With the house celebrating its 40th anniversary—and the founder, Kenzo Takada, far away in Brazil working on his home wares—today's honorary birthday boy was Antonio Marras, Kenzo's designer for the past six years. Accordingly, he was subjected to a wearying orgy of congratulations in the torrid backstage heat of the Cirque d'Hiver. But congratulations are indeed due. Marras has lately kicked Kenzo into gear, and the anniversary show recognized that fact, with a first half devoted to the new Spring collection and a second half that mixed pieces from the label's vast archive with his contributions from the more recent past.
The thing that stood out about the new work was how unambiguously Marras it was. The designer said the august anniversary was a watershed: From this point on, he hinted, there'd be a new phase. A chrysanthemum jacquard coat or the Hokusai waves that decorated a blouse referenced Japan, but the bead that Marras drew to Sardinia, where he was born and still lives, seemed more meaningful. He is a master at brokering cross-cultural marriages, so here the volume of a kimono matched the floor-sweeping volume of a paysanne dress, and the woodblock prints straddled both cultures. But it was Marras' own inclinations that produced the most beautiful pieces: the floral tent dress appliquéd with 3-D roses, the army-surplus waistcoat remodeled with panels of sequins.
The show's second half was an extraordinary reminder of what fashion once was, of a certain inventiveness that has gone by the wayside. Marras was looking at the work of Nick Cave—the American performance artist, not the Australian singer—and he envisaged a presentation that stretched out the human figure the way Cave does in his work. So stylist Vanessa Reid collaged together archive pieces with Marras' own work for the label to produce towers of clothing, layer upon layer of Kenzo's signature textures, colors, ethnic prints, topped by folded jackets, hats, anything that would stretch the silhouette still farther. When the models filed out and stood on the Cirque d'Hiver's revolving stage, it was, in the designer's words, "like a music box with 40 ballerinas." The ludicrous beauty of that image defined Kenzo Takada and Antonio Marras.