an abstract pattern was interpreted as an oriental ikat, which jumped between the sporty and the collegiate.
Throughout the collection, the Zen silhouette of the Orient is carried through to the Western style clothing, and Nigo uses his language to find the right balance between the two, while the elements of sports, workwear, and collegiate style are combined with the Oriental ethnic craft of tatting embroidery, which is also used in newer fabrics such as nylon, tannin, wool, knit, and sports knit, and the Donegal tweed from Ireland is fused into the sporty blend of twisted sweaters, and the “Fair Isle Knit” is also used in the newer fabrics, such as the tatting. The “Fair Isle Weave” technique is also presented in a 3-D colorful gold and silver silk blend. …… Kenzo under Nigo’s hand is fully endowed with cultural imagination, and he combines fashion in a new context with the culture of the past era to form a new Kenzo Kenzo’s language.
Kenzo Takada’s clothes focus on the composition and expression of a specific cultural circle, with prints carrying cultural symbols interacting with fabrics; Nigo bridges the gap between Western pragmatism and Eastern aesthetics, looking through the rich Kenzo archives. While Kenzo Takada “deconstructs” the Eastern aesthetic in a way by combining the mystical mood of the East with the colorful prints of exotic cultures, Nigo “reconstructs” cultures, making them appear as a collage on the clothes: punk, rock ‘n’ roll, B-Boys, and the like. Punk style, rock spirit, b-boy, etc. It is like a mirror reflecting the individual image and identity of different cultures.
Indeed, in Kenzo Takada’s early works, the expression of fabrics, patterns, and even colors are bold and distinctive, which is what he understands as textile art – fabrics from flea markets, and a new exploration of Japanese floral fabrics fused with Western fabrics through patchwork. Reinterpreting the traditional patterns of flowers, fish and butterflies found in Eastern cultures, and blending them with the passionate and bold innovations of the Latin people, he recreates the rich and colorful culture of the East with a bold and intense approach.
Thanks to Kenzo’s rich DNA, Nigo says, “Kenzo Takada is real. This is the first time in my career that I’ve incorporated Eastern elements into my designs, and I haven’t had many opportunities to work with traditional Japanese craftsmanship and fabrics in my designs, whether it’s for Human Made or any other project,” says Nigo.
What Nigo does in the preparation of each collection is to find a balance between Eastern and Western elements, and the Eastern silhouettes seen in the rich Kenzo archive, which can only be achieved through constant fittings and experiments in the creation of each collection.
Rather than fashion or trends, Nigo is more interested in the clothing itself and life itself, and the fashion on the show floor should be reflected in real life.
In the twilight, Kenzo’s archive of wonderful designs has gradually become a gift of the years, and underneath the begonias with their rough edges, the aged rose totems emit a fresh and mellow scent.
Nigo’s fashion styles are suitable for daily wear, more loose, casual men’s and women’s clothing, weakening the gender, but focusing on wearing and styling. The extremely graphic hand-drawn patterns on the garments are sometimes humorous, sometimes offbeat, a technique that evokes a sense of lightheartedness and is applicable to the current fashion sense. Under Nigo’s design, the reconstructed Y-shape jacket buttons and Japanese tannin pleated hakama skirts derived from Japanese kendo uniforms merge the western design language with the traditional martial arts garments of Japan, revealing a new collision of silhouettes within the workwear silhouettes.
Nigo’s portrait of fashion is no longer a “pop” item, but a vivid fashion community that almost makes you believe that you might see a group of Beatles-listening boys and girls somewhere in school, wearing visually striking T-shirts and hoodies over their regular plaid suits, mimicking the style of the Mod Clan. The mod family’s outfits ……
Kenzo Takada’s Kenzo is real, so is Nigo’s Kenzo, he does not rely too much on fashion performance, but emphasizes culture, conceptualization, and dialogue with the wearer, which constitutes a part of the concept that fashion needs – clothing needs to return to the real.
