How Kenzo Takada became just Kenzo

How Kenzo Takada became just Kenzo


At the end of February, the world celebrated the 85th birthday of Kenzo Takada, creator of the Kenzo brand and famous fashion designer. Kommersant traced the life path of one of the most famous Japanese of our time. The path is not the easiest, but it seems to be completely happy. Takada lived to be 81 years old and spent almost all of this time doing only what he really liked.

When Kenzo Takada died in the fall of 2020, it seems that there was not a single newspaper, not a single person even remotely related to the world of high fashion, who would not respond to this with words that the planet had lost perhaps the most original and amazing fashion designer And this despite the fact that any successful fashion designer and businessman in the fashion world (and Takada was certainly successful) is by definition unique.

Nevertheless, even compared to others, Takada was a pioneer. He was the first to introduce deliberately Japanese elements into high fashion; he was one of the first fashion designers who not only was not afraid of experiments, but, it seems, built his creativity on them.

Finally, he started a fashion for Japanese fashion designers, allowing the world to recognize Yoji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, and Issey Miyake. He was also one of the first to not only consider fashion to be for everyone, not just a select few, but to actually democratize high fashion. Perhaps remembering his own roots, far from aristocracy.

Japanese Fashion Ambassador

Kenzo Takada was born on February 27, 1939 in Himeji. My hometown was not a remote place at all. Ten years before Kenzo was born, it almost became the capital of Japan – after another earthquake, the authorities seriously considered the issue of moving the capital from Tokyo to Himeji. Kenzo’s family, of which he was the last of five children, was not rich, but it was definitely wealthy. His father owned a quite decent hotel.

Kenzo realized early on what he wanted to become. The older sisters were avid lovers of women’s fashion magazines. They were popular with Kenzo’s older sisters. The boy also became addicted to them. He was interested not only in texts, but also in pictures. Kenzo stated that he wanted to go into fashion. The parents, simple people who wanted to see their children not only happy, but also successful, were not happy with the choice of their youngest son. Kenzo was a kind boy and, in order not to upset his father and mother, he entered Kobe University, the Faculty of Japanese Literature and Philology. This happened in 1957. It took him less than a year to understand that literature was not his calling.

Frustrated and bored, he dropped out of university and, despite his parents’ protests, moved to Tokyo, becoming one of the first male students at Bunka College of Fashion.

The fact that he made the right choice was soon realized not only by himself, but also by his teachers and, importantly, his parents. Two years later, he received both a college diploma and a prestigious award from the fashion magazine Soen for winning a major fashion competition, and his work. The Tokyo Sanai department store invited him to be the chief designer of dresses for girls.

Working for a large department store opened up a lot of opportunities for the young designer and guaranteed a comfortable existence, but not world fame. Without knowing it, the organizing committee of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics pushed the young man towards her. He needed to demolish the house in which Kenzo Takada lived. The evicted designer of children’s dresses was paid compensation – a year’s rent. This amount, as the young man considered, was quite enough to fulfill his dream of visiting Paris.

Couturier from the market

When planning his trip in 1964, Takada calculated that he would have enough money to live in Paris for six months. If you save a lot. He chose the cheapest seat on the slowest ship sailing from Tokyo to Marseille with stops in Hong Kong, Singapore, Saigon, Colombo, Bombay, Djibouti, Alexandria, Barcelona. In Paris, he settled in a room on the Place de Clichy, for which he paid nine francs a day.

Takada studied French since childhood. He did not get rid of his accent until the end of his days, but he spoke fluently and correctly, and therefore he managed to find both friends and work. Kenzo quickly forgot that he was going to Paris for six months. He began to create sketches of dresses good enough to be noticed. After some time, he began working for Louis Feraud, still young at that time (his fashion house was about ten years old), but already a very famous and popular fashion designer.

In 1970, Takada saved enough money to start his own business. At Galerie Vivienne, he bargained cheaply for space for a ready-to-wear dress shop. Even so, he barely had enough money to pay the rent, and therefore he bought the cheapest materials for his goods at the Saint-Pierre market. When the fabrics and other things necessary for sewing clothes were purchased, the Japanese in Paris ran out of money. I had to write to my homeland. Japanese friends collected some money, with which he managed to sew his first ready-to-wear collection.

The store immediately became popular. Within a couple of months, American tourists began to contact him (and be refused) wanting to order wholesale quantities of his suits. A few months later the store had to look for another, larger premises. And then he received a real certificate stating that he was successful. He appeared on the cover of Parisian Elle, and dresses from his collections were presented in the American edition of Vogue.

Actually, that’s when Takada learned that he had made a mistake when opening the store. He called it Jungle Jap.

In honor of himself – in Paris in the first years of his life, he came up with the nickname Jap. In France, the name of the store “Jungle Jap” did not bother anyone. But Kenzo’s fame has already gone beyond the borders of France. In 1972, his models appeared in the USA, at the famous Macy’s. And along with this, there were public calls to change the name of the store. “I knew that the name could be perceived as derogatory, but I thought that if I did everything well, then everything would be fine,” told he then wrote to The New York Times. Despite the pressure (in New York, a certain public group even tried to ban the Jungle Jap brand through the courts), Kenzo was true to his principle of doing what he likes, and not what they want from him.

