Fashion designer Kenzo Takada, founder of the eponymous label Kenzo, died aged 81 due to Covid-19 complications on Sunday 4 October. His death comes in the middle of Paris Fashion Week, the city Takada moved to in the mid 60s to embark on a career in fashion and which he settled in; he died in Neuilly-sur-Seine, just outside Paris.
Born in 1939 in Himeji, Japan, Takada studied at Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo as one of its first male students. He moved to Paris and in 1970 opened his first boutique store, controversially named Jungle Jap, a derogatory term Takada told The New York Times in 1972 he’d hoped to reclaim and change its meaning. He soon renamed the studio, though, to Kenzo, but continued to develop his label’s irreverent and exuberant approach to colour, pattern and graphics. The jungle theme to his print work set him apart, and remains a defining aesthetic of the Kenzo brand five decades on, alongside Takada’s affinity for florals.
He was also recognised for his international references. He told CNN in 2019: “Traveling gave me a lot of inspiration. In the 1970s… There was much more of a cultural gap when you were traveling from one country to the next, so that really drove me and gave me a lot of influence and inspiration.” Kenzo’s mission remains to bring “positive energy” to fashion with a “daring” approach that “celebrates nature and cultural diversity”.
In the French fashion industry, Takada’s eclectic, clashing prints and forward-thinking approach to women’s clothing shook up the status quo. On Instagram, fashion critic and Vogue editor Suzy Menkes wrote about Takada’s passing, and his desire to make “happy” clothes with “freedom for the woman’s body – and an international attitude way before his time”. She added: “how sad to lose to Covid the designer who smiled so much and founded the roots of Japanese design in Paris fashion”. In 1999, Takada left the brand after it was acquired by LVMH, to pursue an art career, but Menkes says “he remained an emblem of international style”.
In a statement, the CEO of Takada’s lifestyle brand K-3 Jonathan Bouchet Manheim told CNN Takada was “incredibly creative; 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. He seemed quiet and shy at first, but he was full of humour. He was generous and always knew how to look after the people close to his heart. He had a zest for life... Kenzo Takada was the epitome of the art of living.”
Current creative director of Kenzo Felipe Oliveira Baptista said on Twitter of Takada’s death: “His amazing energy, kindness and talent were contagious. His kindred spirit will live forever. Rest in peace Master.”
Image from the brand’s Instagram tribute (Copyright © Kenzo, 2020)