Flowers for Kenzo: A dedication to the Japanese designer we've lost to Covid-19 complications at 81

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Kenzo Takada and guest release butterflies during the birthday cake illumintion during the Kenzo Takada Birthday Party as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2019/2020 on February 28, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Foc Kan/WireImage)
Kenzo Takada and guest release butterflies during the birthday cake illumintion during the Kenzo Takada Birthday Party as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2019/2020 on February 28, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Foc Kan/WireImage)
  • Japanese designer, Kenzo Takada, succumbed to complications caused by Covid-19 at the age of 81 on Sunday 4 October 2020.
  • The founder of fashion house Kenzo, died at the American Hospital in Paris, as confirmed by a spokesperson from the company who informed French media, Harper's Bazaar reported.
  • His death came just four days after his eponymous label showed its latest Spring/Summer 2021 collection during Paris Fashion Week. This is a tribute to the "King of the unexpected" from the global fashion community. 

Born in Himeji, Japan, in 1940, Takada developed an early interest in fashion through reading his sister’s magazines, which led to him be one of three Japanese designers - along with Issey Miyake and Hanae Mori - to break into the (then) extremely rarefied Paris fashion scene. And as alchemy would have it, Paris is not only where a tribute to the designer has now been made, but it is the city the Kenzo fashion house last showed before the retired founder's final bow.  

PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 05: A woman walks past the
A woman walks past the flagship Kenzo store near the Champs Elysees the day after the Japanese founder of the popular fashion brand, Kenzo Takada, died aged 81 from complications linked to coronavirus early this week in Paris, France. (Photo by Kiran Ridley/Getty Images) 

In just four years, the fashion industry has now lost a heavy handful of its most gifted giants, including Franca Sozzani, Hervé Leroux of Hervé Léger, Azzedine Alaïa, Hubert de Givenchy, Gloria Vanderbilt, Karl Lagerfeld, Sergio Rossi, and SA's Coenraad de Mol.

READ MORE: Remembering Italian shoe maestro Sergio Rossi, who died of coronavirus complications at 84   

Kenzo's passing was confirmed by an official statement released on the Kenzo Instagram account.

"It is with immense sadness that Kenzo has learned of the passing of our founder, Kenzo Takada," the statement read. "For half a century, Mr Takada has been an emblematic personality in the fashion industry - always infusing creativity and colour into the world. Today, his optimism, zest for life and generosity continue to be pillars of our Maison. He will be greatly missed and always remembered."

The designer moved to Paris in the 1960s, later launching his namesake label in the early 1970s, which fast gained acclaim as fashion enthusiasts were drawn to the vibrancy - bright colours and jungle-inspired prints - of his pieces. It is reported that Mr Takada sold his clothing label to luxury conglomerate LVMH in 1993, and would retire six years later in 1999 at the age of 60. 

In the same way Karl Lagerfeld declared death as the only thing that would abbreviate his career, Kenzo also didn't stop creating after his departure from the Kenzo label in 1999. 

READ MORE: A tribute to fashion king Karl Lagerfeld and how his Little Black Dress liberated us

Kenzo's projects included Gokan Kobo - a high-end home accessories brand, a 2016 Avon fragrance partnership, and the 2017 Kenzo Takada Collection - a collaboration with the French design house Roche Bobois. The fashion visionary became president of the Asian Couture Foundation in 2013, and he was honoured with the lifetime achievement award at the 2017 Fashion Editors’ Club of Japan Awards.   

PARIS, FRANCE - JANUARY 21: (L-R) Stylist Kenzo T
Kenzo Takada and Satya Oblet attend as Kenzo Takada receives the Medal of Chevalier de La Legion d'Honneur at Conseil Constitutionnel on June 2, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Foc Kan/WireImage)  

Kenzo Takada gave us the iconic women's fragrance, Flower by Kenzo, and now it's our turn to give him his well-earned flowers:

Flower by Kenzo

kenzo takada dies at 81

Flower by Kenzo women's perfume. Screenshot from Truworths online. 

Introduced in 2000, Kenzo Takada imagined and created a fragrance for a scentless flower - the poppy. A true testament to the imaginative prowess that had so many of his industry peers intrigued by him. To create this very distinct, classic fragrance, Kenzo set up a field of 150 000 poppies in front of the Pompidou Centre in Paris. The field had an area of 1 200 square meters. 

The eau de parfum takes you through an olfactory journey of wild hawthorne, Bulgarian rose, parma violet, cassia, hedione, cyclosal, opoponax, white musk and vanilla notes. And it will cost you around R2260 (100ml) at Truworths and similar beauty counters in SA. 

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 23: A guest wears a Kenzo blu
Photo by Alain Nogues/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images 

To this day, it is one of the first perfumes my nose still attaches nostalgia to. 

Also a victim of nostalgia, Kenzo said in one of the last interviews he did in 2017; "I’m a little bit nostalgic about fashion shows and the energy behind them. What I miss most is the people working in fashion. They have a lot of fantasy; they’re really creative and joyous.” 

And he is remembered for being just as joyous.

