Kenzo Takada was born in February of 1939 in Himeji, Japan, and raised by his parents in their machiai (tea house). He began his formal fashion design education in 1958 as one of the first men accepted into the Bunka College of Fashion, a respected Tokyo fashion school. After receiving money to move out of his apartment so the building could be renovated, Takada was able to fulfill his dream of traveling to Paris. He embarked by sea on a visually influential tour of capital cities on his way to France. After settling in Paris, he began to sell his clothes to labels such as Rodier and Féraud, in addition to Parisian department stores.
In 1970, Takada opened his first boutique, Jungle Jap, in Paris. The store’s verdant backdrop was inspired by Rousseau paintings, also speaking to Takada’s love of flowers, which became a consistent motif in KENZO collections. Takada constructed his first garments for the store from a colorful mix of inexpensive Japanese and Parisian fabric scraps. A vibrant and culturally rich KENZO style was born. Takada opened a flagship KENZO boutique in 1976 in the Place des Victoires, adjacent to the Palais Royale, further establishing his Parisian brand. He introduced a men’s ready-to-wear collection in 1983; men’s and women’s KENZO jeans, as well as a junior line called Kenzo Jungle, in 1986; a children’s and bed and bath line in 1987; the KENZO City women’s wear line and his first perfume, KENZO, in 1988; the Le Bain line in 1990; and the KENZO Maison line in 1992.
In 1993, KENZO was purchased by the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH) group. Takada retired from his post as artistic director on the company’s thirtieth anniversary in 1999; Gilles Rosier was appointed chief designer for women’s wear and Roy Krejberg led the men’s collection. Antonio Marras became artistic director in 2003, and was named creative director in 2008. Marras continued to draw from international muses: for KENZO’s fortieth-anniversary runway presentation, he imagined dressing a Japanese women meandering through his native Sardinia. The year 2011 saw Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, founders of globally minded fashion retailer Opening Ceremony, take the helm of KENZO as creative directors. Leon and Lim reintroduced animalistic imagery and added modern street style flair—think sweatshirts with tiger’s heads—to Takada’s colorful and folkloric design legacy.