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  • Oct 06, 2020

Obituary: Kenzo Takada (1939–2020)

Portrait of KENZO TAKADA. Image via Instagram.

Renowned fashion designer Kenzo Takada passed away on October 4 in Paris from Covid-19 complications at the age of 81. 

Founder of his eponymous fashion brand Kenzo and the first Japanese designer to rise to fame in Paris, where he lived for 56 years, Takada was known for his bold and vibrant designs with mismatched floral prints as well as designs that drew inspiration from different cultures, such as the incorporation of kimono fabrics for Western layered dresses. Along with fellow fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, Takada initiated the concept of a “ready to wear” collection, creating comfortable pieces such as puffed sleeved blouses and flowy kimonos that could be easily worn off the runway.

Born in Himeji, in the Kansai region of Japan, Takada initially studied literature at Kobe University, but later dropped out to attend Tokyo’s Bunka Fashion College as one of its first male students. In 1960 he won the prestigious Soen Prize awarded by the Japanese magazine Soen, and subsequently moved on to work at the Sanai department store where he designed women’s clothing. He arrived in Paris in 1965—after traveling through Hong Kong, Singapore, Mumbai, and regions in Spain—and worked as a freelancer for French fashion designers such as Louis Féraud until he opened a small boutique in the Galerie Vivienne, selling his own women’s clothing under the name Jungle Jap. 

Throughout the 1970s, Takada’s energetic shows filled with models clad in colorful prints dancing down the runway shook the Parisian fashion scene. He later renamed his brand to Kenzo, and under this name, launched his first men’s collection in 1983, a home collection in 1987, and in 1988, a fragrances collection. He eventually sold his company to the French fashion conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in 1993, but remained as the house’s head designer until 1999. After his official retirement, he expanded on his artistic career, which included a 2010 self-portrait exhibition at Studio 55 gallery in Paris. 

In 2016, he was made a knight of the Legion of Honour, France’s highest order of merit for military and civil merits. The following year, he was recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 55th Fashion Editors' Club of Japan Awards in Tokyo.

Following the news of his passing, many took to social media to pay tribute to the esteemed designer. Felipe Oliveira Baptista, current artistic director of Kenzo, expressed on Instagram how Takada’s “amazing energy, kindness, talent and smile were contagious. His kindred spirit will live forever.” 

Margarita Cheng is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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