Catching Up With Kenneth Ize
Karl Lagerfeld and Kenneth Ize. Two of fashion’s most exciting innovators, both with a shared love of bold and iconic designs. Bringing his vibrant vision to the late designer’s Maison, the Nigerian-born, Austrian-raised Ize debuts a brand new collaboration, successfully fusing the Lagerfeld DNA with his own trailblazing point of view.
From working alongside Carine Roitfeld (“I’m using the word “sexy” a lot, which is totally from Carine!”) to the unexpected benefits of working under lockdown limitations, Kenneth tells us more about what went into creating the collection.
Can you tell us about how this collaboration came about?
Carine [Rotifeld, Karl Lagerfeld’s official Style Advisor] approached me at the beginning of last year and I was shocked - but in a very positive way! I actually started working on the collection that very same day. I thought it would be such a privilege to work with her and the brand and to learn from her. It’s been an amazing opportunity and I am so happy to be able to do this. I wanted this collaboration to be very strong and meaningful - to do something for Karl that also reflected my own background.
Which elements of Karl’s legacy did you look to incorporate in the collection and how did you express these themes via the pieces?
Karl was all about reinventing himself, so for me this feels like a unique opportunity to fuse my vision of fashion with Karl’s Parisian-chic attitude. For example, we’ve taken inspiration from the Igbo tribe in Nigeria with the Uli Body tattoo print that we added onto knitwear. You can see African crafts in a different way, and this is something that’s very important to me.
I researched a lot about pre-colonial and post-colonial time in Africa, and a lot about Karl. In every single design there will be elements from all over Africa, not just one particular place. I looked at prints from Zanzibar; I’ve transformed a traditional black-and-white floor mat into a garment. And then I looked to Karl and thought about how he dressed; how we could make [the collection] something very wearable and aristocratic at the same time.
What were other themes that you wanted to focus on and how were these realised in the collection?
One of the main themes is my world and vision in Lagos and juxtaposing it with Karl’s Paris - which in a way is also my Paris, as I spend a lot of time there, too. But also, the collection is about craftsmanship and collaboration. To be with Hun Kim, Design Director of the Maison, together in one room, was a lot of fun.
Do you have a favourite piece from the capsule?
Not really, actually - I love how it looks together as a whole. I do love the black-and-white pants and the two knitted sets.
In terms of production processes, can you tell us about some of the trials and tribulations of producing a collection in the midst of such a difficult time?
During quarantine, I was in Nigeria, so I wasn’t able to leave the country. I was travelling to places that I’d never been to before and ended up finding new artisans within my own country. Earlier this year, Carine and I met up at the Maison in Paris and we styled the items in Karl’s former office, which was a very emotional moment.
What was it like working in collaboration with such an established house?
I feel like I’m sitting beside Karl and telling a story and expressing myself with this collection. I’ve also picked up so much from Carine’s style. I’m using the word “sexy” a lot, which is totally from Carine. She’s chic! She wears heels 24/7. I’ve also gained so much confidence from spending time with her and the rest of the team.
What are the most important factors to you in your work as a designer?
Life. People’s stories. People’s honesty. How truthful you can be to yourself. What comes first is what’s inside you, and if you can connect with your inner spirit as a creative person, it’s very honest and loyal. Once you get that, voilà, that’s it!
Your work brings together your Nigerian heritage alongside the European influence of your Viennese upbringing. Can you describe the interplay of these two cultures in your work and your process as a designer?
I feel like now I’m more hardcore into Africa. I love it so much. There are so many things to do and so much to choose from; it’s about finding beauty everywhere. My Western upbringing, however, has helped me understand Karl’s design vision and the attributes of the brand. I think, in this way, it makes me capable of combining the best of both worlds.
Interview by Georgia Graham
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