RIP Kenzo Takada: Naomi Campbell and More Remember the Designer

Fifty-five years ago, Kenzo Takada boarded a boat and took a month-long journey to Paris. The designer, who has died of the coronavirus at age 81, had never left Japan before, and planned to stay just six months. Instead, he became one of the most influential designers of the 20th-century, popularizing Japanese fashion in the west and opening the Parisian door for Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons’s Rei Kawakubo. 

At the time that Takada decided to pursue design, only one school would accept him: Tokyo’s Bunka Fashion College, where he became the first male student. That training was all that prepared him for his voyage in 1965, when he spoke minimal French, knew no one in the city, and was at complete odds with the Paris fashion establishment and its exclusivity.

For a time, Takada tried to fall in line with Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and more of the couturiers then in their prime. But in 1970, Takada decided to stop taking things so seriously. From the moment he staged his first runway show, which took place inside a makeshift jungle, having fun became the designer’s no. 1 priority. And Grace Jones, Jerry Hall, Iman, and Tyra Banks were just a few of those eager to get in on it.

At the same time that Takada became what Jean-Paul Goude once described as “a tremendously exotic pop star—a sort of gang leader, surrounded by groupies of all races, colors, and creeds,” he also revolutionized the French fashion industry, mixing influences like African motifs and Tokyo street style and favoring a riot of prints. “I started mixing Japanese influences with European culture, bringing Japanese materials and cuts to European fashion,” Takada recalled in an interview with W in 2017. “And then I quickly got influenced by other cultures and mixed in elements from around the world. That was very fresh to the market at the time—it was a whole new way of doing things. But from the beginning, I really wanted to do something different than everyone else. And I wasn’t too scared, so I just did it. And it did work in the end.”

By 1974, Takada was so successful that his fanbase had extended back to Japan, where he staged not one, but two runway shows. (Some even paid for their seats.) And that success only allowed Takada to take things even further: one of his 1979 shows took place inside a circus tent, and ended with models on horseback and Takada atop an elephant. The more the designer traveled, the more his designs got eclectic, mixing everything from Romanian peasant skirts to North African caftans. When he decided to move on from the house in 1999, on its 30th anniversary, Takada made his exit in true form, descending from the ceiling and landing atop a giant globe. 

KENZO Spring Summer 1991 NADEGE @kenzotakada_official @kenzo @nadegedubospertus @unforgettable_runway #kenzotakada #kenzo #lamodeenimages #pfw #fashion #90s #fashionweek #90sfashion #supermodel #topmodel #catwalk #vogue #fashiondesigner #nadegedubospertus #fashionflashback #fashionarchives #fashionhistory #90ssupermodel #fashionicon #parisfashionweek #fashionblogger #fashionflashback Video Production @lamodeenimages (copyrighted video)

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Without Takada, interest in Kenzo waned until 2011, when Opening Ceremony’s Carol Lim and Humberto Leon took over and pulled moves like casting Britney Spears in a fragrance campaign. The role of creative director has since passed on to Felipe Oliviera Baptista, who bid “farewell master” to Takada on Sunday night with three tributes on Instagram. 

FAREWELL MASTER 🙏🏼🖤🙏🏼 It is with great sadness that I have learned the passing away of Mr Kenzo Takada. His amazing energy, kindness, talent and smile were contagious. His kindred spirit will live forever.

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Many of the others who’ve paid tribute to Takada have celebrated his pure joy. (“Remember our boat trip in Sardinia?,” Bethann Hardison commented on Pat Cleveland’s post.) Read more remembrances from fans like Naomi Campbell, Carla Bruni, and Linda Evangelista, here. 

My heart is broken that my dear friend Kenzo has passed away due to Covid 19 complications. He was such a joyful soul and I am going to miss him so much… RIP darling Kenzo🖤💔🙏❤

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@kenzo @kenzotakada_official So sad to hear of your loss today .. will always remember your smile and humble demeanor.. and positivity you shined on us all . Rest with the angels ♥️🙏🏾🕊

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Kenzo Takada R.I.P. He was the first Japanese designer to make a mark on the Paris fashion scene. In 1970 he opened in #galerievivienne on a low rent and no money buying fabric from the famous cheap fabric store Saint Pierre market in #montmartre • inspired by #rousseau he painted the interior of his shop and called it Jungle Jap 🌈 Within months he had the front cover of @ellemagazine.official. Respect and love to all his family. #stay #safe • Original Kenzo 70s and 80s before retirement in 1999. #kenzo #andywarhol

