05.10.2020 Asia

Kenzo Takada, Japanese founder of Kenzo fashion house, dies in Paris

By Michael Fitzpatrick - RFI
LISTEN OCT 5, 2020

Japan's most famous fashion designer Kenzo Takada, founder of the global Kenzo brand, has died in Paris after contracting Covid-19. He was 81 years old.

Takada, the first Japanese designer to gain prominence in the highly-competitive Paris fashion scene, died in the American Hospital in the French capital, his spokesman said in a statement.

Tributes have poured in for a designer known especially for his signature floral prints.

"Today, his optimism, zest for life and generosity continue to be pillars of our operation. He will be greatly missed and always remembered," the Kenzo fashion house he founded wrote on Twitter.

He "helped to write a new page in fashion, at the confluence of the East and the West", said Ralph Toledano of the Haute Couture Federation.

An unashamed lover of Paris

Kenzo Takada's death comes 50 years after he launched his first collection in Paris, a city which he adopted as his home. "Every wall, every sky and every passer-by helps me build my collections," he once said of the city.

He retired from fashion in 1999, six years after selling his brand to luxury conglomerate LVMH, and dedicated his time to one-off projects including a design collection launched at the start of this year.

First French job in a poodle parlour

Born in 1939 into a family of hoteliers, he chose to study art, becoming a star pupil at Toyko's Bunka Gakuen college, where he carried off the top prize. He went on to work for Sanai, a major chain of fashion shops.

The 1964 Olympic Games finally gave him his opportunity to come to Europe. The block of flats in which he was renting an apartment was to be demolished to make way for a stadium.

Like all the tenants, he was paid compensation and decided to blow the money on a one-way ticket on a cargo boat to Marseille.

Arriving in Paris in the winter of 1965, hardly speaking any French, the only job he could get was in a poodle parlour.

Jungle Jap hits the Elle front page

In 1970, however, he took the lease of premises in the Galerie Vivienne, then a rather down-at-heel shopping arcade. "With a few friends for three months we painted the walls with jungle scenes like Le Douanier Rousseau's Snake Charmer and baptised it Jungle Jap," he recalled later.

His first show using amateur models to save money was held there. One of only 20 people invited included the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, who liked the collection so much she ran it on the front cover.

He became a name almost overnight, and went on to revitalise the knitwear industry with his contemporary interpretations.

"A designer of immense talent, he gave colour and light their rightful place in fashion," said Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo on Twitter. "Paris is today mourning one of its sons."

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