Today, I raise a glass of champagne to Monsieur Kenzo Takada. This was often his drink of choice and we talked about it during our interview, the day after his birthday, on February 28 this year. Takada was one of the most iconic fashion designers in the world, ever. It’s been over 7 months since we spoke, and I have been savouring our conversation and this cover story, because I wanted to do it justice. 2020 has been pure chaos and I didn’t want the interview to get lost in said chaos. But after I learnt on Sunday that Takada passed away, I knew it was time.
There are so many fascinating things about Kenzo Takada. This year is very significant not only because of his passing at the age of 81, but also because it marks the 50th anniversary of Kenzo, the brand. Takada was a true gentleman, a man of very few words but exceptional manners, and a real genius at fashion. He was also all about his colleagues: for example, he had specifically asked whether we could feature a photo of him and his team on the cover, as opposed to just a photo of him, when we run this story.
If there was one word to describe Takada’s fashion creations – and, most recently, art and interior design – it would be: colour. His innovative mind brought real bursts of happiness, often in the shape of flowers, which was one of his favourite things in life. Vibrant, memorable, evoking only positive feelings – and always experimental, unique and occasionally even controversial. His fashion will live on forever.
The life of a legend
Takada’s interest in design began at a young age. He read his sister’s fashion magazines and knew he wanted to design clothes by the time he was 15 years old. He studied fashion in college and was greatly inspired by Yves Saint Laurent. Subsequently, he decided to travel to France and experience Paris himself.
On November 30, 1964, Takada boarded The Cambodia ship in Japan, with the intention to go to Paris. His trip was meant to be no longer than 6 months, but he ended up staying in France for the rest of his life. This travel experience was his very first, and included stops in Hong Kong, Singapore, Saigon, Colombo, Bombay, Djibouti, Egypt, Spain, Marseille and, finally, Paris. In the years that followed, Takada often noted that this was his most memorable experience and it had a strong subsequent influence on his fashion work, future collections and overall artistic vision. He also, famously, wrote many letters to his mother while on the ship, telling her about how inspired he was by everything that he saw along the way.
Takada’s work blossomed in Paris. His success was quick, and it was soon international. In 1975, he held the biggest runway show the world had ever seen in Tokyo. Over the course of two days, it is estimated that 18,000 people lined up to see his creations. Takada’s brand became one of the top fashion houses in the world. He created over 7,800 fashion designs over the course of his career. He retired in 1999 and sold the brand to conglomerate LVMH.
In 2019, a large, picture-driven book, called Kenzo Takada, was released about his work. Originally written by Takada’s close friend Kazuko Masui (following her passing, it was finished by Takada himself and her daughter Chihiro Masui), the book featured many of his original fashion sketches and designs over the years.
Following his retirement from fashion, Takada never stopped creating. He continued to paint and showcased his art around the world. In January 2020, he launched a new brand, focused on luxury homes and luxury lifestyle, called K-3 (K三). He served as the company’s artistic director, and worked with his longtime managing partner Jonathan Bouchet Manheim, as well as Engelbert Honorat, Wanda Jelmini and their team. Takada conceptualized an extensive, yet meticulously curated collection, including chairs, sofas, rugs, bed linens, home textiles and accessories. It was in the context of this new venture that he, Bouchet Manheim and I originally spoke back in February. Today, I am unveiling this interview, unabridged. It was conducted in French, so this is the translated version.
Our conversation was one of Takada’s last interviews. Takada had incredible work ethic and dedication to his craft: he would work all day, very late into the evening. He didn’t speak to the media frequently and I will be forever honoured that he agreed to speak to me that day. Originally, he was even prepared to chat on the day of his actual birthday, but things got chaotic in the preparation for his party and, ultimately, Bouchet Manheim and I moved it to the following day.
The three of us had a wonderful conversation and I will never forget Takada’s deep and warm voice.
Interview with FAJO
HANNAH YAKOBI: Happy birthday, Monsieur Takada!
KENZO TAKADA: Thank you very much, thank you very much.
Do you still love champagne?
KENZO TAKADA: Oh yes, I like champagne because of its flavour. It’s all about celebration. And it puts you in a good mood.
JONATHAN BOUCHET MANHEIM: The mood is always great with champagne.
The fashion world
Monsieur Takada, this has been a busy week for you. Your birthday was yesterday and the Kenzo show was two days ago. What did you think about the latest Kenzo runway presentation? [Editor’s note: This was Felipe Oliveira Baptista’s first show with Kenzo.]
KENZO TAKADA: Oh yes, I went to the last Kenzo show, of course. It was great. I’m very, very, very happy with it. It was very fresh, very modern and very elegant at the same time. I really liked the graphics, and the silhouettes were very, very beautiful.
On that note, the last decade has seen a very high turnover of designers at fashion houses. You once said, in a 1976 New York Times article, that “couture is like cuisine – if you eat steak every day, it gets boring.” What do you think about change in general?
KENZO TAKADA: Well, it’s true, it’s changing faster. All over the world. It’s getting more and more difficult. In the past, it was much easier I think, and now [it requires] a lot of work, a lot of effort and a lot of courage.
In fashion, you need to change things every now and then to do it differently. There is always a need for something that gives a little novelty, a little pleasure.
When you designed clothing, what did you want people to feel when they wore your clothes?
KENZO TAKADA: I liked people who felt feelings of joy and positive things in life.
What is the most treasured piece of clothing or accessory you own yourself?
KENZO TAKADA: More classic clothes. Also, I am often very cold, so I need a lot of scarves, foulard or whatever warms me up [and provides] heat.
Stepping into art and interior design
When you retired, you said that you wanted to paint and you have had several art exhibitions now. What do you enjoy painting the most?
KENZO TAKADA: Painting is a very personal experience, so I’d always rather paint portraits.
Let’s talk about your joint latest venture: the new home and lifestyle brand, K-3. Can you both tell me a bit more about it?
JONATHAN BOUCHET MANHEIM: We have worked together for years and years, we do it out of habit. In fact, we had also worked on multiple home-related projects; well, especially the one with Roche Bobois [in 2017], which actually gave birth to the idea of [this] project.
Kenzo likes the universe of a home. He became interested in it late in his life, but it is something that he likes to exercise. He has a great talent in all the graphic aspects, colours and textiles. The idea was to reflect his identity and his unique touch in the home universe: bring back colours and graphics that Kenzo Takada can bring.
All about K-3
How did you choose the name – K-3 – for this collaborative project?
JONATHAN BOUCHET MANHEIM: That took a long time. It was very difficult to find a name. There are several meanings, but the name came to Kenzo’s mind all of a sudden during a trip to Italy a few years ago. He wanted something around the K and 3, and he identified several meanings. In fact, there is K – a symbol of scales, balance. It is also a symbol of an alliance of 2 origins and 2 cultures, 2 continents.
Is there one design that you are most proud of in this collaboration?
KENZO TAKADA: I don’t have enough perspective yet.
JONATHAN BOUCHET MANHEIM: It’s difficult. Kenzo did all the drawings with Engelbert. He obviously loves them all because they chose them [together]. There were 3 collections and we used the same graphics, but different tones and colours.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
JONATHAN BOUCHET MANHEIM: The last collection.
KENZO TAKADA: Of course. There are things that are still missing: for example, tables, tableware, lighting.
JONATHAN BOUCHET MANHEIM: And other things we will have.
KENZO TAKADA: We are really only just getting started!
For further information about Kenzo Takada’s last business venture, visit the K-3 website.
All images courtesy of K-3.