Can Nigo and LVMH Solve the Kenzo Puzzle?

PARIS — LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault has long defended the notion that, within the luxury group’s portfolio of 75-plus names, there are no bad brands — only badly managed ones. Some, however, have proven particularly tricky to steer despite hefty budgets and A-list teams. There’s Marc Jacobs — which shuttered dozens of stores and discontinued its diffusion line before launching the popular “Heaven” range — and Givenchy, the French couture house which has been hamstrung by a revolving door of designer changes, leaving it presently without a designer at all.

Then there’s Kenzo, the Parisian designer label with Japanese roots, which staged its sixth show by creative director Nigo Wednesday night in Paris. The outing aimed to celebrate the brand’s unique France-meets-Japan, pop culture-meets-heritage identity: models wore camouflage workwear ensembles with a bamboo-leaf motif and jackets embroidered with Eiffel Towers rendered in a Japonesque style. Pharrell Williams sat front-row, flanked by fellow pop phenomena French Montana and Seventeen’s Vernon, who sent fans outside the venue into a frenzy.

Founded by Kenzo Takada in 1970, Kenzo was originally known for its colourful prints and extravagant post-hippie silhouettes before evolving into a highly successful wardrobe brand, selling well-cut staples of everyday dress from the 1980s into the 2000s.

In the 2010s, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon (founders of concept store Opening Ceremony) were brought on as its creative directors, giving the business a second wind with a successful line of tiger-emblazoned merch that positioned the brand ahead of the curve in luxury’s fusion with streetwear.

But customers eventually moved on, and three years under designer Felipe Oliveira Baptista failed to turn things around: his pricey runway collections were a tough sell at a brand that had become indistinguishable from logo tees and sweatshirts, which were sold through increasingly dodgy wholesalers as the brand struggled to wean itself from easy grey-market revenue.

Designer of Kenzo Nigo.
Nigo was named creative director of LVMH’s Kenzo brand in September 2021. (Kenzo)

Then, in 2021, came Nigo. As a Japanese designer with long-established, international ‘cred’ among the streetwear set (he founded early streetwear staple A Bathing Ape and co-founded Billionaire Boys Club with Pharrell Williams), it was hoped that Nigo could simultaneously reaffirm the brand’s Japanese links while reinvigorating the streetwear lines that powered its present-day business.

“The theme since I started has been ‘how to make Kenzo more Kenzo’; figuring out what Kenzo without Kenzo Takada should be,” Nigo told BoF at the brand’s Rue Vivienne headquarters Tuesday, speaking through his interpreter and longtime collaborator Toby Feltwell.

That meant reestablishing Kenzo as a wardrobe brand with a Japanese eye on everyday dress, rather than anything too abstract. Nigo says he’s more often inspired by the designs from Kenzo’s commercial boom in the 1980s, when he first encountered it in Japan, than by the more “shocking” aesthetic of Takada’s early years.

Kenzo Spring/Summer 2025 Menswear
Kenzo Spring/Summer 2025 Menswear (Spotlight/

Nigo also sought to reconnect the brand with “genuine Japaneseness” — through aesthetic signatures such as bamboo-leaf prints or the vivid origami-paper pastels seen on the runway at Wednesday’s show and “a Japanese way of editing influences from the outside.” The best examples of that process are surely the Americana notes that run through Nigo’s collections, like varsity jackets, utility vests and double denim ensembles, which the designer says are informed by the “American casual” movement in Japan — his “original frame of reference in fashion.”

Kenzo Spring/Summer 2025 Menswear
Kenzo Spring/Summer 2025 Menswear (Spotlight/

In January 2022, Nigo made a strong debut, showing an explosion of exuberant prints, cute hats, Western shirts and wool peacoats that successfully animated Kenzo’s “East meets West” identity. Pharrell Williams, Tyler the Creator, Kanye West and his then-girlfriend Julia Fox, Shygirl and Pusha T all showed up for the show held in the 19th-century shopping gallery where Kenzo Takada had opened his original store. Nigo seemed to be on track, marrying the brand’s heritage to his own enduring — if not particularly current — pop-culture clout.

But the brand has since struggled to build on the promise of Nigo’s debut. Products arrived in stores just in time for a steep slowdown in luxury demand, which was particularly pronounced for more accessible luxury brands and logo-fied, streetwear-inflected concepts.

