This is the 40th year since Japanese-born Kenzo Takada opened his first Paris boutique, the famous Jungle Jap. During Paris Fashion Week, vintage as well as 2011 KENZO fashions were shown in a special gala défilé at the Cirque d’Hiver. However, that was just the tip of this autumn’s iceberg. A “birthday capsule collection” for children has now gone on sale and an exhibition of KENZO’s signature bag Le Pagodon is showing in London, Moscow and Buenos Aires. There are charming scarves, T-shirts and a shopping bag to buy. Also, come December, KENZO stores unveil a luxury book about the designer. Published by Rizzoli, it’s full of top-name tributes—and the pricier version comes with its own KENZO carrier.
This pioneering creator is also being hailed outside France. In New York, he features in the Fashion Institute of Technology’s “Japan Fashion Now” and in London at “Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion.”
Those homages view Kenzo (now 71) as the man who first took Japanese fashion into the wider world, helping pave the way for names like Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake and Undercover. Among Paris insiders, however, Takada enjoys prestige because during the ’70s he helped change couture’s very essence. He arrived here in 1964, speaking little French, to discover the capital’s high style was still deeply bourgeois. Initially isolated, with no industry connections, Kenzo hardly seemed able to change a decade of Paris couture. Nevertheless, that is what he did.
Two things made this feat possible. One was Takada’s ability to survive until he found his niche by freelancing for other designers and even publications. But his main asset was the vision he created. Fresh and timely, Kenzo’s own work focused on floral patterns aburst with color and multiethnic fusions—as well as new ideas about the female silhouette. The clothes he created would make mainstream couture look both stuffy and out of step.
The Paris avant-garde and the city’s elite nightclubs were soon populated with Kenzo’s clothes. His style and its popularity was hardly lost on other designers, especially the boy wonder Yves Saint Laurent. Kenzo’s voracious, multicultural curiosity helped turn a new generation toward different ethnicities. But it’s YSL himself who remains Takada’s “hero.”
Kenzo brought both sportswear and diversity into couture. Yet the designer’s earliest work came out of Paris flea markets, where he was forced to search for fabrics he could afford. It was these finds he first fused into what became “Kenzo.”
Mainstream marketing influence arrived in the ’80s, as the designer added a menswear label and launched perfumes. Those successes were followed by KENZOKI skin care products, KENZO Kids and KENZO Maison.
In ’93, Takada sold the whole label to Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. Six years later, he officially “retired.” (Today, KENZO’s artistic director is the Italian Antonio Marras.) Yet, by 2002, the restless creator resurfaced: showing his paintings, launching a music label then a brand of linens, as well as designing hotel projects around the globe.
However, he is still based in Paris, incarnating the heart of KENZO. Asked why a septuagenarian is irreplaceable, Antonio Marras says, “Because modernity has to have memory. A brand requires vision; every brand is its own universe. Kenzo always knew that and all of us have learned it from him.”
Shop Kenzo at www.kenzo.com or at:
27, blvd de la Madeleine, in the 8th Arrondissement.
01 42 61 04 14. Metro: Madeleine.
3, place des Victoires, in the 1st.
01 40 39 72 03. Metro: Bourse.
1, rue du Pont Neuf, in the 1st.
01 40 28 11 80. Metro: Pont Neuf.
60, rue de Rennes, in the 6th.
01 45 44 27 88. Metro: St.-Germain des Prés.
16, blvd Raspail, in the 7th.
01 42 22 09 38. Metro: Rue du Bac.
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