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 23: A guest wears a Kenzo blu
Here, a guest is seen in a Kenzo blue denim jacket with printed red logo and flower, outside Kenzo, during Paris Fashion Week - Menswear Spring/Summer 2020, on June 23, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images) 

The Kenzo poppy is now one of the most recognised motifs of this fashion era.

Flowers pour in

Fellow luxury fashion designer Giambattista Valli wrote on Instagram; 

"My dearest Kenzo, thank you for teaching me the generosity of sharing happiness, my extra-ordinary guru... the King of the unexpected and surprising extravagance. What a joy sharing with you experience, fun, holidays around the globe...and family dinners in your Japanese kitchen...I’m going to miss you deeply...and I’m trying not to be sad thinking of you full smile already back again with Loulou, Xavier and Karl." 

Esteemed fashion journalist, Suzy Menkes, shared a sentimental anecdote about the designer - her colleague and friend. 

"Always smiling - Kenzo Takada. He had been working this year on the costumes for 'Madame Butterfly' in Tokyo. He wanted the costumes of this tragic Japanese/American love story to include his own love of flowers. 'I wanted to respect tradition as much as possible,' Kenzo said, explaining that he had always believed that a kimono looks very modern. He said at the time: 'As a costume designer, I tried to grasp Puccini’s narratives while drawing Japanese spirituality as accurately as possible. It should make the audience dream and travel in ecstasy.'"

kenzo dies at age 81
Kenzo Takada and guest release butterflies during the birthday cake illumintion during the Kenzo Takada Birthday Party as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2019/2020 on February 28, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Foc Kan/WireImage) 

And muse-at-large supermodel Naomi Campbell, dedicated an Instagram post to Kenzo, saying; "so sad to hear of your loss today .. will always remember your smile and humble demeanor.. and positivity you shined on us all. Rest with the angels."

PARIS, FRANCE - JANUARY 21: (L-R) Stylist Kenzo T
Stylist Kenzo Takada and model Naomi Campbell attend the "Azzedine Alaia : Je Suis Couturier" Exhibition as part of Paris Fashion Week. Held at "Azzedine Alaia Gallery" on January 21, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images) 

BBC also reported that "many Japanese Twitter users posted their condolences on the platform, some of whom shared that their first-ever luxury product was one from Kenzo."

"The first wallet I ever owned was from Kenzo," said one Twitter user. "Even though it's a small thing - I'll always remember it. Rest in Peace."

"I have a Kenzo [outfit] passed down from my mum," said another. "I still wear it."

The report further shared that many others said they owned Kenzo handkerchiefs - an accessory which is still popular in Japan. The Kenzo handkerchief was also a highly sought-after accessory when the Kenzo x H&M collaboration hit SA shelves circa 2017.

READ MORE: Local fashion community bids a final farewell to renowned designer Coenraad de Mol 

A man of fantasy and innovation

"Known for his innovative approach to cutting garments and exuberant use of colour and pattern, his designs were inspired by a kind of wanderlust, with an eclectic mix of different global styles and cultures," British Vogue detailed on the announcement of his death.

The Vogue article also noted that he was also an early adopter of the ready-to-wear business model, adding that Kenzo was also among the first to reimagine the fashion show as a theatrical spectacular.  

His unique, optimistic aesthetic is said to have been an instant hit with the fashion press and the era’s most dynamic young [It public personalities] with celebrity fans including Grace Jones, Loulou de la Falaise and Jerry Hall. 

Japanese designer Kenzo; Takada and model/singer G
Kenzo Takada and model/singer Grace Jones, get together at Studio 54 for a party in Kenzo's honour on September 14, 1977. (Photo by Nury Hernandez/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images) 

“Kenzo must be one of the most imaginative designers in the world and fortunately he doesn't take himself too seriously,” wrote journalist Bernadine Morris in 1973.  

READ MORE: Desigual, the optimistic brand we need right now, opens its first store in South Africa  

The colourful faces & friends of Kenzo  

... in black-and-white and in colour (Kenzo's way).

Given how lily-white fashion's demographics still remain - with its long history of racial exclusion - it stood out how intentional the man of the poppy often was with his use of black and Asian models in his shows. Indeed a rarity at the time. 

Kenzo Takada, left, is in New York City from Paris
Kenzo Takada, left, is in New York City from Paris with his fashion collection for the first time. One of his partners, Carol la Brie, right, wears his favourite combination of stripes, checks and flowers. June 03, 1971. (Photo by Richard Gummere/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images) 

kenzo dies at 81
Japanese design house Kenzo shows its 1984-1985 fall-winter women's ready-to-wear line in Paris. The model is wearing a plaid skirt over floral pants with a striped sweater. (Photo by Pierre Vauthey/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images) 
kenzo dies at 81
Japanese designer Kenzo Takada shows his women's 1991 spring-summer ready-to-wear line in Paris. The model is wearing a striped skirt and top with a large sun hat. (Photo by Pierre Vauthey/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images) 
PARIS, FRANCE - CIRCA 1991: Kenzo Takada circa 199
Kenzo Takada circa 1991 in Paris, France. (Photo by PL Gould/IMAGES/Getty Images) 

Sources: BBC, British Vogue, Harper's Bazaar

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