NIGO’s Award Win Reflects His Evolution Beyond Streetwear

What is there to be said about NIGO that hasn’t been reiterated a million times before? The designer/director/collector/collaborator/pioneer can be described by so many adjectives that there’s almost no point in referring to him as anything other than, simply, NIGO. Though, you can now add “award winner” to his list of titles.

On September 19, NIGO scored perhaps Japan’s biggest prize in fashion, the Mainichi Fashion Grand Prix Award. Presented by The Mainichi Shimbun (literally, “the daily newspaper”), which itself has been around for 100 years as of 2022, the Mainichi Fashion Grand Prix is celebrating its 40th anniversary and what better way than to give a king his crown?

NIGO took home 2022’s Mainichi Fashion Grand Prix grand prize, a nod given to the designer, manager, or executive who’s “achieved the most outstanding results in… fashion” for the year, according to the Mainichi Fashion Grand Prix’s Japanese website.

The award ceremony is technically part of Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo, though that calendar officially ended on September 3, and has been distributed since 1983, when the grand prize was awarded to folks like COMME des GARÇONS founder Rei Kawakubo, the late Issey Miyake, and ZUCCa designer Akira Onozuka.

Anyways, NIGO was at 2022’s ceremony in-person to accept his prize, standing alongside fellow winners Fumie Tanaka, a womenswear designer who received the “newcomer” award; stylist Michiko Kitamura, whose resume includes stints with Kawakubo and films like Ichi the killer; upcycling brand “Denim de Mirai ~ Denim Project ~” (yes, that’s the entire name) and Japanese singer Yumi Matsutoya.

NIGO, who won the grand prize for his work as creative director of KENZO, shouted out Virgil Abloh in his acceptance speech, recalling his now decades-old streetwear origins in comparison to the luxury realms he traffics in now.

It’s pretty remarkable to think of NIGO’s career trajectory, from launching upstart Harajuku boutiques with UNDERCOVER’s Jun Takahashi and following around Hiroshi Fujiwara to reshaping pioneering luxury label KENZO and being tapped to direct campaigns for companies as big as Levi’s.

His HUMAN MADE brand is still plenty big, too, and NIGO’s vast collection of vintage workwear is the subject of a new exhibit in Tokyo’s Bunka Museum, while his debut KENZO collection only just released to stores following a series of high-profile drops.

Suffice to say, 30 years on, NIGO’s so much more than a “streetwear” designer.

Take the Mainichi Fashion prize that he just won as proof: in previous years, it was given by Japan’s fashion kingmakers to established designers like Tomo Koizumi and ANREALAGE’s Kunihiko Morinaga.

NIGO is the first “streetwear” designer to take top prize, demonstrative of his design evolution. It’s not like he doesn’t still operate by a similar ethos as to what got him started in fashion — KENZO relaunched with a drop program, for god’s sake — but as he’s matured, so has his approach to fashion design.

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