Nigo, the Japanese streetwear entrepreneur who founded A Bathing Ape, has been named the new artistic director of Kenzo, parent company LVMH said in a statement Wednesday. He succeeds Felipe Oliveira Baptista, the former Lacoste designer who left the brand in June.
Nigo attended Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo (the same school attended by brand founder Kenzo Takada) and started A Bathing Ape in 1993. Also known as “Bape,” the label became a pioneering force in streetwear — marrying relaxed, graphic styles with the hype factor of hard-to-find limited runs.
After Nigo sold the brand to Hong Kong’s I.T. group in 2011, he went on to launch two labels with singer Pharell (Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream), designed Uniqlo’s UT range, and collaborated with Adidas through his more recent label, Human Made. Virgil Abloh tapped Nigo for his first and only collaboration as menswear director of Louis Vuitton.
Nigo “changed the landscape of global street culture,” LVMH’s statement said. “He has innovated new ways for fashion to relate to its audience that have since become industry standards.”
At Kenzo, Nigo will be charged with reviving a brand which has a catchy name and prime retail locations, but whose business, driven by logo tees and tiger-embroidered sweatshirts, has been cooling off.
LVMH has also named a new chief executive, Sylvain Blanc, to work alongside Nigo, according to an internal announcement seen by BoF. Blanc, who has been CEO of French intimates brand Undiz since 2018 and previously worked at The Kooples, is a graduate of two top French engineering schools, including Bernard Arnault’s alma mater, the École Polytechnique.
During his two-year stint at the brand, Nigo’s predecessor Oliveira Baptista attempted to revive the original codes of Kenzo Takada, who died last October of complications following Covid-19. The Japanese-born designer was known for relaxed, colourful creations and nomadic references, and his designs were a fixture of ‘70s and ‘80s nightlife, sported by the likes of Grace Jones and Iman.
But the pandemic was bad timing for the roll-out of a couture-infused repositioning. With the nomination of Nigo, LVMH seems to be looking back to a more recent period of success, when the brand grew steadily for several years fuelled by a streetwear-inspired premium concept under the creative direction of Opening Ceremony’s Humberto Leon and Carol Lim.
While LVMH’s top-end, accessories-driven houses like Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton have seen sales come roaring back above pre-pandemic levels during the last year, Kenzo isn’t the only one of its smaller units under pressure to reposition its design and strategy.
In the past year LVMH’s Fashion Group (the conglomerate’s group of smaller brands overseen by former Dior CEO Sidney Toledano) also named a new designer for Pucci, sold Nicholas Kirkwood shoes and Thomas Pink shirting, and discontinued its Rihanna-helmed Fenty fashion start-up.
As Louis Vuitton and Dior power ahead, designer departures and disposals elsewhere in the luxury giant’s portfolio suggest its smaller fashion assets are under scrutiny. Has the strategy really changed?