Kenzo Takada was born in Osaka, Japan in 1939. By the time of his retirement, Takada had successfully brought his Japanese-inspired style to the streets of Paris and revolutionized the world of fashion and cultural fusion forever. When the fashion mogul died from COVID-19-related complications, the fashion world celebrated his countless contributions to the field across social media.
In his early career, Takada was first making his mark on the fashion world in the city of Tokyo. He attended the Bunka Fashion College, studying fashion design. He was among one of the first men to attend, as it was previously an all-female school. Almost immediately, Takada began designing women’s clothing for a department store in Tokyo. For this work, he won the Soen Prize, a prestigious award given by the Japanese fashion magazine Soen.
In 1960, in preparation for the 1964 Summer Olympics, Takada was informed that his Tokyo home would be torn down. To pay for the inconvenience, he was awarded a sum of money worth 10 months of rent. With this money, Takada would book a boat to Marseilles, setting sail across the world and kickstarting magnum opus.
Bringing Japanese Style to Haute Couture
Arriving in Marseille signaled the beginning of work for Takada. He founded Kenzo, his famed fashion house, in the same year his ship docked. The focus of this fashion house was on bringing an Eastern Asian inspiration to the world of Parisian fashion, which had begun to fizzle out in the late 1960s to early 70s and desperately needed a young, revitalized designer like Takada.
Takada’s stay in Marseille was short-lived. Upon arriving in France, he found a partner, with whom he chose to settle down in Paris. This final move, to one of the centers of European fashion, would be the final step towards his industry dominance. Takada often cites Yves Saint Laurent as one of his biggest influences. This inspiration was evident in their combined effort to revitalize relaxed, showy catwalks and bring the “prêt-à-porter” movement to the Parisian people.
Kenzo’s brand uses bright, flashy colors combined with floral and jungle prints to add fun, engaging elements to the increasingly trite European styles of the era. Kenzo was featured on the cover of Elle magazine in 1970 and subsequently granted space on the pages of Vogue overseas in America. Takada also opened his own storefront in 1970, which he designed himself. His newfound fame and adoration led Takada to launch his very first expansion into menswear in 1983. Quickly, sunglasses, perfumes, and accessories were expanded into the scope of Kenzo’s production. The stripes, flowers, and checkers of Japanese-inspiration came to symbolize Kenzo as a brand which graced every corner of Paris in just a few years. From streetwear to club outfits, the iconic fashion brand was making its mark, and fast.
Leaving Fashion, Rediscovering Creativity
In 1993, disaster struck the life of the fashion connoisseur. First, his long-time husband died, leaving Takada grieving for his loss. Then, his business partner suffered a severe stroke. Hoping to back away from the high-intensity spotlight of the fashion industry, Takada sold Kenzo to the French fashion conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton for $80 million that same year. Until 1999, Takada remained on staff as a head designer, but eventually stepped back from this role as well. His final great designer moment was when he was commissioned by the state of Japan to design their 2004 Olympic uniforms, returning to his original roots.
In 1993, Takada began construction on his Parisian house in the Bastille neighborhood. Taking his newfound time away from the fashion industry, he brought his Japanese-Western collision to interior design by crafting his dream home. He was most inspired by the Bangkok residence of silk entrepreneur Jim Thompson, incorporating traditional Japanese and Asian elements. Most notably, the garden heavily featured Japanese greenery. Bamboo, cherry, and maple trees all graced the garden, which was lined with a stone-bedded brook and housed a beautiful koi pond. With most of the materials imported from Japan, the house took nearly seven full years to complete.
By 2007, Takada was looking to downsize in his growing age and sold the Parisian getaway for nearly $18 million. In April 2023, the house re-entered the market for the fourth time, having been renovated in 2018 to incorporate more Japanese architecture.
Cultural Fusion & Takada’s Memory
Remembering the life of Kenzo Takada reminds us of his remarkable story. Coming from a lost house in Tokyo, this man reinvented Parisian fashion with an Asian fusion spin. Even the modern fashion world has been heavily inspired by his impacts (especially it’s street-ready nature and the design of fashion catwalks). Takada died in October 2020, in the midst of the Paris Fashion Week, a remarkably poignant time to memorialize one of the world’s most influential designers.
Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence, University Intern