Pioneering Designer Kenzo Takada Has Died in Paris at 81

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Kenzo Takada in his workshop
Kenzo Takada in his workshop surrounded by pieces of fabric and a few models of his latest creationsPhotography by Jean-Claude Deutsch / Paris Match via Getty Images

The Japanese fashion designer has sadly died at the age of 81 from complications after contracting Covid-19

In the middle of Paris Fashion Week, the city has lost one of its longest standing contemporary designers: Kenzo Takada, who was born in Japan and had lived in Paris since 1964, died yesterday at the age of 81 after contracting the novel coronavirus.

“Fashion is not for the few – it is for all the people. It should not be too serious,” Takada told the New York Times in 1972. Takada’s exuberant designs brought a new energy to Parisian fashion, where in 1970 he opened his first shop and showed his first collections under the controversial name ‘Jungle Jap’. “I knew it had a pejorative meaning, but I thought if I did something good, I would change the meaning,” he would say of name to the New York Times, and he later renamed his label Kenzo. In his first store in Galerie Vivienne, Takada sold his clothing alongside trinkets collected from his travels around the world – he arrived in Paris in 1964 by boat, stopping at Singapore, Mumbai and Spain – and painted the walls with floral scenes inspired by Henri Rousseau. 

Takada was celebrated for his varied and vivacious approach to fashion, his playful shows and covetable clothing. “Fashion is like eating, you shouldn’t stick with the same menu,” he famously said. A tome entitled Kenzo Takada was published by ACC Art Books last year, and traced his pioneering and acclaimed career via photography, personal ephemera and sketches. Written by friends of the designer Kazuko Masui and Chihiro Masui, the book explored his seminal designs, which might take influence from the Japanese kimono, Indian Nehru suits or Middle Eastern turbans, such was Takada’s far-reaching and open approach to fashion design. 

After a successful career at the helm of his namesake label, Takada retired from fashion in 1999 (Kenzo is today helmed by Felipe Oliveira Baptista, and owned by the luxury conglomerate LVMH). “It is with immense sadness that Kenzo has learned of the passing of our founder,” the fashion house Kenzo said in a statement. “For half a century, Mr. Takada has been an emblematic personality in the fashion industry – always infusing creativity and colour into the world. Today, his optimism, zest for life and generosity continue to be pillars of our Maison. He will be greatly missed and always remembered.”