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A recent photo of the author (Photo by Akira Kobayashi)
Kenzo Takada

Kenzo Takada (1) A fashion icon's reflections from the City of Light

Designer opens up about his dramatic career in Paris and dreams for the future

| Japan

It was in mid-February last year that I began to feel unwell. I had ordered whitefish tartare at a restaurant near my home in Paris, but I began to feel a bit nauseous and my appetite disappeared.

Perhaps too much champagne had upset my stomach, I thought.

I went straight home, took some medicine and sleeping pills and hurriedly crawled into bed. Less than an hour later, a violent pain assailed me. It was sharp, like being stabbed by needles. The pain spread rapidly from my stomach to my chest and back, and I broke out in a clammy sweat, writhing in agony.

A physician was called to my home, and as soon as she saw me, she turned pale. Later at the hospital, doctors told me the name of my ailment. It was a word I had never heard before -- pancreatite, or pancreatitis in English.

Approaching a milestone, I resolved to reflect on everything, both professional and private, without concealing anything

My stomach, I was told, needed absolute rest. I must not even drink water.

I didn't realize at the time what a close call it had been. For a month or so, I was forced to live the life of an invalid, unable to eat or drink and subsisting entirely on intravenous feedings.

A chance to reflect

Last year was also the year I came out of retirement and began working again in earnest, partnering with American cosmetics giant Avon Products and Japan's Seven & I Holdings. It was at this make-or-break moment for my business that my health collapsed.

The work was fun once I got back, but having spent so long recharging my batteries, I started to feel a certain pressure. Making matters worse, I couldn't talk about it to anybody, for fear of worrying them.

Apparently speculation about me had been rife: Was Kenzo seriously ill? Was it critical?

Fortunately, I was able to recover without any complications and am now back to crisscrossing the globe, traveling everywhere from Russia and Brazil to Turkey and Japan.

At the beginning of September last year, I had a warm reunion with some old friends. A celebration was held to commemorate the 100th birthday of the late Chie Koike-sensei, who had been a great help to me during my days at Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo, and many alumni attended.

Among them were the Koshino sisters, Hiroko and Junko. They were happy to see their "Ken-chan" and surprised that I was back at work despite my recent illness. "We won't give in to old age, either," they said.

We talked a lot about good old days. We burst into laughter as memories of our youth came flooding back to us.

Recalling the friends and companions I have met throughout my life, I am grateful to all of them from the bottom of my heart. Without those good people, I would not be what I am today.

This year I turned 78.

I went to Tokyo when I was 18 with the ambition of becoming a fashion designer. I made my debut in Paris in 1970. I've experienced joy and sadness, and anger, too. Approaching a major milestone in my life, I resolved to reflect on everything, both professional and private, without concealing anything.

In Paris, I suffered the pain and heartbreak of youth, clashed with managers and met the love of my life.

I ran into unexpected trouble after opening my first boutique, I failed at filmmaking, and I even had businesses go bankrupt. Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld were worthy opponents, not just during the day at shows but also on the social scene at night. I also have fond memories of getting to know Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol.

In short, I've had both successes and setbacks. I'm sure many of you will be interested in the surprising, untold stories I have to share.

In particular, I have long remained silent about being bought out by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and about what happened behind the scenes when I withdrew from the Kenzo label. I think it is time to divulge everything about both of those incidents.

I love the word "dreams." I have found joy in freedom, in living unfettered by anything and fearing nothing. I want to continue being a dreamer. That is the resolution I am making anew.

Kenzo Takada is a fashion designer known for his eponymous label Kenzo, which he left in 1999.

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This column is part of The Nikkei's "My Personal History" ("Watashi no Rirekisho") series of autobiographies. The series first appeared in The Nikkei in 1956. Since then, a wide variety of world-changing individuals have written or dictated their life stories for publication. The list includes Alan Greenspan, Seiji Ozawa, Lee Kuan Yew, Margaret Thatcher, Suharto, Mahathir bin Mohamad, George W. Bush, Jack Welch and Carlos Ghosn.

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