The numbers are almost too terrible to stomach. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), there are as few as 3,900 tigers left in the wild throughout the entire world. Ninety-five percent of the tiger population has been lost in the last century alone because of deforestation and poaching. The largest cat species on the planet, the tiger’s habitat has shrunk by hundreds of thousands of square miles. By every metric, things are looking more and more dire for a creature that once ruled and roamed all over the continent of Asia, and without intervention, the endangered tiger does not have a bright future. Luckily, there’s at least one intervention taking place, fronted by an unlikely source.
KENZO—the storied French brand created in 1970 by the Japanese designer Kenzo Takada—has teamed up with conservation organization WWF and Singaporean hops mainstay Tiger Beer to give saving the tiger a shot. Tomorrow, the trio will release the Rare Stripes collection, a limited edition range made in collaboration with four emerging artists, and 100 percent of the proceeds will go to WWF with the goal of doubling the future tiger population. It was a passion project for KENZO designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, who have been with the company since 2011 and rose to prominence as the co-owners of Opening Ceremony.
“We brought the iconography of the tiger back into the brand in 2012, and when we looked at the archive, Kenzo Takada had actually put tigers on labels and inside of men’s pants,” says Leon. “Carol and I had wanted to work with WWF for a really long time, so when Tiger Beer came to us to put this together, we asked WWF what we can do that will help the most, and they said get the word out.”
“Ten years ago, pandas were almost extinct, elephants were on the verge of extinction, so we had to show people that there is a real danger with tigers,” say Lim.
The Rare Stripes collection will absolutely be a conversation starter, sweatshirts, T-shirts, hoodies, and jackets beautifully embroidered with the majestic animal and patterned with tiger stripes in vibrant shades of blue and orange and red. The pieces will be available on kenzo.com of course, but to tie the collection back to the Asian continent, KENZO also had a splashy unveiling in Tokyo today, hosted at the KENZO store at the chic mega shopping mall Ginza 6. The four art collaborators—artist and sculptor Meryl Smith from the US, illustrator and designer Esther Got from Singapore, illustrator and printmaker Julienne Tan from Cambodia, and visual and digital artist Sean Lean from Malaysia—could be found buzzing about the launch.
“We went to Cambodia in March for 10 days to research the design, and we met with people who work on the ground to protect animals,” says Lean. “There are no tigers in Cambodia anymore, but WWF is hoping to help reintroduce them there,” adds Smith.
For inspiration, the artists used the stories of real tigers tracked and named by the WWF. In one design, Smith took a raw direction, recalling the story of a tiger caught in a snare. “I had to balance the sadness in the clothes, but it is portrayed and illustrated with its paw caught,” she says.
Artist Tan drew upon the story of Cambodia’s last remaining tiger. “I didn’t want to make it too graphic for people, so my design for the last tiger in Cambodia is a take on deforestation, which is a big factor in the extinction there,” she says of a sweatshirt featuring a tiger surrounded by trees. But, Tan says, for all the sadness of this story, she wanted to portray possibility and hope, too. “’Growing up in Asia, I’ve always seen imagery of the really powerful tiger, so the actual plight of the tiger really hit me. I don’t want to just show something ferocious. I want to show them as they actually are,” she says. “This is personal."