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Kenzo Takada

Kenzo Takada (18) Setting the body free from clothing

Inspired by native styles, I took a radically different approach to haute couture

| Japan

"What's this, Kenzo? You're starting to go bald."

Bringing the roominess of kimono to modern clothing

I was cheerfully driving some of my staff to eat out after work one day when one of the women in the back seat suddenly spoke up. I had 3-centimeter bald spot, she said.

"What? Where? Look closely. You've got to be wrong. Am I really going bald?"

I asked again and again, but apparently I really did have a bald spot. Moreover, there were two of them. It was quite a shock. I heard a few giggles escape. But this was no laughing matter. It had to have been caused by stress.

It had been two years since my debut in Paris. I was very carefree at first, thinking it would be enough as long I could create clothing that I liked and have others see it. But each time I announced new items, my reputation grew and expectations became higher and higher. It became an enormous mental pressure.

The 1970s are the most nostalgic time for me as a fashion designer. I created only clothes that I myself liked

Money was another anxiety. As the end of each month approached, I had to worry about paying my employees. That was the most difficult part for me. My personality was to spend money if I had it. While I only had seven or eight employees at the beginning, the number had ballooned to around 40 by this time. The responsibility was heavy.

I often turned to Kuniko Tsutsumi, Seibu Department Store's top executive in Paris, for help.

"Excuse me, but could you lend me a little money, just to get through the end of the month ... ?"

A pioneer who introduced Yves Saint Laurent and Hermes to Japan, she possessed a philanthropic spirit capable of foreseeing the changing times.

The good old days

The 1970s are the most nostalgic time for me as a fashion designer. I created only clothes that I myself liked. Among them were: the marine look (1971), which took a cue from the swimwear and children's uniforms of Victorian-era England; the Romanian look (1973), with its layers of floral prints; the Chinese look (1975), which included Chinese apparel with a stiff sash wound rather low; and the Nehru look (1978), inspired by the clothing worn by the Indian prime minister. 

I truly am a traveler who wanders through time and space. Having come from Japan by boat, I continued my "voyage" via my shows.

The common theme in all of this was "freeing the body from clothing." Rather than tightly binding the body, I was after garment making that focused on the wearability of a loose silhouette. Typical of this were the T-line with wide armholes to the waist, and a big size that boldly incorporated the easy fit of kimono-style clothing.

Rectangular planes and straight cuts -- I sensed that the basis of traditional clothing around the world lay in the combination of these elements. This was a style that drew a clear line between me and the likes of Christian Dior, who had ushered in the heyday of haute couture with styles that perfectly followed the curves of the female body.

I was hailed by the Paris media as a "designer symbolizing a new era."

"Kenzo, this is a brilliant achievement for a Japanese person. Let's hold a triumphant homecoming show in Japan."

Fashion show producer Kazuhiro Oide put this invitation to me countless times. I initially intended to turn him down, so I half-jokingly said, "If I can get a million yen, I'll think about."

"OK, I got it." Oide replied. He immediately returned to Japan and, borrowing his father's retirement pay, managed to scrape up the necessary funds. I was overwhelmed by his passion and energy.

The scene at the Nihon University auditorium in May 1975 was like a rock concert. Amid unending applause, I was mobbed by enthusiastic fans and nearly dragged down off the stage.

Some 15,000 people turned out for four shows held over two days. Even though tickets cost 3,000 yen apiece, they sold out almost instantly. I received 1 million yen, as promised.

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

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