Kenzo and the laws of nature

“I was once told that it was absolutely impossible for a Japanese to succeed as a fashion designer in Paris,” Kenzo recalled. “When I opened my store, I thought that there was no point in me doing what the French designers were doing, because I just wasn’t could compete with them. And I started doing things my own way, just to be different.”

And in his desire to be different, he knew no bounds, happily breaking all possible laws of the fashion world, which seemed immutable, like the laws of nature.

It was Kenzo, recalls fashion expert Grace Cook, who came up with the idea of ​​showing spring collections in the spring.

Experts remind us that now this format is called “saw – bought” and finally entered the world of fashion 45 years after Kenzo Takada actually invented it. At the same time, he made his revolution almost by accident: “I didn’t have any thoughts about “I saw it, I bought it,” it just seemed completely logical to me that the spring collection should be shown in the spring.”

He also came up with the idea of ​​staging his ready-to-wear collection shows at the height of Paris Fashion Week. These were shows that are still remembered today. Takada, for example, arranged one of them in a circus tent. Models pranced in translucent clothes on horses, and the fashion designer himself took part in the parade, sitting on an elephant.

However, Kenzo Takada was wise enough to divide the laws – of the market or of nature – into those that can be broken and those that must be strictly followed. After all, he was not only a fashion designer, but also a businessman.

Kenzo Takada’s business gradually conquered the world. After the show in New York, he finally decided to rename the brand. I didn’t think for a long time. If anyone could see something offensive in the “Jap”, then no one would ever see anything offensive in his name. So in 1976, Kenzo replaced Jungle Jap. A brand that, according to its creator, was the world’s best-selling brand by the late 1970s.

Takada developed his business without violating global trends and laws. In 1983, the Kenzo house released a men’s collection for the first time. A little later, like other fashion houses, it entered the perfume market, and then, in accordance with the prevailing trend, introduced more affordable lines, including Kenzo Jeans. A small store in Gallerie Vivienne has grown into a huge brand with a turnover of millions.

Life after Kenzo

Kenzo’s business boomed. But it seemed that that boy from Himeji was still more interested in doing creativity rather than business. And in the early 1990s, misfortune befell him. Deeply personal. First his friend died, perhaps his first friend in Paris. Then – mother. He didn’t make it to her funeral. Then an accident happened to his business partner. And Kenzo suddenly turned from a beloved brainchild into a job. And Kenzo Takada, let us remind you, from childhood he chose the second between “should” and “like”.

In 1993, he sold his business to the fashion conglomerate LVMH, which is known for bringing together the most successful and most interesting brands under one roof. Kenzo remained for some time as the artistic director of Kenzo, but gradually lost interest in this too.

He finally said goodbye to Kenzo in 1999. Later, he was asked more than once whether there was some disappointment or even anger in the decision to leave at those who did something with “his” brand that he himself would never do. Every time Kenzo said that it was not “unpleasant” for him, but “unusual”. And that he did not experience any bad feelings towards those who were now Kenzo.

Takada hardly lied. Everyone who knew him called him the sweetest and most conflict-free person in the world.

Nevertheless, this man in 2005, six years after his final departure from Kenzo, sued the new owners of the brand, demanding royalties for, as stated in the lawsuit, the “illegal” use of his name. Price question – $24 million with a little. It is not known how much he actually received. The parties decided to reach an agreement out of court.

In 1999, Kenzo was only 60. And he had no intention of giving up life. And he was going to do what he liked. “When I stopped working (at Kenzo.— “Kommersant”), he said later. “I went on vacation.” I was resting. And then I decided to get back to work. And then I told myself that my new job would be decor rather than fashion.” In 2005, he registered a new brand, Gokan Kobo (“Workshop of Feelings”), and began creating furniture, tableware and household goods. He also returned to his hobby, which had remained forgotten for many years – painting, creating, among other things, a whole series of self-portraits. He did not refuse when he was asked to design a uniform for the Japanese Olympic team. He finally designed the costumes for the Tokyo Opera production of Madama Butterfly. This, by the way, was not his first experience in the art world.

The awards he received also date back to this post-brand period. In 1999, he received the Japanese Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon. This is one of Japan’s highest awards for achievements in the field of culture and art. And in 2016, three years before his death, France finally made him one of its own, awarding him the title of Knight of the Legion of Honor.

Kenzo Takada, known as “the Jap” or simply Kenzo for most of his life, contracted Covid and died from complications in 2020. The time of death is not chosen, but in the case of Kenzo this is not so obvious. In the best tradition of Kenzo, “a stunning tradition in the fashion world,” the news of his death came in the midst of Paris Fashion Week. And again, everyone was talking not about the haute couture of Paris, but about him, as once upon a time, when he specially timed his ready-to-wear collection shows to coincide with the main event in the world of haute couture.

Victor Buk


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