KENZO AND JAPAN SEEN WITH HIM
Kenzo’s passing is not only that of Covid last known victim, but of a man who, since the ‘70s, has really brought fashion towards a more intercultural, free and democratic horizon. Flavio Lucchini knew him then and so in his autobiographical book IL DESTINO he tells us about him behind the scenes. In the chapter dedicated to him the memory of a collaboration and a friendship that has left its mark.
I’m in Dubai, it’s January 2018 but it’s less hot than expected. My daughter who has been living here for four years has done me a kindness. She gave me a black cardigan because it gets chilly at night. The cardigan is designed by Kenzo, she knew I would like it. My mind went backwards and in a flash I saw and lived again many years back, starting from when I met him in 1970 in Paris.
He was recommended to me by editors of Elle always active in the search for news.
Kenzo Takada was born at Himeji in 1939 and lived in Japan until 1964. Fifth of seven children, he began at a very young age to attend a fashion school in Kobe and in 1958 in Tokyo he attended the Bunka Gakuen School that had recently opened access to males, prestigious institute that in the journey of 1970, to see Osaka Expo, I had visited with great wonder.
As for all Japanese fashion enthusiasts, Paris was also an arrival point for Kenzo who, after graduation, moved there and, with his partner Gilles Raysse, opens a small boutique called Jungle Jap in the romantic Galerie Vivienne. As soon as we discovered it, Gisella and I went crazy. Flowers, colors, small geometries, unusual and quite large shapes, new fabrics. His clothes between East and West, fresh and brand new, were something never seen before, not even in Paris. He was there, little more than a little boy, always smiling, he seemed much younger than his thirties. We start photographing his clothes for our newspaper mastheads. It is not long before he’s noticed and appreciated by others, until Elle dedicates a cover to him.
The real success comes immediately after.
His first fashion shows are an event. Alongside the classic French names, here on the catwalk the young fashion of Paris is seen with the enthusiastic eyes of a new Japanese creative, in a mix of cultures. Beyond Paris he parades in New York and Tokyo with the same success.
Since that first time in the little shop at Galerie Vivienne we clicked and made friends. Oliviero Toscani was the perfect photographer for his style. In addition to Vogue Italia and Lei (of which I was art-director) he often worked for Elle. He did wonderful fashion shoots and nurtured this special relationship.
The flash of memories also brought to my mind his fifty years party organized in Japan, at Himeji, in the city where he was born.
He had invited some friends, journalists of the most important fashion magazines, to follow him on a trip in order to celebrate him. There were only two of us Italians, Gisella and me.
Arriving by train at Himeji, his magnificent fashion show was waiting for us in a dream garden made available by local authorities. Hundreds of models descended from a hill, slowly, in a row, with an oriental music soundtrack. I remember an incredible show: a dancing water wall made of infinite jets on which were projected fashion show’s video shooting and other evocative images. A crazy scene especially considering that special effects technology, in 1989, in Europe was still a step behind.
What a party! Flowers everywhere. And, at the time of the greetings, incredible fireworks.
The next day with Xavier de Castella, his partner, he accompanied all of us journalists-friends in unusual and rare places even for Japanese themselves.
We were hosted in a hotel perched on a hill-garden. In this place surrounded by flowers and plants, at the end of a path, we discovered a dependance for the ritual collective bath, men and women together.
There was a big round bathtub, you could stay in fifteen to twenty people. There were changing rooms and, in common, pre-immersion sanitary tubs, towels and white bathrobes. We washed, men more nonchalant than women, embarrassed. Although somewhat reluctant, our Japanese guests convinced us to enter all together, naked, overcoming our modesty.
Not accustomed to these strange habits, we ended up entering the water laughing and we all felt more friends, like many schoolboys after having done a mischief or skipped school.
Another flash reminds me the birthday dinner, the day after, which we made as a game, men in women’s role, dressed in traditional kimono and which took place as in a theater. We were acting along the lines of a tragicomic play invented by the handsome Xavier.
We all come back to our editorial offices happy for this trip that had made us discover a fantastic Japan with a tour guide quite different from the tourist ones.
After the great celebration for his fiftieth birthday, Kenzo began to think about retiring from fashion and enjoying with Xavier his beautiful new home at Bastille, with a large living room with indoor pool and zen garden on the rooftops. Xavier died shortly after. Kenzo’s life would take another turn.
No one believed it, but in 1999 the brand unexpectedly joined LVMH group.