My trip to Florence for Pitti Immagine really was on the Itty side this season. The fret over London Collections Menswear overlapping with Pitti Uomo/W' turned out to be an timetable managed non-entity. The good folks at Pitti managed to ram five shows into the course of one day plus an afterparty or two. The main event of the day was of course Kenzo's menswear show as they are this season's guest designer of the 83rd edition of Pitti Uomo. The show already came heaped with expectation from a skyward lenticular print on the invite and the promise that Jamie XX would be providing the music. To be honest, anything I say about Kenzo is going to come with the precursory that I'm pretty much 100% slayed by the reinvention of the brand by Humberto Leon and Carol Lim – every element from the branding, merchandising, graphic and web design and more importantly the clothes and how they have properly infiltrated a new generation of people that would not have touched Kenzo with a bargepole beforehand – all of that has just had me shaking my head in wonder at their every turn, move and development. If we are entering an age where product and market forces speak louder than singular creative whim and design geniuses, then please allow that product be presented to us with as much energy, wit and with as much gusto for life as Kenzo products do.
Still, a few good seasons under Leon and Lim's belt doesn't guarantee everything and within their mens and womenswear, you get the feeling that they don't want to rest on their laurels comprising merely of tiger sweatshirts and cute sunglasses. As per the tradition of choosing a Florentine venue, the main draw of being a Pitti Uomo guest designer, Lim and Leon eschewed the two-a-penny palazzos and went to market instead. Appropriate of course for Kenzo's brand stratety which has made the "marketplace" their primary concern. The vastly elegant Mercato Centrale, designed by the 19th century architect Giuseppe Mengoni is all epic glass panes and severe glass iron – a combination that could be likened to the collection itself which was Lim and Leon's attempt to bring the celestial and the pragmatic need for protection together. The choice of the market itself was down to Lim and Leon's obvious love of food (their market recommendations include Giunti Emilio's tripe and steaks at Manetti Luciano) as well as wanting a "real" place, somewhere where Florentines come on a day-to-day basis. When pumped with smoke machines and dramatic spotlighting, the market's upper level interior was transformed into some other realm.
This skyward realm was another "jungle" for Lim and Leon, who have taken to Kenzo Takada's Jungle Jap concept from the seventies and breathed life into it. They had physically confronted the skies by their excessive air travel but they also were inspired by ancient mythology and tried to create a dialogue between something out of this world and something real. For the most part, it was definitely a slick reality that we took away with plenty of protective outerwear, footwear, outdoors-led rucksacks and utility belts (a collaboration with bag company Boblbee) and a colour palette that could be described as steely. This was Lim and Leon taking the menswear towards a more "serious" direction, discplined by the silhouettes where volumes were curved and big at the top and then slim and narrow at the bottom. The cloud print on paper could have been a tough too whimsical but when the rendered drawing of the cumulus clouds in pale blue, red and navy had the effect of an updated camouflage print. It was especially smart on the boiled wool collarless coat. The Kenzo tiger fans can still get their fix with a sculptural sweatshirt as well as a houndstooth pattern that upon closer inspection, reveals tiny tiger heads tiled together in a repeat pattern.
Kenzo flag waving might become tedious in the long run but frankly the duo would have to take a dramatic detour to derail what is shaping up to be one of the most energetic house reinventions of the 21st century. On a marketplace note, to alleviate the very simplistic fact that at a tradeshow, you look at rails and rails of wonderful clothes without the ability to "buy" anything on an immediate basis (well unless you have the gall to ask to steal samples of a rail), the Kenzo crew came to Pitti prepared with sweatshirts, tees, bags and socks to sell in their own market corner alongside a Kenzo-branded sandwich truck and coffee cart. I dare Kenzo to serve up bacon butties and proper builder's tea should they ever take their trucks to London.