Ten’s To Do: Read ‘Kenzo Takada’, the Ultimate Guide To The Colourful World of the Japanese Designer
© Richard Haughton
In many ways, Kenzo Takada was way ahead of his time. The Japanese-born designer redefined European fashion of 1970s with his colourful prints, floral cotton dresses and an easy, ready-to-wear approach to dressing. And despite finding great success during his time, even a brief flick through Takada’s heritage discovers many a grand moment that’s perhaps been forgotten in the void of Parisian fashion. And it’s now, exactly 49 years after Takada’s first break onto the scene, that his rich legacy is finally getting the much-deserved spotlight, courtesy of the brand new coffee table gem. Kenzo Takada is the just-released monograph published by Acc Art Books, edited by Kazuko Masui with text written by Chihiro Masui.
Separated in six sections, the book serves as the ultimate guide to understanding the designer’s technicolour, multi-culti approach to design. “When I started the brand, I did not specifically think about it becoming something as big as it is now, I just believed that I had different ideas,” Takada tells us over e-mail. A big opening section of the book includes over 250 pages of illustrations. During his career, Takada produced more than 7800 fashion drawing; as Masui writes in the introduction: “the pencil is his vocabulary, the paper is his medium of expression.”However, it’s the way these drawings came to life that refined contemporary catwalks, creating spectacle after spectacle on a scale equivalent to Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel couture shows at the Grand Palais.
In March 1970, Takada joined arms with his friends Atsuko Kondo and Atsuko Anzai and opened his first small store under the name Jungle Jap. At the time, the designer was unaware of the possible negative connotations of the name: “I was too shy to use my name,” he says. Troubles with the name ‘Jungle Jap’ arose when the brand started breaking onto the American market. The brand was renamed into Kenzo in 1984, launched the first, eponymous fragrance in 1988, and the men’s one in 1991.
His first ever show presented a spring/ summer collection in spring back in 1970, breaking the golden rule of showing six months ahead. It’s small notes like this that show how rebellious Takada was at the time, doing things his own way and ignoring the strict Parisian regulations. “The most memorable moments of my career were my first and last show,” he reveals. His final, 60th catwalk presentation took place in the grand Zénith arena in Paris in 1999 (six years after having his brand acquired by the LVMH group) and still stands as one of those important milestones that find their way into fashion history handbooks. Of the show, Takada remembers: “it was amazing and fabulous, friends walked the catwalk which retraced the years at Kenzo. I invited everybody who was involved either directly or indirectly with the brand; from the first people working in the shops to the top celebrities.”
Kenzo Takada retired in 1999, leaving his brand in the hands of LVMH. If he was to start a brand today, 20 year later, how would he do it? “I do not believe I would start a fashion brand today – you need to be on top of everything that is being done. The pace of the fashion environment is very rapid, and I can only admire today’s generation of creatives. But I could consider more working in the interior part of creation. I am now a little more drawn to this environment, and I can find common grounds with fashion,” he tells us.
When looking at today’s world of Kenzo, it’s clear that Takada’s heritage is very much referenced in the work of Carol Lim and Humberto Leon. What in prints on show and cultural themes weaving through, but also the spirit of the campaign imagery and fashion shows – it’s clear that the imagery carries the same diverse spirit as it did during his time. How does that feel for the designer himself? “It feels strange to be dissociated from a brand that bears your name but I got used to it. I still follow the work of Kenzo and I feel privileged to see such a great team continuing the progress; Humbert Leon, Carol Lim and LVMH are currently doing a great job changing their target to a younger generation. I do believe that there is a part of my creativity that still exists within the brand’s identity.” It does indeed. The creativity lives on, decades later… Now bound and covered in a pink floral dust jacket.
‘Kenzo Takada’ by Kazuko Masui is now available to shop worldwide.
© Peter Knapp for Kenzo, AW 1973
© Richard Haughton© Kenzo Takada, 1972