Style | October 5, 2020 7:00 am

Kenzo Takada, Groundbreaking Fashion Designer, Dead at 81

His death follows a diagnosis of COVID-19

Kenzo Takada with painting
Japanese fashion designer Kenzo Takada poses next to his self-portrait painting during the Monaco Fight Aids Gala, on December 1, 2014.
VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images

Kenzo Takada’s long career spanned multiple continents and several areas of expertise — covering everything from fashion to skincare. He died in Paris, the city that he called home for many decades, at the age of 81 after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

Looking back on his life, Kim Willsher at The Guardian wrote that Takada initially drew attention by being one of the first Japanese designers to make a name for themselves in Parisian fashion. “His prêt-à-porter designs with their trademark profusion of bright colours, flowers and jungle prints were a far cry from the traditional Parisian mode of the time,” Willshire noted.

He founded the clothing company Kenzo in 1970. While the company initially focused on women’s fashion, it expanded to menswear in 1983; fragrances followed in 1988. Takada served as the company’s creative director until 1999.

In the ensuing years, he remained busy: a recent T Magazine article about his penchant for collecting small antiques mentioned that he launched an interior design brand earlier this year. In 2019, he returned to clothing design, creating the costumes for the Tokyo Nikikai Opera Foundation’s staging of Madame Butterfly.

Despite the use of color in his own work, Takada noted that his own personal style was changing late in life. “It’s strange, but as I’ve grown older, I find that I’m wearing more and more monochrome,” he said in a 2019 interview.

In 2017, he reflected on his life and legacy in another interview. “If I made one major contribution to fashion it was helping to bring some accessibility to it,” he said. “What I did wasn’t exactly basic but it wasn’t couture either, and this was at a time when French fashion was all about couture. It created a new market in a way.” And now, an entire industry has sprung up in the world he helped create.

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