Why is this interesting? - The Remembering Kenzo Takada Edition 

On risk, the beauty of patterns, and losing an icon

Colin here. The world recently lost a fashion icon: Kenzo Takada, the Japanese designer responsible for bringing Japanese fashion to a world stage, died of COVID at age 81. He was known for his bold, exuberant prints, but also for an incredible power to cross borders and cultures. He inspired a wave of Japanese designers who continue to make beautiful and innovative work. 

According to the Times:

Though he initially planned to stay in Paris only six months, he ended up living there for 56 years, and his work opened doors not only for the highly influential Japanese designers who came after him, such as Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, but also created a new kind of mix-and-match aesthetic that crossed borders, colors and cultures, embraced diversity, and influenced a generation.

“Kenzo Takada was a very special figure in the Parisian fashion world,” said Olivier Gabet, director of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the applied arts arm of the Louvre. “So many people who disliked or hated each other very often did agree on the fact they loved him.”

His use of patterns, materials, and craft differed distinctly from what other people were doing in Paris at the time. He used kimono fabrics, and often chaotic and oversized designs that stood out immediately and created fans among a jaded crew of fashion acolytes for the sheer originality. 

Why is this interesting? 

We now live in a world of instant connection, and normally have the ability to cross borders and time zones unfettered. The internet has been an incredible leveler when it comes to visual aesthetics. A kid sitting in Parsons in NYC now has access to essentially everything that has ever been designed. 

But back when Kenzo moved from his home in Japan to Paris, it was another story. And it was a strange stroke of luck that served as the catalyst for him to leave Japan, travel to France by boat, and begin an international career that served to inspire hundreds of designers and millions of consumers. The Times continues: 

In 1960, he won the Soen Prize, an award given by the prestigious Japanese fashion magazine Soen, and began his career designing girls clothing for the Sanai department store. His life changed, however, when, in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, his apartment block was torn down and he was given 10 months rent in compensation.

He used the money to travel to France by boat, passing through Singapore, Bombay and Spain, before ultimately landing in the French capital, where he rented a room near the Place de Clichy for 9 francs a day.

What is perhaps most poignant is that his success came from being himself. He initially started trying to emulate the big French designers of the day but found success by doing something completely new. In 1970, he threw all old notions to the wind and just wanted to create with joy as the undercurrent.

This honesty in approach supercharged his rise to fame and influence. W magazine wrote in its remembrance

At the same time that Takada became what Jean-Paul Goude once described as “a tremendously exotic pop star—a sort of gang leader, surrounded by groupies of all races, colors, and creeds,” he also revolutionized the French fashion industry, mixing influences like African motifs and Tokyo street style and favoring a riot of prints. “I started mixing Japanese influences with European culture, bringing Japanese materials and cuts to European fashion,” Takada recalled in an interview with W in 2017. “And then I quickly got influenced by other cultures and mixed in elements from around the world. That was very fresh to the market at the time—it was a whole new way of doing things. But from the beginning, I really wanted to do something different than everyone else. And I wasn’t too scared, so I just did it. And it did work in the end.”

We see traditional luxury houses today uprooted by street fashion and the likes of Virgil Abloh, et al. injecting fresh new urban reference points into the bloodstream. This is all needed and welcome. But we also have to appreciate the monumental achievements that Takada had, pre-internet, and in a fundamentally different cultural landscape than the one we see today. He’s the one that, in a way, greased the skids for more bold, cross-cultural experimentation in fashion. In sticking to his vision, he undoubtedly influenced the approach, risk-taking, and edgy output of many who came after. (CJN)

Visualization of the day:

Scientific American put together this interesting word explorer to celebrate their 175th anniversary. “... each year of that history is represented by a single word, which was selected through a text-analysis project that started with all 5,107 issues of the magazine. Words whose relative frequency peaked in each individual year were identified. Among those top contenders, the single noun, verb, adjective or adverb that was used most often was deemed the winner. The line charts, which reflect the frequency of each word over time from 1845 (far left) to 2020 (far right), are scaled to the maximum value.” (NRB)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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