“I arrived at the Gare de Lyon on the evening of January 1, 1965. It was nighttime and the station was old, dirty and black. I took a cab and my first impression of Paris was of a drab dark city. There was no light or neon to be seen anywhere, only tall gray buildings. Yet this was Paris, the capital of fashion, the city of my dreams.” This is how Kenzo Takada, born February 27, 1939, in Himeji, Japan, recounted his first steps in the capital. It was by selling five designs to Zizi, Louis Féraud’s wife, that it all began… “I was over the moon”, said he. Kenzo went on to sell other designs to Elle magazine, then to Jardin des Modes, and the Printemps and Galeries Lafayette department stores. This was the beginning. As he had no money, he painted the walls of his first store himself. “Jungle Jap” was born. That was fifty years ago. And nothing, not a wrinkle, not even a speck of dust could ever tarnish the sheer joy of the man. Joy that has stayed intact, squeezed into a first name that has become a label. Kenzo is the man who laughed. The man who, in a satin shirt and jeans, was going to make the capital swing, make Loulou de la Falaise and others dance on tables. It was he who brought the song of the earth back to the city. By imposing his floral quilted cottons, giant poppies, red and pink flowers and his own way of celebrating tradition with vivid life. He stole all our hearts. He was free to design a wedding dress with ribbons of all colors. The model was never sold but it did launch the fashion of petticoats in a swirl of folk tradition that escaped the censor of that day and age in the name of cultural appropriation. “Paris gave me the freedom to live and to create,” said the man who chose to treat himself to his first treasured possessions, records by Aznavour and Sylvie Vartan, and then a ticket to go listen to Maria Callas at the Opera house. “Today, something wonderful has happened,” wrote Kenzo Takada to his mother in April 1965. “Paris is a city where there are many flowers. All the florists’ stores are full of beautiful flowers. There are a lot of flowers that I had never noticed in Tokyo, like anemones, mimosas and others whose names I don’t know. When I walk past a florist, I feel elated. It’s very chic. I put a lot of flowers in my bedroom. I’m fine, Mom”.
Kenzo Takada, by Kasuko Masui and Chihiro Masui, the Oak, 2018