Fashion designer Kenzo Takada dies from COVID-19 at age 81


Kenzo Takada, the iconic Franco-Japanese fashion designer famed for his jungle-infused designs and free-spirited esthetic that channelled global travel, has died. He was 81.

The family said in a statement to French media on Sunday that Takada died of complications from COVID-19 in a hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris. A public relations officer for Kenzo’s brand confirmed that Takada died but didn’t give a cause of death.

“It is with immense sadness that Kenzo has learned of the passing of our founder,” the fashion house said in a statement. “For half a century, Mr. Takada has been an emblematic personality in the fashion industry — always infusing creativity and colour into the world.”

Though Takada had been retired from his house since 1999 to pursue a career in art, Kenzo remains one of the most respected fixtures of the high Paris fashion. Since 1993, the brand Kenzo has been owned by the French luxury goods company LVMH. The current designer and artistic director, Felipe Oliveira Baptista, unveiled Kenzo’s spring-summer 2020 to fashion editors on Wednesday.

“His amazing energy, kindness, talent and smile were contagious,” Oliveira Baptista said. “His kindred spirit will live forever.”

Kenzo’s styles, which used bold colour and clashing prints, were inspired by travels all over the world.

“Kenzo Takada has, from the 1970s, infused into fashion a tone of poetic lightness and sweet freedom which inspired many designers after him,” said Bernard Arnault, chair and chief executive of LVMH.

Lowly beginnings

Kenzo Takada was born on Feb. 27, 1939, in Himeji, in the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan, to hoteliers, but after reading his sisters’ fashion magazines, his love of fashion began.

Studying at the Bunka College of Fashion in Tokyo, Kenzo Takada had a brief stint working in Japan, before relocating to Paris in 1965 to work as a freelance designer.

In Paris, he took over a boutique in 1970 that crystallized his future ready-to-wear esthetic and was inspired in its decoration by the jungle scenes of painter Henri Rousseau, which he merged with Asian styles. It became influential.

Takada is seen with Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida after she honoured him as one of the 10 most elegant men in the world, in Rome in December 1977. (The Associated Press)

But it was lowly beginnings: Takada’s first collection at the store was made entirely out of cotton because he had little money. But the clothes spoke for themselves, and a model of his was put on the cover of Elle magazine.

A short time after — pioneering shoulder forms, large armholes, dungarees, smock tent dresses, innovative shoulder shapes — and his store was featured in US Vogue. Kenzo showed collections in New York and Tokyo in 1971.

Yves Saint Laurent was an important inspiration in his work, Takada has said. Takada shared Saint Laurent’s penchant for theatrics. In 1978 and 1979, he showed in a circus tent, and it featured himself riding an elephant, and performers rode horses wearing see-through uniforms.

Takada is congratulated by models after his Spring/Summer 2000 ready-to-wear fashion show in Paris in October 1999. (Reuters)

Takada’s love of travel and use of ethnic influences were strong features in his three decades atop his fashion house.

His contribution to style was significant. He championed a youthful esthetic and unstructured form, and did away with zippers to liberate silhouettes. His signatures were of wider sleeves and armholes that harkened back to historic styles in his home continent of Asia.