3. Making decisions about clothing
Brands have their own lifecycle, and as the fashion industry has seen in recent years the phenomenon of having to start all over again with a new creative director, the style of the new designer determines whether or not the brand is able to create new value for the consumer, in terms of the cycle from collection launch to sale.
Nigo often feels that the days of a new creative director taking over and ‘personalizing’ the brand are over, and with Kenzo being a brand built by Kenzo Takada, Nigo says that he doesn’t want to make ‘radical’ changes, but rather to bring the brand back to its roots. The aesthetics and philosophy that Kenzo was founded on by Kenzo Takada are continued in a new look, and for him, Kenzo today is not “personalized” but rather a balance between Kenzo Takada and Nigo.
Nigo avoids overly personal fashion expressions, telling me that “the starting point of each collection is a design concept by Kenzo Takada”.
I ask him, “What is your path of thinking in design?”
Nigo, who worked as a stylist at the beginning of his career in the fashion industry, replied, “The stylist always knew how to make ‘decisions’ for the clothes, and the stylist tested the combined thinking of the clothes, which now provides fresh ideas for design. In my previous experience, it was almost always me as the stylist who created the ethos of the brand; at Kenzo, there is a professional styling team, a design team, and perhaps like the way Mr. Kenzo Takada used to work with his team, each member of the team finds their own point of light in the collection …… Spotlight What is presented is the creativity of the different staff members, which are gathered to form the complete collection. For Nigo, this mode of working is like a “collaboration” between many people.
4. Self-evolution of the second generation
Nigo believes that Kenzo today should be aimed at young people who are interested in clothes rather than “trends”. He inherited Kenzo from Kenzo Takada, without being disconnected from the young people around him. In Nigo’s experience, brands tend to age with their founders, and it’s important to stay relevant.
Over the years, he has come to realize that creative masterminds who do not come from the ‘school of thought’ are gradually being accepted by the mainstream market. Perhaps seen by most as a surfer of the times, whether as a label or a cultural phenomenon, Nigo’s presence always generates conversation and buzz, and I wondered what it takes to be accepted by the market. Nigo pondered for a while, and said to me through his sunglasses, “Find your own rules, and believe in them! Find your own rules and believe in them,” Nigo said to me through his sunglasses after some contemplation.
In the interview, I ask him how he feels about people trying to associate him with “street style” or “subculture”, to which Nigo replies that he has never been a part of a “subculture” or a trend. Nigo replied that he has never been a part of a “subculture” or a particular trend, but rather he has been a bit of a “latecomer” to the fashion trends and designs that are going on around him, even going against the mainstream. His interpreter told me that Nigo majored in editing in college, and just like you in front of the camera, he never received any systematic training in fashion design, and his focus was more on his own feelings. This free thinking has led Nigo to explore the unique sensual mode of fashion.
As for the crossover collaborations that have repeatedly generated buzz and secondary hype, Nigo replies that the crossover collaborations that have become a hit are not intentional, and that he has in fact turned down many co-branding offers from brands. He never actively seeks out opportunities for ‘co-branding’, Nigo says, as there is only room to play with products that are personal, “if you are interested in the brand or product, inspiration will come instantly”. Once a young Nigo would have splashed out on a Levi’s denim jacket collection, so he quickly knew what to do when it came to cross-border collaborations with Levi’s denim brand. The same can be said for the Louis Vuitton collaboration, as Nigo and Virgil Abloh have often exchanged design ideas, and the Louis Vuitton/Human Made collaboration was born out of this back-and-forth.
The cultural environment in which Nigo grew up had a profound effect on him, as he inspired a youth culture of young people at the beginning of the millennium, and his designs were never solely based on the construction of ready-to-wear garments or fabrics, but rather formed part of a cultural circle around a lifestyle that provided an alternative to the culture of consumerism in which fashion was practiced.

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