Words: Chloe Watts
On Sunday, October 5, news broke of the passing of Japanese designer, Kenzo Takada from COVID-19 related complications. Best known for his global brand and namesake label, Kenzo, the designer was receiving treatment for the virus at the American Hospital, in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine.
Takada was the first Japanese designer to gain prominence in the Paris fashion scene. Known for its elegance and time-honoured traditions, Takada and his bright prints, jungle themes and floral patterns gave the French capital a fresh take on fashion.
In a statement the Kenzo brand released on Instagram, “It is with immense sadness that Kenzo has learned of the passing of our founder… 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.”
His passing has stopped the fashion world, with fans and colleagues taking to social media to remember the designer who put Asian style on the global map. At the time of his death he was acting honorary president of the Asian Couture Federation
Who was Kenzō Takada?
Born in February 1939 near Osaka, Japan, Takada found his love of fashion early, reading his sister’s magazines and showing interest in their sewing lessons. He enrolled at the Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo as one of the first men to attend the previously all-female college. Upon his graduation, he designed women’s clothes for a department store.
Finding inspiration in the work of Yves Saint Laurent, Takada boarded a boat bound for Marseille, France in 1965. Speaking little French, Takada soon met his partner, Xavier de Castella and decided to settle in Paris.
In 1970, while living in the city, he launched Kenzo (originally called Jungle Jap) and the boutique was located in Galerie Viviene. His work received international attention after Elle featured his designs on their cover in 1970. In 1983 he added a menswear line and casual sportswear lines, Kenzo Jeans and Kenzo Jungle. Kenzo fragrances and eyewear soon followed after that.
In 1990, after the passing of his partner and his business partner suffering from a stroke, Takada sold the fashion house to LVMH. In 1999 he retired from fashion life completely to focus on other artistic endeavours.
Takada played heavily with stripes, checks and floral patterns in the early days, with his 1983 collections proving to be very successful, with a colour-blocked Kimono, full monochromatic outfits and the trademark tiger print making an appearance on the catwalk.
Almost a decade later, Takada was sticking to his roots with the 1991 collection featuring chintz prints, bright colours, cinched waists and scarves.
In recent years, the most sought-after pieces in the Kenzo collection have featured the Kenzo Tiger. In 2012 while trawling the fashion house archives, then Creative Directors, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon noticed tiny tigers featuring on waistbands, inside bag and on watches. Looking for a new icon for the brand, they decided to put the tiger on a knit jumper, and later on a sweatshirt (which was a completely new territory for the brand). Unknown to Lim and Leon, the sweatshirt was a huge success, with stock selling out immediately.
The most recent Kenzo collection, shown at a socially distanced Paris Fashion Week, was defined by shape and the traditional Kenzo floral patterns took on a new look with vermillion flowers printed to provide a camouflaged effect.