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♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️ Humor involves courage and courage involves risk. Not only did Kenzo bring joy and a ton of cultural appropriation to Paris, he also had the nerve to showcase other designers’ existence in his 1981(?) Fall Winter Collection with this passage of a couple wearing his clothes while carrying the shopping bags of other greats from the Chambre Syndicale du Pret a Porter designers. I’m guessing it might have had something to do with the Place des Victoires boutiques initiative of the same period. Yes, Kenzo was more than just a brand…Kenzo embodies the joy of Paris and we all fell in love. #god #bless #kenzo 🙏🏽😍♥️💎♥️😍🙏🏽 #togodbetheglory photo: Paul Van Reid

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♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️ Humor involves courage and courage involves risk. Not only did Kenzo bring joy and a ton of cultural appropriation to Paris, he also had the nerve to showcase other designers’ existence in his 1981(?) Fall Winter Collection with this passage of a couple wearing his clothes while carrying the shopping bags of other greats from the Chambre Syndicale du Pret a Porter designers. I’m guessing it might have had something to do with the Place des Victoires boutiques initiative of the same period. Yes, Kenzo was more than just a brand…Kenzo embodies the joy of Paris and we all fell in love. #god #bless #kenzo 🙏🏽😍♥️💎♥️😍🙏🏽 #togodbetheglory photo: Paul Van Reid

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♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️ How a lot of us will fall in love with fashion. Kenzo Takada aka Jungle Jap brought joy to Paris and myself in my childhood bedroom reading “W” magazine in 1976. This pic is from 1982 show he did back when the Parisian shows were held in Les Halles. We love you Kenzo! Another reason to hold on to your sense of humor and love of life. More to come…! #kenzo #togodbetheglory 😢😇🙏🏽😍♥️😍♥️🙏🏽😇😢 photo: Paul Van Reid

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“Pour moi créer c’est donner du plaisir, du bonheur et la liberté d’être soi-même” Kenzo Takada @kenzotakada_official @kenzo #kenzotakada #kenzo #inesdelafressange #inesdelafressangeparis

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Sad news, such a huge designer, incredible human being, friend since 45 years , Kenzo Takada . @kenzotakada_official 😢

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Sayonara Kenzosan, I will always remember you smiling 🌹🙏😔 #kenzo

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KING BEE KENZO/ Quelle tristesse, mon ami Kenzo est parti dans un de ses paysages paradisiaques qu’il peignait, je l’avais rencontré en 1970 dans sa première boutique du passage vivienne,il venait de quitter Claude de Coux,avant de l’enrôler avec @chantalthomass pour faire une collection tous les trois pour KO & CO. Une première collaboration magique! Depuis nous ne nous sommes jamais perdus de vue. C’était un être délicat et généreux,au talent unique,un être rare et rayonnant. La fête était son autre royaume. La pérennité de son style est assuré brillamment par @felipeoliveirabaptista ,il doit être serein!. Sur cette photo de @olivierotoscanistudio il peint son autre passion/ puis cette image de @bertrandrindoffpetroff où nous sommes tous réunis en 1983 pour les 5 ans du palace. La dernière photo pour ses 80 ans réunis de nouveau + #kenzo

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KING BEE KENZO/ Quelle tristesse, mon ami Kenzo est parti dans un de ses paysages paradisiaques qu’il peignait, je l’avais rencontré en 1970 dans sa première boutique du passage vivienne,il venait de quitter Claude de Coux,avant de l’enrôler avec @chantalthomass pour faire une collection tous les trois pour KO & CO. Une première collaboration magique! Depuis nous ne nous sommes jamais perdus de vue. C’était un être délicat et généreux,au talent unique,un être rare et rayonnant. La fête était son autre royaume. La pérennité de son style est assuré brillamment par @felipeoliveirabaptista ,il doit être serein!. Sur cette photo de @olivierotoscanistudio il peint son autre passion/ puis cette image de @bertrandrindoffpetroff où nous sommes tous réunis en 1983 pour les 5 ans du palace. La dernière photo pour ses 80 ans réunis de nouveau + #kenzo

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Kenzo Takada!!! ❤️❤️❤️

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Kenzo Takada!!! ❤️❤️❤️

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💔 RIP dearest Kenzo

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💔 RIP dearest Kenzo

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