It seems to have been my fate to have conflicts with my co-manager every decade or so.
Francois Beaufume, whom I welcomed as my second co-manager, was the driving force behind the rapid expansion in our annual sales. He was a first-class man. However, his insolent attitude toward me gradually became too much for me to bear.
Why was I following the same path as I did with my first co-manager? Most of the problem might have been with me. I was never the type who could manage other people, and accounting was also a major weakness of mine. There may have been times when other people thought I could be easily played.
Moreover, I was spending far more of my time, money and energy on building a home than on creating clothes. Francois undoubtedly took a cold view of that state of affairs. His biggest concern was that we would be acquired by someone with deep pockets.
There were times, perhaps, when other people thought I could be easily played
"Kenzo the company can continue to be great even without the presence of Kenzo the designer." Rumors like this began making their way around the company while I was caught up in building my home. I was naturally annoyed when I heard them. From then on, Francois openly despised me.
"Look at that attitude. Does he think he's the owner?" Whenever we were at a conference or party together, a Japanese woman with whom I was acquainted would warn me quietly. To be sure, it must have seemed that way to anyone observing from the outside. I felt ripples stirring in my heart.
Then Xavier de Castella, my life partner, passed away in 1990. In 1991, Atsuko Kondo -- the pattern maker who had worked as my right hand -- suffered a stroke.
Xavier was my life companion and supported me as a person. In reality, his physical condition had collapsed around 1985. Atsuko, meanwhile, had played a pivotal role in turning design sketches into finished products. In this way, I had lost both of my wings.
My misery was further compounded when in 1991 my mother passed away in Himeji. It was right in the middle of a trip some friends and I were taking, having chartered a boat to tour the island of Corsica. My older brother tried to contact me, but we had cut ourselves off from all communication with the outside world, so I couldn't be reached.
I didn't learn about it until after the funeral. I had missed my own mother's death because I was off playing. I was miserable. My heart was in tatters and I gave myself up to despair.
At the same time, my conflict with Francois was only becoming more serious.
It was also tough not having any close advisers. I had some exchanges with Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent, who were like brothers to me, but they were also my rivals in the fashion world. There was no way I could consult with them on business matters. However, Karl was kind enough to send me a lengthy, respectful letter to encourage me when I lost Xavier.
At the very least, I wanted to break away from Francois and be at ease.
Grasping at straws, I made a direct appeal to a bank that was a shareholder in our company, but they absolutely refused to go along with me. It was just then that the idea of selling the company to LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton was proposed. The management consultant mediating the deal was an old acquaintance who had worked with me at the time my first co-manager, Gilles Raysse, was suddenly dismissed.
"If you're having difficulties with business issues, it would be best to rely on a leading company," I was told.
The consultant, together with my attorney, strongly recommended that I sell my shares. What would happen if I completely gave up my management rights? I couldn't afford to think too hard about that.
"What about dismissing Francois?" I asked.
"That's fine, as long as you clear it with the other party," they responded, nodding firmly.
Trusting those words completely, I made the decision to sell my entire stake. That was in April 1993.
Kenzo Takada is a fashion designer known for his eponymous label Kenzo, which he left in 1999.