Fashion designer Kenzo Takada dies after catching Covid-19 aged 81

Takada was the first Japanese designer to make a mark on the Paris fashion scene

The Japanese fashion designer Kenzo Takada has died in Paris after contracting Covid-19, a spokesperson has announced. He was 81.

Takada, known best by his first name, was the first designer from Japan to break into the city’s exclusive fashion milieu in the 1970s.

His prêt-à-porter designs with their trademark profusion of bright colours, flowers and jungle prints were a far cry from the traditional Parisian mode of the time, when chic salon presentations were largely prim and proper affairs.

Kenzo, who died at the American hospital on Sunday, was famous not only for his clothes, but went on to create a global brand of perfume and skin products. At the time of his death he was acting honorary president of the Asian Couture Federation.

Born in February 1939, at Himeji near Osaka, his parents ran a hotel. He was fascinated by fashion at an early age, reading his sisters’ magazines and being interested in their sewing lessons. In 1958, after the death of his father, he enrolled at the Bunka fashion college in Tokyo, one of the previously all-female establishment’s first intake of male students.

After graduating he worked in designing women’s clothes for a department store.

The young Kenzo was inspired by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, an interest encouraged by his teacher at Bunka who had trained in Paris.

In 1965 he left Japan by boat and via Hong Kong, Vietnam and India, arrived in the French port of Marseille from where he travelled to Paris, initially just to visit.

He knew nobody in the French capital, spoke only a little French and was almost penniless. His first impression of Paris was that it was “dismal and bleak” but that Notre Dame Cathedral was “magnificent”.

In the end, Kenzo decided to settle in the city after meeting his partner, Xavier de Castella, who died in 1990, and never left.

“When I left Japan in 1964, I thought my stay in France would be for six months. I am happy that this stay is still not finished, 50 years on,” he told FranceInfo in 2016.

He produced his first collection in a small boutique in Galerie Vivienne from cheap fabrics from a Montmartre market. Later he set up his own design house in Place des Victoires. His first men’s ready-to-wear collection was in 1983 and his first perfume - Kenzo Kenzo - went on sale in 1988.

In 1993 he announced he was selling his fashion house to the luxury goods group LVMH. He retired from fashion in 1999 to concentrate on producing artistic designs.

In 2016, he was made a knight of the Legion of Honour and in 2019 was lured back into the clothes design world to create the costumes for the Tokyo Nikikai Opera Foundation’s production of Madame Butterfly. At the beginning of this year he launched a new interior design brand called K3.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, tweeted her “immense sadness” on learning of Kenzo’s death.

“He was a creator of immense talent and gave colour and light their place in fashion. Paris cries today for one of its sons,” she wrote.


Kim Willsher in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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