Winning the Soen Award had a tremendous impact. I promptly received a job offer from Soen magazine asking me to design apparel to be introduced in print.
Though still a student, I was starting to make a name for myself in the fashion industry. Before long, orders from other magazines started coming in.
I had been worried about whether I would be able to find work after graduating, but an introduction from Chie Koike, one of my teachers at Bunka Fashion College, helped me land a job at apparel company Mikura, located in Tokyo's Asakusabashi neighborhood.
Mitsuhiro Matsuda also signed on, and we became colleagues at the company. Isao Kaneko, another classmate, made use of his drawing talents and went to work for the advertising company Ad Center.
At Mikura I was responsible for casual clothing. The office layout was cramped. I would come in, take off my shoes at the entryway, and get to work in a tatami-mat room. Every day, we would sketch designs and create patterns using whatever in-house resources were available. We would then take these to a dressmaking factory and, after explaining what we wanted, have them produce samples for us.
Roppongi was turning into a playground where all the stylish people in the business gathered
I was astonished at the speed: I would draw up a plan one day, and the clothing would be ready the next. It was tedious work, but it was a good way to learn the entire garment-making process, from design through production. My initial salary was just 15,000 yen, but I was fortunate, since I also received payment from magazines for my freelance design work.
A fabulous new job
One day, a year after I joined the company, Matsuda whispered something in my ear, his eyes sparkling. "Kenzo, good news! There's a better workplace than Mikura: Sanai in Ginza!"
"No way!" I replied. "In Ginza? It would be wonderful if we could transfer there, but ..."
How had Matsuda found out about this? According to him, there was a chance we could land a position in the planning office of Sanai, which was famous for making and selling swimwear and women's apparel. I was skeptical, but talks for our possible transfer proceeded without a hitch, and we ultimately made the move. I was now working as a designer in Ginza, something I had long aspired to do.
Sukiyabashi was, as expected, much more stylish than Asakusabashi.
Having changed jobs without incident, Matsuda and I were all smiles as we drank a celebratory toast.
There were around 15 designers in Sanai's planning office. Among them was Meiko Kitahara, nee Kuroda, who had been a classmate in the design curriculum at Bunka Fashion College. Meiko is a descendant of both Kiyotaka Kuroda and Takeaki Enomoto, who cultivated a curious friendship after being on opposing sides of the Boshin War, Japan's civil war, in the late 1860s. When Kuroda became Japan's second prime minister, Enomoto held key posts in his cabinet.
The three of us -- myself, Matsuda and Meiko -- were responsible for the "junior corner," handling apparel for young people. Sanai had a system for creating samples in-house, so there was no need to go through the trouble of placing an order with an outside factory. It was easy, as all we had to do was sketch designs. I turned out 40 to 50 designs a month.
Now that my schedule had become a bit freer, I could take on even more magazine work. My supplementary income grew by leaps and bounds from a plethora of women's and entertainment publications, including Shukan Heibon, Josei Jishin, Shukan Josei, Fukuso, Wakai Josei and Jogakusei no Tomo.
At this point, I moved into a luxury condo for foreigners in Roppongi. From Roppongi crossing, it was situated a short way down Imoarai hill, in the direction of Azabu-juban. It boasted a bedroom, dining room, kitchen, shower and bathroom, rare amenities at the time. It was also conveniently located for enjoying the nightlife.
Rent was 25,000 yen, far more than my monthly pay from Sanai, but with my income from freelance work, I managed to make ends meet. Roppongi was turning into a playground where all the stylish people in the business gathered.
With my friends, I dined, went out on the town, drank, watched movies and tasted love. I enjoyed my youth to the fullest.
Kenzo Takada is a fashion designer known for his eponymous label Kenzo, which he left in 1999.