Meanwhile, recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic has hardly been a straight line, with a 2022 resurgence of the virus leading to strict lockdowns and travel restrictions in the key Asian markets that drive two-thirds of Kenzo’s business.

Kenzo Spring/Summer 2025 Menswear
Kenzo Spring/Summer 2025 Menswear (Spotlight/

For Nigo, that also made travelling between Kenzo in Paris, where he spends one week per month, and his homebase in Japan even more of a strain. “It was a difficult way of working, difficult to adapt to the structure here,” he admitted. “It’s not been easy joining in the middle of Covid.”

The designer also found himself short on allies within LVMH, where Kenzo’s diminutive size and less luxurious positioning have long made it an outlier and something of an afterthought for top managers. Nigo’s candidacy was initially championed by the transformational Louis Vuitton men’s designer Virgil Abloh, who unexpectedly died just months after Nigo’s arrival. In January 2023, Louis Vuitton’s former CEO Michael Burke, another supporter with whom Nigo had worked on a hit menswear capsule, also took a hiatus from the group. Meanwhile, LVMH has appointed advisors to explore a potential sale of stablemate Marc Jacobs, Reuters reported last month, in a further sign of increased scrutiny on the group’s smaller and less luxurious units.

At Kenzo, sales kept falling as demand for the brand’s core streetwear offer continued to fade. At the same time, CEO Sylvain Blanc clawed back Kenzo’s exposure to low-quality wholesale and grey market resellers in a bid to reduce markdowns and reinforce the brand’s prestige.

“The customer has moved on from tiger sweatshirts, but with Nigo they haven’t managed to recruit a new customer yet,” Alice Feillard, Galeries Lafayette’s menswear buying director said. “They’re in a tricky position. It’s not taking off. But when you change directions too often it damages the brand.”

Then, in the lead-up to Nigo’s Wednesday show, LVMH’s top brass backed Kenzo’s current direction. Nearly three years into Nigo’s tenure (a standard length for first-time designer contracts), executives have become increasingly favourable to continuing the partnership, sources say.

Kenzo Spring/Summer 2025 Menswear
Kenzo Spring/Summer 2025 Menswear (Spotlight/

That could be, in part, because the group has more urgent issues to tackle: It’s been over six months since Givenchy has been designer-less, and tricky contract negotiations with creative directors are said to be underway at houses bigger and more profitable than Kenzo. With so little bandwidth for steering another designer relaunch, why not give Nigo more time? (Representatives for LVMH declined to comment on plans for Nigo’s contract).

There are also green shoots for the brand’s business. Retail sources say the business remains at a nadir in European department stores, but uptake for Nigo’s vision has been stronger in Asia, and sales in the brand’s retail stores are now “growing strongly,” according to company sources.

Nigo’s close association with Pharrell Williams, Louis Vuitton’s new menswear designer whose spectacular events have remained a highlight as the group struggles to navigate a sluggish market for luxury goods, surely also raised hopes that the project could find stronger footing. Influential stylist (and Off-White creative director) Ib Kamara agreed to style Kenzo’s latest show and consult on the collection, another move that could boost the brand.

“There’s a harmony being created between Nigo and the brand, and which we can build on,” LVMH Fashion Group’s managing director Pierre-Emmanuel Angeloglou said Wednesday following Kenzo’s show. Nigo is tapping into “what’s special and unique about Kenzo. The work to do now is about making that clearer, and about taking that identity and communicating it to customers.”

Kenzo Spring/Summer 2025 Menswear
Kenzo Spring/Summer 2025 Menswear (Spotlight/

As Nigo joined models for their encore Wednesday, the designer struck a rather glum figure trudging through the gold sand the brand had poured around the Palais Royal’s central fountain — even as friend and collaborator Williams rose for a lengthy standing ovation. What was wrong?

The designer had a fever, having come down with something during his flight from Japan Monday, his team assured. “It’s been difficult, but I’m rather enjoying it at the moment,” Nigo said. Asked whether the show might be his last, he responded: “That’s not what I’m thinking.”

Disclosure: LVMH is part of a group of investors who, together, hold a minority interest in The Business of Fashion. All investors have signed shareholder’s documentation guaranteeing BoF’s complete editorial independence.

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