In Las Vegas, and on television screens and computers across the country, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump faced off in the final debate of the 2016 presidential election, but in New York, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon took center stage. Kenzo x H&M, the Swedish behemoth's latest collaboration in a jam-packed fall season, debuted to much fanfare — and a drumline — with a runway show, dance party, pop-up shop, and an Ice Cube concert at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport Wednesday night.
It was a sharp diversion from Lim and Leon's overtly political Fall II 2016 show for Opening Ceremony, where comedians like Fred Armisen, Ali Wong, and Whoopi Goldberg took to the runway, as it was, to discuss immigration, gender equality in the workplace, and voter registration amid a parade of models.
Kenzo’s trademark eclectic patterns, animal prints, and textures were on full display as an array of fans and friends of the designers, including Chloë Sevigny, Lupita Nyong’o, Charli XCX, Chance the Rapper, the various members of Die Antwoord and DNCE, and Rosario Dawson, turned out to pay their respects, skipping the debate in favor of something a bit more celebratory.
“It’s very Carol and Humberto,” Sevigny said of the collection, discussing after the show as music pounded in the background. "It didn't take itself too seriously. It was awesome." The actress is something of an expert — she’s known the designers for two decades and starred in the Jean-Paul Goude-lensed campaign for the Kenzo x H&M collaboration.
Seeing the collection come to life, then, "I felt really proud, you know what I mean? You do a lot of campaigns — or, one does, like myself — and different associations with the brands, and I just love them," she added.
British singer, songwriter, and ubiquitous pop collaborator Charli XCX dropped into the city for a few nights, walking the leopard-spotted carpet in an oversized leather bomber with zebra-printed pants and boots.
“I did do a whole tour wearing zebra. I’m back in it, Peggy Bundy-style,” she said. “Feels like the dream collection for me.” (Andie MacDowell’s daughter Rainey Qualley, for her part, prefers cheetah — but not the real thing. She’s a vegan, after all.)
“Maybe Hillary should wear some Kenzo prints,” Charli XCX said, pondering the debate. “That would be chic, right?” If elected, Clinton would have a tough sartorial act to follow in Michelle Obama, whose wardrobe choices vary from the underground — she’s been an early adopter of designer of the moment Brandon Maxwell — to the glitzy, with her latest favored designer being a custom Atelier Versace creation — always with an eye towards up-and-comers and the global resonance of her selections.
As Qualley walked the red carpet in a reversible quilted kimono, she mentioned that she doesn’t have cable. “I watched the aftermath,” she said of the previous two debates. “I mean, I think…” she continued with a slight laugh, her voice lowering to a conspiratorial whisper: “Donald Trump is a fucking idiot. There’s no way that’s not going to happen.”
The show, like the campaign, was creative directed by Goude: it featured beat boxing, a drumline, dancers, models, horns, and a full string section coming together in a consuming rhythm. Though the mood on televisions far away may have been somber, the atmosphere inside Pier 36 was positively giddy. “This is a celebration of diversity and everyone coming together,” Leon said when I pointed out the scheduling conflict after the show. Shortly after, he joined the party, pushing Goude into a crowd of dancers.
“Hopefully, people take note," he said.