Farewell to KENZO, the king of color

Fashion lovers around the world are mourning the loss of Takada Kenzo, a designer known for his innovative blend of Japanese culture and modern aesthetics. The Paris-based fashion icon died on October 4 of complications linked to COVID-19. He was 81.

Young dreams

Takada -- known simply by his given name, Kenzo -- was born in Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture, a city known for its 400-year-old castle. He moved to Tokyo at the age 18 to study at the Bunka Fashion College, an internationally recognized institute that both teaches the history of fashion and helps shape its future.

During his time at the school, in 1961, Kenzo won a fashion design competition, the Soen Award. The trophy was the first big step as a professional designer.

Kenzo at the Bunka Fashion College
Kenzo is one of Tokyo's Bunka Fashion College's most famous graduates.

Tokyo to Paris

He traveled to Paris by ship at the age of 25 and began climbing the ladder in the European fashion capital. Five years later he opened his own fashion house, KENZO, and held his first show.

The fashion at the time was for tight silhouettes, but Kenzo championed a more roomy, less restrictive style, full of fun, with bold prints and bright colors. He broke convention with his runway shows, too, holding them in such unconventional locations as pubs and movie theaters.

A global icon

Kenzo's creativity was recognized around the world. He was named Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in France and awarded the Medal of Honor in Japan.

Official uniforms the 2004 Athens Olympics
Takada designed the official uniforms for the Japanese team at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Suzuki Yayoi, who worked with Kenzo for more than 35 years, spoke to NHK about where the designer found his inspiration.

"Kenzo used to tell me he was surprised to see the stylish and colorful ethnic clothes people wore when he was traveling to Paris by ship, calling at ports in Hong Kong, India and Egypt," she said. "He was inspired by the locals' originality and tried to create something new with a free mindset."

Legacy lives on

Kenzo's office in Japan says he contracted the coronavirus in mid-September and was hospitalized near Paris. Staff say his condition deteriorated quickly this month.

When the news of Kenzo's death broke, French President Emanuel Macron praised the designer's "audacity and elegance."

Kenzo's friends and family gathered to mourn him on Tuesday in Paris, praising his many achievements. Those who worked for him said he had a talent for making people feel both beautiful and comfortable.

Takada in Paris

He also remains a major inspiration for the students at the Bunka Fashion College. "I hope to become a designer who's active for six or seven decades, just like him," said one.

And, beyond Tokyo's top fashion students, it's clear that Kenzo's creativity and flair will live on in people's hearts around the world, as well as in every piece of clothing he designed.

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