Kenneth Ize never met Karl Lagerfeld in person, but there were only a few degrees of separation: Lagerfeld was once a guest professor at Ize’s university in Vienna and Ize felt his ideas and vision trickling into the curriculum via favorite teachers like Hermann Fankhauser.
“[Fankhauser] emphasized the love he has for Karl, his passion for quality things and love of boldness, his confidence. I guess those are the things I picked up,” Ize said in an interview.
A finalist for the LVMH Prize for Young Designers in 2019, Ize was hoping to meet the design legend, one of its marquee judges and a rock star among fashion designers, but Lagerfeld passed away a few months before the candidates were to assemble in Paris. “I really have to say that was definitely the one single person that I was really, really looking forward to meeting during that time,” he said.
But at that LVMH Prize showroom, Ize did encounter French stylist and fashion entrepreneur Carine Roitfeld, who was named style adviser at the Karl Lagerfeld brand in April of that year, and it was she who ultimately approached Ize for a collaboration.
Backstage at Off-White Fall 2021
Roitfeld confessed that she didn’t attend Ize’s first runway show in Paris, which attracted major attention after the designer snagged Naomi Campbell to close the display in a colorful trenchcoat made of a special fabric woven in his native Nigeria. She rushed online to see it.
“I’m not a print person, and I’m not so much into color, but I really liked his show,” she said in an interview, seated next to Ize. “It was so different from what I usually like. It was like a new wind of fresh fashion coming and I thought it will be a perfect match with the Karl Lagerfeld house.”
The collection is unisex.
To be sure, Lagerfeld, who died in February 2019, was curious, alert and highly attuned to the latest in everything, and Roitfeld is sure that he and Ize, who melds his Nigerian heritage with his Austrian upbringing and education, would have loads to talk about.
Ize said Fankhauser taught students at the University of Applied Arts that Lagerfeld’s creative interests and output went beyond fashion to encompass photography, interiors, publishing and industrial design. “He made us understand that Karl can do everything, and that as a creative person, it’s not just about designing clothes,” he recalled. “And that gave me the sense that I can do more.”
Fankhauser noted that Lagerfeld was one of the Vienna university’s first guest professors at the beginning of the 1980s, and helped modernize teaching methods at the school, which subsequently welcomed designers including Helmut Lang, Hussein Chalayan and Raf Simons. Lang was among Fankhauser’s professors and “he was also talking about Karl Lagerfeld.”
In Fankhauser’s view, Lagerfeld was one of the first to understand that fashion was connected to all aspects of popular culture and societal movements, and Ize also “has a bigger picture than just clothes.”
Indeed, Ize has made his gender-neutral label a vehicle for political and social activism, and for exalting African culture and its savoir-faire, employing weavers in Lagos to create his signature geometrically-patterned fabric, inspired by the aso oke cloth woven by the Yoruba people.
His capsule collection for Lagerfeld references a wide swath of African fashions, including graphic black-and-white prints from Madagascar, and glass beads from Nigeria for jewelry. Meanwhile, small cross-body bags with circular portals resemble iPhones – a wink to the fact that smartphones have become a vital tool to document police violence.
Yet his psychedelic-print pants, taut sweaters and sleeveless T-shirts with shoulder pads telegraph the rock ‘n’ roll spirit Lagerfeld made a benchmark of his signature brand, with Roitfeld name-checking Mick Jagger among those she could envision wearing the Ize items.
Prints take inspiration from Madagascar and other African countries. Courtesy
“It’s city clothes and that’s what I like,” she said. “At Le Flore on Boulevard Saint-Germain, you can wear this collection.”
Ize said he plunged into the project as soon as he was approached.
“I’m so honored,” he enthused, placing a hand on his chest. “Carine has given me such a space to be able to express my own creativity, to have a voice. Just giving someone a voice is so powerful.”
Ize said the experience gave him more confidence. “This job has brought me out to be more pronounced and profound, to be stronger, more confident. I know what I want to design, I know how I want to explain things….So it’s like she groomed me for the future, basically.”
It was an eye-opener and an education to work with a large company like Karl Lagerfeld, which has long production lead times and considerable design and technical muscle. Ize said he relished the opportunity to work with design director Hun Kim, who shared his expertise freely during fittings in Amsterdam.
Looks range from a slinky knit shirt to a pantsuit, both with vaguely Seventies airs, to a linen smock inspired by the custom Hilditch & Key shirts Lagerfeld wore for sleeping and sketching. Ize applied a body tattoo print from the Ebo tribe of Nigeria to knit sweaters and pants.
The brand is to unveil the collection in a showroom presentation on July 6 during couture week in Paris. Retail prices range from 99 euros to 695 euros.
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