“It’s just a celebration of the collection,” designer Humberto Leon explained after the runway show for the new Kenzo x H&M collaboration had dissolved into a full-on dance party. Not that it hadn’t already been a dance party; with a Southern drumline, a New York-based orchestra, and models and dancers from across the country, as well as a beatboxer and a surprise set from Ice Cube at the after party, the show was vibrant, energetic, and far from the austerity of fashion week.
Ever since the Kenzo and H&M collaboration was announced back in May, previews have surfaced in bits and pieces — a couple campaign shots here, a lookbook there — but it wasn’t until Wednesday night’s dance bonanza that the collection came to life. Photographer Jean-Paul Goude, who shot the campaign images featuring Chance the Rapper, Chloë Sevigny, Iman, and Rosario Dawson, provided creative direction for the whole thing; the campaign stars themselves all filed in to observe from the front row. The sound of the Chelsea Symphony Orchestra swirled around the room, and as the lights dimmed to mark the beginning of the show, they crescendoed to an anxious climax; then, suddenly, they stopped, and dancers burst on to the stage while music director Sam Spiegel’s “Express Yourself” remix blared. It was on.
Choreographed by Ryan Heffington, whose credits also include work with Sia and FKA Twigs, the show featured both models and dancers alike performing moves that combined hip-hop with a runway march filled with attitude.
They blended together on stage: “You can’t tell who’s a dancer and who’s a model,” Leon said. (Still, there were a few recognizable faces: Ari Westphal, Jordun Love, Cindy Bruna.)
But the real difference was off stage — while model Kris Gottschalk said she and her fellow models had been called for two full days of rehearsals, dancer Lina Nuñez said she had been working through the choreography since Friday. And, toughest for all involved, there was a strict moratorium on social media in the lead-up to the show. No Instagram previews to be found.
“You would have thought we all knew knew each other forever,” dancer Stefania Ricupero said after the show. Still clad in a ruffled Kenzo x H&M crop top, she and fellow dancers Catie Whalen and Brie Porter were finally able to take, and post, selfies. “We’ll probably be with each other on the next gig. It’s a real family when you do things like this.”
Midway through the show, Drum Line Live emerged onto the stage in bright yellow marching jackets reading “Half Time”; beatboxers Kenny Muhammad and Rahzel and a few dancers lingered on stage in the background, swaying to the beat.
“I do human orchestration to uplift and inspire humanity to do the impossible,” said Muhammad, who wore a floor-length quilted Kenzo x H&M kimono and had been recruited by music director Spiegel, brother of one Spike Jonze. Though many in the crowd might have wished to be anywhere but lower Manhattan earlier in the night, watching the final presidential debate that played out as the Kenzo x H&M debut unfolded, by the show’s end, the audience and performers alike were energized, captivated.
“It made fashion fun,” Sevigny said.
While Lim and Leon took their bow, running a full lap of the performance space (both naturally wearing pieces from the collection), many of the dancers and models lingered on stage, pulling audience members up for a dance. Goude, Heffington, and the designers mingled in the crowd; the performance seamlessly transitioned to after party. And perhaps the show’s greatest success: As evidenced by the steps that performers pulled off, these were clothes you could move in. And, just as importantly: Lim and Leon managed the impossible and got fashion people to have fun at a fashion show.
“It’s universal,” Muhammad said of the show. “I’m elated.”