Japanese designer working in Paris
Born: Kenzo Takada in Tokyo, Japan, 27 February 1939. Education: Bunka College of Fashion. Career: Designer for Sanai department store; pattern designer, Soen magazine, Tokyo, 1960-64; freelance designer, Paris, from 1965, selling to Féraud, Rodier, and several department stores; designer for Pisanti; established Jungle Jap boutique in Paris, 1970; opened Rue Cherche Midi Boutique, 1972; established Kenzo-Paris boutique, New York, 1983; launched menswear line, 1983; opened boutiques in Paris, Aix en Provence, Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Saint-Tropez, Copenhagen, London, Milan, and Tokyo, 1984-85; launched menswear and womenswear lines, Kenzo Jeans, and junior line, Kenzo Jungle, 1986; launched Kenzo Bed Linen and Bath Wear line, 1987; opened boutiques in Rome, New York, 1987; established childrenswear line, 1987; launched womenswear line, Kenzo City, 1988; opened boutique in Brussels, 1989, and Stockholm, 1990; launched line of bath products, Le Bain, 1990; opened boutique in Hong Kong, 1990, Bangkok, 1991, and Singapore, 1991; launched Kenzo Maison line, 1992; launched Bambou line, 1994. Perfumes: Kenzo, 1988; Parfum d'été, 1992; has also designed costumes for opera; film director. Company continued on after his retirement in 1999. Awards: Soen prize, 1960; Fashion Editors Club of Japan prize, 1972; Bath Museum of Costume Dress of the Year award, 1976, 1977; Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 1984. Address: 3 Place des Victoires, 75002 Paris. Website: www.kenzo.com.
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In 1986 Kenzo Takada called his menswear collection "Around the World in Eighty Days," but that expedition had long been underway in Kenzo's clothes for women and men. Significantly, for more than 20 years, Kenzo has been the most prominent traveler in fashion but also the most multicultural and the most syncretistic, insisting on the diversity and compatibility of ethnic styles and cultural options from all parts of the world. Kenzo has steadfastly mixed styles. This Japanese tourist has rightly perceived and selected from all cultures and styles. In February 1978 he told Women's Wear Daily, "I like to use African patterns and Japanese patterns together." Kenzo interprets style and specific costume elements of various parts of the world, assimilating them into a peaceful internationalism more radical than other designers.
Various collections have included Romanian peasant skirts as inspiration as well as Mexican rebozos and heavy Scandinavian sweaters (1973); a Chinese coolie look combined with Portuguese purses, Riviera awning-striped beach shirts, and t-shirt dresses for full cultural diversity (1975); Native American stylings in a highly textural, colorful, and feather-inflected collection (1976); Egyptian leanings and patterns (1979); North African inspiration, with elements of an excursion to India for a modified Nehru suit (1984); an homage to Al Capone (1988).
Considered a Wunderkind and celebrity in 1970s fashion, Kenzo never fixed on one look, but preferred to view fashion as a creative, continuous adventure. Shyly, Kenzo said in 1978, "It pleases me when people say I have influence. But I am influenced by the world that says I influence it. The world I live in is my influence." Other influences include American popular culture: Chinese tunics and wrappings, especially at the low-swung waist, batiks of East Asia, European peasant aprons and smocks, and Japanese woven textiles. For his 40th birthday, the designer became Minnie Mouse.
When asked by Joan Quinn about travels and ethnic clothing, Kenzo replied: "I prefer to travel only for vacations. I don't go around looking for influences. The energy arrives." In fact, Kenzo serves as "the prototype of the young designer, the designer with a sense of humor about fashion, culture, and life, as well as a lively curiosity about clothing itself," as Caroline Milbank described, precisely because his theme collections and almost volcanic change imply a continuous stream of ideas. Kenzo, after all, emerged first as a designer of poor-boy-style skinny sweaters. Like Elsa Schiaparelli, who likewise began with ingenious knits, he has become a prodigious continuing talent. His fashion references seem never to be imposed upon clothing but are reasonable as a consequence of his design exploration. Military and ecclesiastical looks in 1978 simply streamlined and simplified his style.
In addition, Kenzo has been fascinated by painting, drawing upon Wassily Kandinsky and David Hockney for inspiration, as well as calligraphy. His pallet has always been internationally vibrant, filled with ethnic eruptions, play of pattern, and unorthodox color combinations. Kenzo's work, in fact, argues strongly for the harmony of cultural influences, the most disparate and distinct expressions of dress coming together in the styles of a designer who has himself raised barbed issues of ethnicity by insisting upon "Jap" for his early collections, encouraging a racist pejorative to be converted into a positive identity.
Kenzo demonstrates a sustained aesthetic of absorption, assimilating many global influences into an integrated and wholly modern style of his own. The flamboyance of Kenzo's art and life captured the popular imagination of fashion in the 1970s, but his abiding and exemplary contribution is his ability to digest many style traits and to achieve a powerful composite. Kenzo told André Leon Tally, writing for Women's Wear Daily in February 1978, "One needs a lot of folly to work in fashion." It is this sense of exuberance, creative excitement, and caprice that has marked Kenzo's work for more than two decades. Claude Montana once commented, "Kenzo gives much more to fashion than all the couturiers lumped together." Kenzo epitomized fashion energy and imagination in the 1970s: his brilliant creative assimilation brought street initiative and global creativity to fashion.
By the early 1990s, Kenzo's company, which boasted 37 boutiques worldwide and 124 sales outlets, was acquired by the LVMH (Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton) family, quickly becoming LVMH's second-largest fashion house after Louis Vuitton. LVMH also owns Loewe, Celine, and Christian Dior. Plans for the Kenzo brand included branching into home furnishings and launching a new sportswear line called Kenzo Ki (Ki is Kenji for "energy").
Kenzo announced his retirement in 1999 and celebrated his 30-year career with a stadium celebration that included a Kenzo retrospective and his final collection, spring-summer 2000. Kenzo was replaced by head designers Gilles Rosier for womenswear and Roy Krejberg for menswear. Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune called Rosier's first show, for fall-winter 2000-2001, "one of the smoothest and successful transitions of recent seasons."
Even with its namesake in retirement, the Kenzo brand continues to grow. In 2001 the company added a new fragrance, Flower by Kenzo to its line, and the company sought a new generation of Kenzo devotees with the launch of Kenzo Kids. Marketing director Timothy Yoong told Singapore's Straits Times that "anyone willing to pay $1,000 for a suit won't mind buying three to four items from the same brand for their children."
updated by Lisa Groshong