It was spring of 2019 when I was invited to a book party for the legendary Mr. Kenzo Takada, the founder and former designer of his famed eponymous label Kenzo. This party took place at Art & Design Gallery at FIT with an intimate cocktail reception. Unfortunately, that night I didn’t get the pleasure of meeting Kenzo Takada, because although he was present, as the man of the hour you had to take a number to get five seconds with the iconic designer.
Little did I know at the time, it would be the last year I would get to even be in the presence of this great designer. On October 4, 2020, Kenzo passed away from coronavirus related complications at the age of 81 at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.
For a man who had found something to work on almost his entire life, it was almost unbelievable to think he could finally stop. Kenzo was born into a family of 7 children on February 27, 1939 in Himeji, Japan. His first love was drawing, and he envied his two sisters for taking sewing classes.
One of Kenzo’s most famous quotes was “Fashion is like eating. You shouldn’t stick with the same menu.” It was the quote that rule his design philosophy for the rest of his life beginning with his arrival in Paris in 1964.
When Kenzo arrived in Paris in 1964 he had originally intended to only live there for six months, but that six months turned into the 56 years. He became known for his colorful and playful designs which were way beyond the more minimalist mold of what high-fashion designers were doing in the sixties.
Kenzo began selling sketches to fashion designers and in 1970 he was able to open his first boutique. He held his first show called “Jungle Jap” in the boutique, the title of which led to some controversy. He later renamed the company Kenzo, and thus the designer’s eponymous label was truly born. His initial design influences involved kimono fabrics and other colorful prints as his goal was to never compete with the other French designers, but, rather, produce designs he did his way.
Kenzo became the first Japanese designer to establish himself in the city of Paris, breaking the glass ceiling for future design talents such as Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. In 1976, Kenzo inaugurated his flagship store in the Place des Victoire, aptly named Kenzo.
Kenzo would become known for his over the top runway shows that would involve circus tents and elephants. In 1983, Kenzo would introduce menswear and five years later he would introduce his inaugural fragrance, Kenzo Kenzo. Subsequent perfumes followed in addition to accessory collections.