Fashion, Venue

Renegade fashion designer Kenzo Takada dies aged 81

Kenzo Takada, the visionary behind namesake fashion house Kenzo, has died aged 81, after a battle with coronavirus. 

Having launched Kenzo in 1970, Takada soon began making waves in the Paris fashion scene. A graduate of Tokyo’s Bunka Fashion College, where notably, he was one of the institution’s first male students, Takada moved to France in the early 1960s, away from his homeland where, in his own words, “it was impossible for a Japanese man to work in the fashion industry”. 

But the conservative cultural values of Takada’s upbringing did not mean Takada’s entrance onto the fashion scene was a cautious one. Kenzo’s offering was conspicuous: bright and bold, loud and proud. The French reputation for a certain kind of elegance was lovingly re-imagined by Takada, who blended his fondness for the Parisian scene with other cultural references and influences. Though giants Chanel, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent still dominated, Takada helped to usher in what would become a new mood of couture that was chic but cheerful. The brand remains just as delightfully daring and shameless today under the creative direction of Felipe Oliveira Baptista, who continues to design with Kenzo’s youthful, multicultural, joyous spirit in mind.

Soon Takada’s designs (then under the Kenzo brand’s initial moniker ‘Jungle Jap’) were featured on the cover of Elle magazine, and Kenzo-fever began in earnest. The early days were spent sewing everything by hand, with Takada and team’s little available funds forcing them to pull fabric scraps together from remnants brought over from Japan and picked up on the cheap at Parisian markets. Bold patterns, innovative proportions and experimental silhouettes abounded, establishing Takada’s brand as one of spectacle: extravagant, playful – a breath of fresh air. The brand’s fashion shows were forerunners of the concept of runways as stages, of fashion shows as events  – in Zurich in the 80s, Takada rode on an elephant in a circus tent whilst models strode about wearing the latest collection.

Takada left the brand two decades ago, retiring in 1999, six years after Kenzo was sold and passed into the hands of the LVMH conglomerate. He suffused the brand with a generous, liberal spirit, one that current creative director Oliveira Baptista bespeaks in his claim that “Kenzo is from everywhere, and for everyone”. 

In recent years Takada’s ventures have included designing costumes for opera productions in his native Japan, as well as various interiors and illustration projects. In 2016 the French Constitutional Council awarded him a Knight of the Legion of Honor for his design work. A spokesman for Takada has said that he “never stopped celebrating fashion and the art of living”. 

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Imogen Carter De Jong

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May 2022
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