Born to a family of seven siblings, Kenzo Takada showed an early interest in fashion through reading his sisters’ fashion magazines. He studied literature at Kobe University but left to take up fashion at Bunka Gakuen University in Tokyo when the university started to allow male students to study fashion. During his time at Bunka, Takada won a fashion design competition. At this time, he also gained experience working in the Sanai department store, where he designed up to 40 outfits a month as a girl’s clothing designer. He idolized Yves Saint Laurent as a designer and Paris as the fashion capital, so he bought a one-way ticket to Europe, eventually arriving in Paris in 1964. He showed his designs to fashion houses and was hired by Pierre Cardin as a freelancer.
Takada was a foreigner, who wanted to make a name as a designer in Paris, and this was no small task. His first few years in Paris were a struggle, despite selling some of his sketches to fashion designers, and working as a stylist for a textile manufacturer, Pisanti. Takada was, however, determined and worked hard to give himself a chance. In 1970, a woman he met at a flea market offered to rent him a small space at Gallerie Vivienne, where he opened his first boutique. With very little capital, he created his first collection out of textiles he found in the market in Montmarte. His collection was colorful, creative, and accessibly priced, and it was presented on real women since he couldn’t afford to hire models. He was inspired by the painter, Henri Roussault, and ended up painting his shop in colorful, jungle-like colors, naming the shop Jungle Jap – a name that would also bring controversy. Takada’s talent, despite being an unknown designer at the time, was noticed by the fashion media; in 1970, Elle put his designs on its cover. As a designer, he remained true to his unique style, and his success would result in several boutiques, international recognition, as well as expansion into the beauty business.
Kenzo Takada in his first boutique Jungle Jap. Photo source: Kenzo
Key Success Factors:
Capturing the spirit of the early 1970s, Kenzo Takada, embodied the spirit and mood of the moment. He combined kaleidoscopic colors and cultural diversity with Eastern sensibility. He had a unique ability to clash prints, mix textures and use a vibrant color palette, which earned him the nickname, “the Little Prince of Fashion.” He promoted cultural diversity and unity, and it was a signature style of Kenzo to clash color, texture and print, using Peruvian wraps, florals, and pompoms. He became known for his irreverence, taking the basis of a kimono and translating it to an unexpected fabric. He dismissed the classic approach to tailoring and seasonal color palettes. To him, fashion was about fantasy and creating a dream, and he took inspiration from around the world – African boubous, British raincoats, and Portuguese purses. Kenzo’s talent was considered “second [only] to Saint Laurent,” by The Times.
The last fashion show Kenzo Takada did before retiring, Paris 1999. Photo source: Frederick Florin