Fashion

Kenneth Ize: A Whole New (Fashion) World

Everyone is talking about Kenneth Ize: the Nigerian-Austrian designer was celebrated as the newcomer of the season at Paris Fashion Week. He can be distinguished not only by his diverse background but also by his e orts to revolutionize the fashion system thanks to his contacts and cultural background.
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Naomi Campbell walked the runway during your debut at Paris Fashion Week. What a feat! 

Yes, absolutely. During my time at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, I fully concentrated on the digital sphere and experimented with Instagram. I was able to establish many contacts this way and then continued to expand my network through my travels. What also helped me a lot was my work for the Edun brand, the label belonging to Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson. As a result, some players in the industry already knew of me when I applied for the LVMH Prize. I met Naomi in Nigeria when I presented at the Fashion Week there. 

Is networking the reason for your success? 

I believe in social cohesion and networking, and this is mainly due to my background. I come from Nigeria, which is a developing country, grew up in Linz, and studied in Vienna, which is located in the heart of Europe but is not a fashion metropolis. So I was aware that above everything else, a cross-border network would help. It was also the LVMH team who supported me with my show in Paris. It was a great opportunity to present myself, and my brand that I think has a very individualistic approach.

How exactly would you describe your aesthetics? 

My brand is about preserving culture, maintaining an identity, but it also has a very pragmatic approach. I am concerned with transparency, diversity, and inclusiveness and with bringing people together. My aesthetic is classic and timeless and is combined with craftsmanship. I think that’s the right way forward. 

Your production facility and brand headquarters are in Nigeria? 

The reason I moved to Nigeria was a political one. Despite being a democracy, it is a very corrupt country. A lot can be achieved there by creating jobs and generating attention.

African designers are still very underrepresented in the international fashion market.

That was also one of the reasons why I work a lot with the media – they are an important platform for representation and dissipating information. 

Thanks to your work, we learned a lot about the traditional Aso Oke technique! 

This is a centuries-old weaving technique from Niger and West Africa, which can be found in a similar form in Kenya or the Philippines. In Nigeria, it is crafted by hand by the Yoruba tribe, which require two working days to produce one meter of fabric. A manufacturing process that, by the way, is almost extinct.
 
Embroidered crepe from Austria is also used...

Yes, it comes from Lustenau in Lower Austria. All in all, a very nice combination of traditions between the two countries that goes back a long time. Much of the lace on the fabric markets in Lagos comes from Austria and my mother also ordered hers there. It contains a very personal component for me as it evokes memories. I am very fortunate to come from two cultures and to be inspired by both. 

What other stylistic devices did you use that are typically Austrian? 

Vienna inspires me a lot – it’s magical! The city’s elegance and romantic intellect can be felt in my collections and is something that I relay in my designs. 

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I can think of one more detail: when it came to your show, you also worked with the Viennese label Sagan Vienna. 

I started my studies when Taro and Tanja (founder and designer of SaganVienna, editor’s note) just graduated. We met there, and a friendship developed. I wanted to do something new for my show and use the fabrics in a different way that extended above and beyond their current use. It developed into a very natural approach to adapting their classic designs to my brand. 

Another new approach is that you have shown men’s and women’s clothing together. Does fashion generally have to rethink classic gender roles? 

You have to view gender in a differentiated manner. I originally started with men’s fashion and never actually designed women’s clothing before. There were always playful elements normally find in womenswear. It’s about finding elements that you like and applying them, regardless of social norms. As a gay man, my own identity also plays a role here: what do I want to wear, how do I want to appear. In any case, I quickly noticed that many women also feel the same way. 

This brings us to inclusion, which is one of your core values. Nevertheless, you do make luxury fashion, which, as such, pursues the concept of exclusivity.

Fashion is indeed very capitalist - there is no way around it. But my definition of luxury is different: it’s about how and under what circumstances something is made. That should be the focal point, not the price.  

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