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Kenzo Takada: French-Japanese designer dies due to COVID-19 aged 81

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Kenzo Takada died at a hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, over the weekend
Kenzo Takada died at a hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, over the weekend   -   Copyright  Lionel Cironneau/AP
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French-Japanese fashion designer Kenzo Takada has died at the age of 81 after suffering complications from COVID-19, his family have confirmed.

The fashion icon, who was best known for his jungle-infused designs and free-spirited aesthetic, died in hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, a statement in French media said on Sunday.

His family said the cause of death was due to complications stemming from COVID-19. A public relations officer for Kenzo's brand confirmed the passing, but did not give a cause.

"It is with immense sadness that KENZO has learned of the passing of our founder," the fashion house said in a statement.

"For half a century, Mr Takada has been an emblematic personality in the fashion industry — always infusing creativity and colour into the world."

Remy de la Mauviniere/AP
Takada's contribution to the fashion world has been significantRemy de la Mauviniere/AP

Takada's death came at the tail end of Paris Fashion Week, of which the nine-day calendar is undertaking an unusual fashion season for spring-summer 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was only days ago that the Kenzo fashion house unveiled its bee-themed collection here.

Though Takada had been retired from his house since 1999 to pursue a career in art, Kenzo remains one of the most respected fixtures of high Paris fashion. Since 1993, the Kenzo brand has been owned by the French luxury goods company LVMH.

"His amazing energy, kindness, talent and smile were contagious," said Kenzo artistic director Felipe Oliveira Baptista, who unveiled the bee-themed collection to fashion editors Wednesday. "His kindred spirit will live forever."

Kenzo's styles used bold colour, clashing prints and were inspired by travels all over the world.

"Kenzo Takada has, from the 1970s, infused into fashion a tone of poetic lightness and sweet freedom which inspired many designers after him," said Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of LVMH.

Takada was born on February 27, 1939, in Himeji, in the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan to hoteliers, but after reading his sisters’ fashion magazines his love of fashion began.

Studying at the Bunka College of Fashion in Tokyo, Kenzo Takada had a brief stint working in Japan, before relocating to Paris in 1965, to work as a freelance designer.

AP
Takada was born to hoteliers in Himeji, the Hyogo Prefecture of JapanAP

In Paris, he took over a boutique in 1970 and crystallised his future ready-to-wear aesthetic inspired in its decoration by the jungle scenes of painter Henri Rousseau, which he merged with Asian styles. It became influential.

But it was lowly beginnings: Takada’s first collection at the store was made entirely out of cotton because he had little money. But the clothes spoke for themselves and a model of his was put on the cover of Elle magazine.

A short time after, pioneering shoulder forms, large armholes, dungarees, smock tent dresses, innovative shoulder shapes, and his store was featured in US Vogue. Kenzo showed collections in New York and Tokyo in 1971.

Yves Saint Laurent was an important inspiration in his work, according to Takada himself, who also shared Saint Laurent’s penchant for theatrics. In 1978 and 1979, he showed in a circus tent, which featured him riding an elephant alongside performers riding horses in see-through uniforms.

Takada’s love of travel and use of ethnic influences were strong features in his three decades atop his house.

His contribution to style was significant. He championed a youthful aesthetic and unstructured form, and did away with zips to liberate silhouettes. His signatures were of wider sleeves and arm holes, that harked to historic styles in his home continent of Asia.