Kenzo Takada has died at the age of 81, due to complications from Covid-19. The Japanese fashion designer – founder of the eponymous label Kenzo – was famed for bringing unrestricted shapes, vibrant colour and creative energy to French fashion in the 1970s, and liberating sartorial society from the conservatism of the Haute Couture salon.

Takada was born in 1939 in the castle town of Himeji, and attended Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo as one of its first male students. In 1964, at the age of 25, he travelled by boat and train from Yokohama to Paris, set on launching his fashion career. Takada worked as a stylist at textile manufacturer Pisanti, before opening his famed first boutique ‘Jungle Jap’ in Galerie Vivienne in 1970. Its walls were painted with tropical scenes, inspired by Henri Rousseau’s The Dream (1910). It was here that Takada staged his first fashion show, an intimate event, with a collection brimming with unrestrictive flat-cut shapes, floral prints and effusive colours. ‘Out [the models] surged, like brilliant sunflowers, everyone loved this new, youthful fashion,’ explained writer Chihiro Masui of Takada’s collections, in ACC Art Books’ monograph of the designer, published last year (and pictured below). Takada was one of a group of innovative designers, which include Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, bringing a new sense of sophisticated ease to French ready-to-wear.

Kenzo Takada Illustration

Illustrations from Kenzo Takada by Kazuko Masui and Chihiro Masui. © Kenzo Takada. Photography: Aylin Bayhan

Takada launched Kenzo’s men’s line in 1983, and its more commercial lines Kenzo Jeans and Kenzo Jungle were launched in 1986. The brand also launched its fragrance line a year later, including the immensely popular eau de toilette Kenzo Flower, which drew on Takada’s affection for floral forms.

Takada held his final Paris fashion show in 1999 – one walked by his friends and long-time collaborators, before the brand was acquired by LVMH. ‘It was a terrific party. I was very happy,’ Takada wrote in the prologue section to his 2019-published monograph, referencing his final show. Since, Kenzo has maintained an impressive output of creative directors, who celebrate the brand’s colourful history and nature-focused heritage, while drawing on its famed lion motif.

In the March 2018 Issue of Wallpaper* (W*228) Kenzo Takada contributed to our Artist’s Palate recipe series. Like the designer himself, his recipe is the pride of Japan. ‘I love miso soup,’ he declared at the time. ‘It’s a mix of complexity and simplicity. It is easy to eat, and can accompany many foods, or simply be served with a bowl of rice.’ – Read more here.

In 2018, then-creative directors Carol Lim and Humberto Leon launched Kenzo La Memento, a collection which reinterpreted the house’s archives. For the label’s most recent S/S 2021 collection, presented this week in Paris, its current creative director Felipe Oliveira Baptista, reinterpreted archive floral prints and historic veiled silhouettes, in a commentary of our fragile relationship with the natural world.

Most recently, Takada had launched K3, a lifestyle brand which launched in 2019.

‘His amazing energy, kindness, talent and smile were contagious,’ noted Felipe Oliveira Baptista on a post on Kenzo’s Instagram page. It will continue to live on. §

Kenzo modular runway Febuary 2020
Modular Kenzo runway for A/W 2020, by current creative director Felipe Oliveira Baptista