Credit: Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images
Kenzo Takada, the Japanese founder of Kenzo has died aged 81, in Paris, from complications linked to coronavirus. Takada moved from Japan to France in the 1960s and was the first Japanese designer to gain prominence on the Paris fashion scene. Yuniya Kawamura, author of Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion explains, “A pioneer realising a dream held by many other Japanese designers, Kenzo Takada, known as Kenzo, was the first Japanese designer to be recognised by French fashion professionals. Critics applauded his unconventional method of mixing prints and folklore-inspired designs.” He created nearly 8,000 designs over the course of his career.
Image: Three sketches from Kenzo's 1972 collection. Credit: © Archives KENZO. From Kenzo Takada by Kazuko Masui and Chihiro Masui, published by ACC Art Books
Born in 1939 in Himeji, near the city of Osaka, Takada made his way by boat to Paris in 1965, despite hardly speaking any French. At first he sold sketches to fashion houses but later decided to strike it out on his own, with a small store called Jungle Jap – changed in 1972 to Kenzo. "I decorated the shop myself with little money," Takada told the South China Morning Post newspaper recently, in what was one of his last media interviews. "One of the first paintings I saw in Paris and fell in love with was a jungle painting... and that was the inspiration for the shop." "His native Japan remained [the] source of inspiration for every collection he did. He kept the use of vibrant colours and volumes present at all times," said Circe Henestrosa, head of the school of fashion at Singapore's Lasalle College of the Arts. "I think he was ahead of his time and was one of the first designers to experiment with the idea of genderless fashion. He would never conform to the stereotypical idea of masculine and feminine fashion," said Ms Henestrosa.
Image: Photo by Pixelformula/SIPA/REX (10908606a) Kenzo 1982 winter Kenzo 1982 winter, Paris, France - 21 Sep 2020
Yuniya Kawamura: “In the 1960s and the 1970s, the French fashion system was in the process of redefining the meaning of ready-made clothes and creating an upgraded version of them. Kenzo took advantage of these structural changes. The emerging ready-to-wear designers could cater to the larger market and generate greater profits. Lifestyles were changing and the demand for haute couture was in decline. Couturiers were beginning to enter the ready-to-wear sector. This new ground provided an opportunity for more humble designers to mingle with those of the highest order, and the best of these were raised by association.”
Kenzo flourished and became an internationally known fashion label, adding a menswear line in 1983 and then more casual sportswear lines Kenzo Jeans and Kenzo Jungle. Kenzo fragrances and eyewear soon followed. At the height of the brand's success in the 1990s, Takada sold it to LVMH. He retired from fashion in 1999 at the age of 60, designing costumes for opera productions and taking up painting.
Further reading: Kenzo Takada by Kazuko Masui and Chihiro Masui is published by ACC Art Books.