Japanese designer Kenzo Takada has died at age 81 after battling Covid-19-related complications. The designer passed away on Sunday evening at the American Hospital, near Paris, France.
Tributes have poured in for the designer, who made his debut in 1970 and over the years grew Kenzo into a globally recognized brand and fashion house.
Bernard Arnault, LVMH chairman, said in a statement that he was “very sad to learn about his passing,” expressing sympathy for Takada’s family and friends, adding, “Kenzo Takada has, from the 1970s, infused into fashion a tone of poetic lightness and sweet freedom, which inspired many designers after him. In this fresh and spontaneous spirit, he also durably renewed the world of perfume.”
LVMH acquired Kenzo in an $80 million deal in August 1993, the year of its acquisition. Kenzo’s sales hit $144 million, according to United Press International. Takada left the group in 1999.
Jonathan Bouchet Manheim, CEO of K-3, Takada’s new lifestyle brand launched in 2020, said, “Kenzo Takada was incredibly creative; with a stroke of genius, he imagined a new artistic and colorful story combining East and West—his native Japan and his life in Paris,” he said in an emailed statement to Forbes.
Adding, “I had the chance to work alongside him for many years, always in awe, admiring his curiosity and his open-mindedness. He seemed quiet and shy at first, but he was full of humor.
“He was generous and always knew how to look after the people close to his heart. He had a zest for life . . . Kenzo Takada was the epitome of the art of living.”
The Rise of Kenzo
Born in Himeji, Japan, in 1939, Takada studied literature before dropping out and becoming one of the first male students at Bunka Fashion College, Tokyo, according to a New York Times profile. He told the Financial Times in 2019, “I was once told that it was impossible for a Japanese man to work in the fashion industry in Paris . . . Men weren’t allowed into design schools. Being creative was not accepted in Japanese society in the 1950s. And more than anything, my parents opposed the idea of me working in fashion.”
His first fashion house was impishly named “Jungle Jap” and was formed after his flat was leveled to make way for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, the compensation from which allowed him to travel to Paris. After first selling sketches to other designers, he launched his first Paris boutique, later rebranding the fashion label as Kenzo in New York in 1976.
Takada described his own early style as floral patterns, kimonos and textiles, and drawing on the “strong presence of nature in Japanese art,” he told the FT.
As the house grew and grew, Kenzo launched a men’s collection in 1983, followed by a fragrance line in 1988. Kenzo sold the business to LVMH in 1993 following shifts in the industry, and the death of his partner, Xavier de Castella, in 1990, “I decided to sell the company for various reasons . . . It was becoming more commercial. Fashion was changing, the pace was changing,” he told the FT, staying on as designer but stepping away amicably in 1999.
Supermodel Naomi Campbell said on Instagram, “So sad to hear of your loss today . . . will always remember your smile and humble demeanor . . . and positivity you shined on us all.”
Billionaire François-Henri Pinault, described Takada as “one of the creative spirits who contributed to making Paris the capital of fashion. His fashion resembled him: at the crossroads of cultures, creative, joyful and generous,” WWD reported yesterday.
Felipe Oliveira Baptista, artistic director at Kenzo, said, “It is with great sadness that I have learned the passing away of Mr. Kenzo Takada. His amazing energy, kindness and talent were contagious. His kindred spirit will live forever. Rest in peace, Master.”
Takada’s death falls as Paris prepares for Fashion Week 2020 amid a tightening of lockdown measures as the number of Covid cases soars again in France.
-By David Dawkins, Forbes Staff