Kenzo Takada, the indomitable founder of international fashion house Kenzo, passed away in the French capital on Sunday, October 4, due to complications related to the novel coronavirus. The Japanese-born, Paris-based designer was 81 years old.
“It is with immense sadness that Kenzo has learned of the passing of our founder,” his eponymous label wrote in a statement on Instagram. “For half a century, Mr. Takada has been an emblematic personality in the fashion industry — always infusing creativity and colour into the world. Today, his optimism, zest for life and generosity continue to be pillars of our Maison. He will be greatly missed and always remembered.”
Known for his ebullient spirit and sense of fun, Takada was a true trailblazer, widely renowned as the first Japanese designer to break into Paris’ exclusive fashion milieu in the ’70s.
Born in Himeji, Japan in 1939 to a family of hoteliers, Takada developed a fascination with fashion at an early age through reading his sisters’ magazines. His parents, though, did not approve of the idea of a career in the industry, and following their wishes, he studied literature at Kobe University. He then dropped out and enrolled at the Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo in 1958 as part of the institution’s first-ever intake of male students.
A few years later, Takada clinched the prestigious Soen Prize, and began his career working for a big department store called Sanai. It was the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, however, that changed the course of his life — his apartment block was demolished in preparation for the Games, and with the monetary compensation provided by the Japanese government, he booked a one-way ticket by boat to Marseilles via Singapore, Bombay and Spain, before arriving in the City of Lights. Originally planning to stay in Paris only six months, he ended up living there for 56 years.
In 1970, Takada rocked the prim and proper world of Parisian fashion with the opening of his boutique in Galerie Vivienne, the controversially-named Jungle Jap (soon rechristened as Kenzo), where he presented his debut collection crafted from inexpensive cotton purchased at Marché Saint Pierre in Montmartre. Skyrocketing to fame practically overnight, just months later his work was splashed over the covers of major magazines, paving the way for other Japanese designers like Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo.
“When I opened my shop, I thought there was no point in me doing what French designers were doing, because I couldn’t do that,” Takada reflected last year. “So I did things my own way in order to be different.”
His energetic, enthusiastic designs were a chaotic yet coherent mix of flamboyant colours, flourishing prints and flashes of exoticism, inspired by his travels around the world as well as traditional Japanese dress. Made to liberate the female body, many of his creations were free of darts and zippers, and featured wide armholes, tent dresses, dungaree silhouettes and innovative shoulder shapes.
Takada sold his company to LVMH in 1993, and retired from fashion in 1999. In recent years, he was made a knight of the Legion of Honour, designed costumes for the Tokyo Nikikai Opera Foundation’s production of Madame Butterfly and created Olympic uniforms for Team Japan. Not to mention opening his archives for a retrospective coffee table book, simply titled Kenzo Takada, and launching the lifestyle brand K3.
Tributes have started pouring in for Takada in the hours since his death was announced.
“FAREWELL, MASTER,” said current creative director of Kenzo, Felipe Oliveira Baptista via social media. “His amazing energy, kindness, talent and smile were contagious. His kindred spirit will live forever.”
“Kenzo Takada has, from the 1970s, infused into fashion a tone of poetic lightness and sweet freedom [that] inspired many designers after him,” said Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of LVMH. “I’m very sad to learn about his passing and express my sincerest sympathy to his family and friends.”
“With a stroke of genius, he imagined a new artistic and colourful story combining East and West — his native Japan and his life in Paris. I had the chance to work alongside him for many years, always in awe, admiring his curiosity and his open-mindedness,” said Jonathan Bouchet Manheim, CEO of K3. “He was generous and always knew how to look after the people close to his heart.”
“A designer with immense talent, he gave colour and light their rightful place in fashion,” said Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. “Paris is today mourning one of its sons.”