TBT: Kenzo Takada – a Life for the Colors

“Paris was dark and cold. And it didn’t look at all like in all the fashion magazines.” When Kenzo Takada arrived in France on the first day of 1965 his destination couldn’t keep up with the promises it made with all the glossy impressions. And Paris made it pretty clear that as the worldwide capital of fashion it wasn’t particularly interested in foreign fashion designers. But that didn’t stop his journey that started with the demolishing of his tiny apartment in Tokyo in preparation for the 1964 Summer Olympics. Kenzo took the compensation payments from the Japanese government and bought a boat ticket to Paris. Without knowing a single word of French. Hard to tell whether this was pure dedication or madness but I assume thruth lies in the middle. As one of the first men ever Kenzo studied fashion at the prestigious fashion institute “Bunka” – before 1958 men were not allowed to study there.    

It took him six years full of hard work and even more improvising until “Elle” took notice of his unique combinations of Parisian culture and Japanese influences. Soon his leaf and flower motifs and energic prints with daring color combinations took the fashion world by storm and made Kenzo one of the best selling brands by the end of the 70ies. But originally his style was born out of necessity: After arriving in Paris Kenzo made his living by selling fashion illustrations and whatever money he made from it he instantly invested in fabric, mostly from flea markets. He had no other chance than to combine 1 meter of flowered fabric with 1,5 meters of plaid fabric with 2 meters of striped fabric. Playfully mixed color and pattern combinations whose cuts often resemble Japanese kimonos became Kenzo’s trademark. And another trademark of Kenzo: No Haute Couture, only Prêt-à-porter. Coming from a poor background his intention has never been to create fashion only affordable for the money elite.

In 1999 he sold his brand to Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and leaves Kenzo a few years later in 1999. As the fashion world started to change more and more faster Kenzo didn’t feel the need and passion to keep up with this pace. As an artist and designer he paved the way for other Japanese designer like Issey Miyake or Johji Yamamoto.

Kenzo, who died on 4 October 2020 from complications of COVID-19, was never a man of many words. Since his childhood he suffered from dyslexia, a disorder which decreases the capability to understand words and texts. But he told his story by his designs and in the rare moments when he talked about himself, he always seemed amazed by his own legacy:

“I’m influenced by the world that thinks it’s influenced by me.”