Designer Kenzo Takada, founder of Kenzo Paris and Kenzo Home, passed away on Sunday in Paris, due to COVID complications. Most known for his dynamic and mismatched prints, Takada was one of the first Japanese designers to break into Paris fashion in the 1970s, establishing his namesake luxury label. Even after retiring in 1999, the designer left a legacy and influence on modern fashion and beyond. His ability to simultaneously mix traditional Japanese design with Western twists broke barriers in the industry.
On his passing, the Kenzo label issued an official ode to the founder and designer. “It is with immense sadness that Kenzo has learned of the passing of our founder, Kenzo Takada. For half a century, Mr. Takada has been an emblematic personality in the fashion industry–always infusing creativity and color into the world. Today, his optimism, zest for life and generosity continue to be pillars of our Maison. He will be greatly missed and always remembered.”
Before founding his brand, Takada attended Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo in 1958 as one of the school's first male students. A few years later, the designer moved to Paris and sold sketches to fashion houses and worked as a stylist for a textile manufacturer. Takada only intended to stay in the French capital for six months, but ended up staying for over three decades. In 1970, Takada presented his first fashion show at the Galeria Vivienne in Paris, launching his first collection alongside his friends as models.
Throughout his career, Takada was recognized for his jungle prints and tiger motif. Inspired by French painter Henri Rousseau’s art, Takada was drawn to the painter’s depictions of the jungle landscape. Infusing the jungle aesthetic as floral prints, Takada established his first Paris boutique called the Jungle Jap. His earliest creations envisioned traditional kimono-inspired silhouettes with vibrant and ecstatic floral patterns.
By the 1970s, Takada presented his collections in New York City and Tokyo—and became a well-known name within the fashion world. The designer was known to spin his fashion shows into spectacles–his very first runway took place in a makeshift jungle–bringing names like Grace Jones, Pat Cleveland, Jerry Hall, and other supermodels onto the catwalk. With a diverse celebrity following and his unique yet loud aesthetic, perfect for the disco fever of the '70s, Takada brought Japanese fashion to the masses. By the mid-'80s, Takada expanded into men's, kids, and home collections. Takada also made his mark in other spaces, designing opera costumes and creating the Japanese Olympic uniforms in 2004.
Despite retiring in 1999, Takada continued to design and create. Outside of fashion, Takada launched Gokan Kobo, a lifestyle brand of tableware, ceramics, and furniture. Five years later, in 2010, Kenzo’s artwork was featured in an exhibition in Paris called Un Certain Style de Vie" (A Certain Way of Life).
Takada never left his namesake brand behind, however. He continued to support the brand, and even attended the Fall/Winter 2020 runway show last season in Paris.
“It is with great sadness that I have learned the passing away of Mr Kenzo Takada. His amazing energy, kindness and talent were contagious. His kindred spirit will live forever,” said Kenzo’s Creative Director Felipe Oliveira Baptista. “Rest in peace Master.”