interview and photography by OLIVIER ZAHM
with FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA
style by SHEILA SINGLE
the nomadic spirit of felipe oliveira baptista’s debut collection for kenzo f/w 2020/21 is captured in lisbon, where the young designer grew up — a city of elusive romance and saudade, a portuguese term for a state of melancholic longing or nostalgia.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Your collection was a mix of cultures and references. And you yourself are Portuguese, living in France, working for a brand founded by a Japanese designer — and you love to travel. Also, I didn’t know you were born in the Azores, in the Atlantic Ocean… So, you have this nomadic spirit in your blood!
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — Yeah, for sure. My father was an airplane pilot, so travel has always been a big part of my life. I studied in London and lived in Italy for a year before moving here. And everything that I’ve learned about fashion, I learned outside of Portugal. At Kenzo, there has always been this celebration of diversity. I want to make it very referential in that sense but, at the same time, keep it quite lighthearted. I wanted to evoke all of this, but I didn’t want to be literal. But yeah, I think it’s definitely a common point between me and Kenzo.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a common point for us all, after the terrible confinement period. We understand more than ever the value of freedom of movement and travel. Kenzo is about love, too, as it’s about a community of people and a mix of cultures. So, how do you approach this diversity? There are so many directions you can take. It’s a very open brand, which is both an advantage and a challenge, right?
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — Yeah. In the beginning, I was kind of like, “Hmm, where do I start?” [Laughs] There are so many doors to get into this brand. Sometimes, limits can be helpful for channeling creativity and ideas… Also, I was lucky enough that when I started talking with LVMH about this position, I wasn’t working. So, I really had time to think about it and to actually make a visual book about it. And I said that I’d always try to focus on optimism, freedom, a youthful spirit, a love of nature, and nomads. Those things are timeless, and they sum up Kenzo. And how do you operate in 2020? Because optimism was not the same thing in the ’70s as it is today. The world is constantly doomed.
OLIVIER ZAHM — We can’t afford to be naive anymore. Dystopia and real political disruption have killed the dream. How do you maintain the dream of an open world today?
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — It’s about finding that balance, still trying to be positive and knowing that there are solutions — there are ways of improving things and going against destruction. For instance, if you take [Kenzo Takada’s] love of nature as an ideal: it’s as simple as, “How do we work in a more sustainable way?” Kenzo’s always been about nature, and I said, “Okay, now we should also be for nature.” And we’re launching a couple of projects in August/September that are completely in this direction. I think that fashion has to step up to its environmental responsibilities, too. We’re not going to change everything overnight, but we need to take action with important steps.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is love a source of inspiration for you?
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — Yeah, of course, always. I always put my life into my work. I don’t bluntly expose it, but it’s always been there. Sometimes, it’s not perceptible, but I often refer to things that I’ve learned, or have had access to, from love.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you believe in true love?
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — Yeah. For sure.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it something that’s important in your life?
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — I think so. It’s a kind of love where you’re completely transparent and at ease. And it can also be brutal in the way that it’s brutal to be in front of yourself. But it’s very empowering and very soothing, too… And it’s the accumulation with the other person, or with other people, and how much you can build together and live together. So, yeah, I’m a great apologist for love, too. It’s something that’s so trivialized. That’s why I never put it at the forefront of my work — because it belongs to a certain part of your privacy or your secret world.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s private and unique. It’s difficult to speak about our personal feelings. Each love story is different. But does your intimate love story give you energy for your work? Does it give you inspiration? Or is it something that’s totally apart.
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — Well, I did my own brand, and I still work with my wife. It’s all been part of one thing.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Ah, you work together? I didn’t know that.
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — Yeah. We’ve been working together for 20 years. But the deal was that she said: “Okay, but I’ll stay in the shadows. And it’s going to have your name on it.” And I think she made a good choice.
OLIVIER ZAHM — She doesn’t want to be visible? It’s her own decision?
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — Yeah, yeah. So, I think that it’s all been there.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it not too difficult to love and work with the same person?
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — Actually, no — in the sense that we first met at work. So, before we came together, we knew how to operate with respect. And then love came afterward. It’s like friendship, as well. You can start working together sometimes and become friends, or you’re friends and then you work together. It’s not always the same dynamic. [Laughs] So, the respect and the boundaries that are needed were there — we knew that work worked between the two of us.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s her name?
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — Séverine.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What does Séverine bring to your work?
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — It’s really a 50-50 thing, in a way. She has a business background, so she always did the business and organization part. But then on the creative side, she’s always championed that until the end. The first five years, our brand didn’t have money, so we did all of the fittings on her. And she’d always help me to translate a concept into a woman’s point of view on clothing. She’s got great taste and a great sense of color. I hate the word “muse” because I think it’s very reductive, but it’s really a lot of what comes out of what I do. It’s under my name because it was her choice, but a lot of times, it’s a ping-pong between the two of us. I initiate the beginning and the roots of the story we’re telling. Then the creative process always goes through a dialogue between the two of us.
OLIVIER ZAHM — We can say that she’s the most important encounter of your life.
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — Yeah. I think that Séverine and our kids are really my rocks.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And do you think that love has transformed you? Do you think that love is more important as you get older, or not?
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — I think it has definitely transformed me, with her. Before, I never thought I would get married and have kids. And I met her, and after a month we talked about having kids. So, it did radically change my life. I suppose I was much more cynical toward love before. I was like, “Oh, yeah, blah blah blah, that shit,” you know? It was one of the most precious gifts that I’ve had from life. And I don’t think you come across those encounters many times in your life. And I don’t even know if everyone does.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Mm. I think you’re lucky.
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — And the fact that I’m aware of that — I don’t take it for granted. So, it means that we work on it, as well. Love also has its tough sides, and you have to look at that in the mirror.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Yeah, because you know it’s precious, so you have to keep it — you have to work on it, you have to be aware that it’s something that you can lose very quickly, unfortunately. [Laughs] Do you have a personal definition of love?
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA — No. It’s something that you can see on so many levels: in a fraternal way, in a paternal way, and within friendships, as well. We’ve been talking more about love in the sense of partners, but I think that as a global thing, it takes so many forms and shapes. It’s just a force, in a way. It’s something that’s there. And it’s definitely responsible for a lot of dynamics between humans. It’s one of those forces that you can’t even try to begin to understand.