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Kenzo Takada

Kenzo Takada (16) The stars align for an unexpected success

Several factors came together at just the right time when I opened by first shop

| Japan
On the cover of Elle magazine

What I needed first and foremost was money.

I had become an extravagant spender and had virtually no savings. So I returned to Japan and scraped together around 5 million yen by begging from trading companies, friends from my time at Bunka Fashion College and my family.

With this money I purchased the fabric that was to be my raw material -- yukata cloth, dyed samples, haori lining, waistbands. I walked around Asakusa looking for inexpensive yet very Japanese fabrics and bought cotton prints in Shimokitazawa. I also found rayon in traditional hemp-leaf and butterfly patterns that I really took a fancy to.

Though the style was born of my desperate attempt to make up for a lack of money, buyers and the media saw it as "fresh"

By combining these with ribbons and cotton I had purchased at a market in Paris, I was able to create Western-style clothing with a new feel. I daringly used cotton, typically a summer fabric, for fall and winter lines. I also boldly overlapped different patterns and used lots of flashy primary colors.

It was a style that seemed to turn the conventions of Western-style apparel making on their head. Though it was born of my desperate attempt to make up for a lack of money, buyers and the media saw it as "fresh." This was the first time that I became conscious of "Japan."

Right place, right time

Why was I able to succeed, such as I did, in Paris? I have asked myself that countless times. All I can say is that it was the product of a number of lucky coincidences.

For starters, the spirit of tearing down conventions and seeking freedom, seen in the May Revolution, was spreading even to the world of fashion. On top of that, Paris had been overtaken as a cultural hot spot. At the time, London culture -- the Beatles, the mods, the miniskirt -- was sweeping the globe.

There was also a growing interest in Japan. Having recovered from the war, Japan hosted the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 and the Japan World Expo in Osaka in 1970. The pop song "Sukiyaki" became a huge hit overseas, and Yasunari Kawabata won the Nobel Prize for literature. From movies to automobiles and home appliances, Japanese culture was spreading around the world.

It was also my good fortune that the French people in boutiques and department stores who had purchased my design sketches were now magazine editors and reporters. Had any of these conditions been off by two or three years, the situation would likely have been very different.

Finally, one thing I must not forget is the solidarity of the Japanese. Young people who had left Japan to pursue their dreams flocked to Paris, so we had numerous comrades ready to help us out if we just asked.

Pattern maker Atsuko Kondo, who would become my right-hand partner, had been a classmate of mine in the Bunka Fashion College's design curriculum. In fact, she was the one who had sewn the garment for which I won the Soen Award for fashion design. The teachers at our alma mater and the Paris office of Soen magazine also helped me. So many people helped and encouraged me that there is not enough space on one page to name them all.

It took four months to get my shop ready. I would stay up late into the night painting the walls with jungle scenes like the one in Henri Rousseau's "The Dream" and then sleep on the floor. I decided to name my shop Jungle Jap. The name had a nice ring to it, and it fit perfectly with the playful atmosphere I was going for.

I opened my boutique in April 1970, offering around 50 items. Models changed in the studio on the second floor and then descended the stairs to show off the clothing on the first floor. One after another, editors and reporters from the likes of Vogue, Elle and Marie Claire visited the shop.

Perhaps it was the novelty, or perhaps it was because I knew many people in the media. First came a splashy introduction by Elle, which featured a Japanese-inspired hemp dress on its cover. After that, other magazines ran features on my collection.

It was a much bigger success than I had anticipated.

This victory was free from any selfish motives. For the first time, a Japanese person had gained acclaim as a Paris-based fashion designer.

But the store name -- Jungle Jap -- would soon cause an unbelievable uproar.

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

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