The founder of the fashion house Kenzo Takada was born in 1939 in the Japanese province of Kanzaki. From a young age, he was interested in fashion and beautiful things. His family was often visited by geisha and merchants, and young Kenzo spent hours looking at the guests’ outfits and goods. A little later, he got to his sisters’ fashion magazines, which only strengthened his desire to create bright things.
In Japan, only women were engaged in sewing, so the boy’s parents were not allowed to devote his life to sewing. At their insistence, Kenzo entered the university in the city of Kobe at the Faculty of Japanese Literature in 1957. But after studying there for only a year, the young man dropped out and moved to live in Tokyo. There he was able to enter the Institute of Design and Fashion (Tokyo’s Bunka Fashion College), thereby becoming the first man who received permission to study in this institution.
In Tokyo, Kenzo made a living by painting shop windows and creating sketches for a fashion magazine. However, the young man dreamed of Paris, but, deprived of any parental help, he had no money to move. But chance helped him.
The house where the designer rented an apartment was decided to be demolished. All tenants were paid compensation equal to the cost of 10 months of rent. With this money, Kenzo decided to go to Paris.
Jungle JAP and US scandal
Finding himself in a foreign city without money, the designer took on any job. He cut and walked dogs, painted walls, and worked as a freelance magazine designer. In his free time, he was engaged in creativity, creating sketches. Several of them were bought by ELLE. So gradually the designer acquired clients.
In February 1970, Kenzo opened his shop in an old building. He himself was engaged in its repair, and also painted the walls. The designer named his store (and brand) “Jungle JAP”. This name used a slang and slightly derogatory term that the Japanese were called in Europe and America.
In 1972, the first show of Kenzo took place. But before that, the Japanese of America held a rally in front of the Macy’s department store, where the collection was supposed to appear, in order to protest the humiliating brand name for them. And the League of Japanese Citizens of the United States even filed a lawsuit against Kenzo because of the offensive word “jap”, reminiscent of the oppression of the Japanese in the United States.
The clothes of this brand were easily recognizable. It combined Japanese and European traditions, was very bright, had many patterns and a simple cut. In the early 70s, high-end designers (Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel) created very elegant, but rather boring clothes, which clearly did not meet the needs of the society of that time. Takada, with its incredible hues, sweeping floral patterns and comfortable fit, was able to create a whole new Parisian style.
In 1975, the collection was shown in the arena of the Zurich circus, culminating in the appearance of the designer on an elephant. And two years later, the new collection was shown in a decadent nightclub with a live performance by Grace Jones, which was also nonsense.
Development of the Kenzo brand
The designer wanted the images he created to be harmonious. In this regard, he thought about creating his own fragrance. From 1978 to 1980 he worked on the creation of perfume. The result is an oriental, spicy, extraordinary fragrance called “King Kong”. Buyers took the novelty with a bang and actively bought it. But two years later, the perfume disappeared, and instead a less exotic, but very seductive floral-fruity “Ca sent beau” appeared.
In 1983, the first men’s collection “Around the World in 80 Days” was released. It was a mixture of Eastern and European culture, in which there were elements of folk costumes from different countries.
Over and over again, Kenzo created his collections, which were the same as many years ago – bright, defiant, extraordinary. But in 1993, the designer sold his fashion house to the LVMH concern, but for another 6 years he held the position of creative director. In 1999 Kenzo made the decision to retire from fashion, and marked his departure with another extraordinary show, during which he gave the audience a virtual tour of Hong Kong, Russia, Africa, Japan and, of course, Paris.
In 2003, the post of creative designer was given to the Italian Antonio Marras. He began to study the concept of the brand in order to keep it, but at the same time add a fresh breath. However, although his collections were successful, Kenzo’s style was practically not visible in them.
Takada, unable to bear life without fashion, returned to it in 2005 to launch a line of home goods and furniture. He also designed the uniforms for the Japanese national team for the 2004 Olympic Games, and in 2019 he made costumes for the production of Madama Butterfly at the Tokyo Opera.
In July 2011, Marras was replaced by Humberto Leon and Carol Lim. They decided to make clothes more accessible and focused on the youth audience. Also, having studied the archives of the fashion house, the designers began to create collections in the same spirit as Takada in the 50s. This allowed the brand to sparkle with new colors and attract new customers.
Kenzo himself died on October 4, 2020 in the midst of Paris Fashion Week from complications caused by COVID-19.