Hommage to Kenzo

Portrait of Kenzo © Instagram Kenzo
Palais Galliera is associated with the homage paid to Kenzo, a leading fashion personality for more than half a century.

Kenzo Takada was the first Japanese designer to establish himself in Paris: he spent his entire career there, after founding the famous brand and fashion house to which he gave his first name. A symbol of creativity, colour and freedom, Kenzo has had a profound impact on the history of fashion.

"I arrived in Paris, Gare de Lyon on January 1, 1965, after a month's boat trip to Marseille.

It was my professor at the university who advised me to make this long journey, rather than taking the plane, and he was right. Hong Kong, Bombay, Djibouti, Colombo, Cairo, Madras. All the stopovers in the cities were as many visual shocks. It stays with me forever. The boat crossing, my first trip, was the most extraordinary of my life and fed all my collections afterwards.

I got on the train to Paris at the last minute, alone with two suitcases, leaving the crew, the sailors. Gare de Lyon, it was so sad! Where was the City of Light? Everything was black. I thought: "My God! What am I going to do there?"

In March 1965, there was a bit of sunshine, flowers on the balconies, and Parisians began to be more cheerful. I went to the Bilboquet on rue Saint-Benoît, the meeting place for all the Yéyé and all the models, it seemed to me to be the warmest and most festive place in the world. Why didn't I discover this place earlier? It's fantastic. And all of a sudden I was sad at the idea of going back to Japan and missing everything. I still had to try before I could make the trip in the other direction again. I wasn't going to go back to my family in shame. On the way to the Champs-Elysées, I passed Louis Ferraud's house on rue de Saint-Honoré and Réal's house, who had designed Sylvie Vartan's wedding dress. I went into Monsieur Ferraud's house, he was there with his wife. I showed him some drawings, he bought me five at once, five francs each.

With this success, I went to rue Réaumur, to the head office of ELLE magazine. I went straight upstairs and asked if I could meet someone. Jacques Dérès, the person in charge of the Bons Magiques, received me and bought me ten drawings, ten francs a drawing! Extraordinary. And on top of that, he gave me about ten addresses where I could present myself to sell my work. My week was organised. The next day I was at Printemps, where I met Catherine Rousso, at the style office, who would be the great fashion director for years and years at ELLE . It's incredible how much she helped me! She was very young and already very enthusiastic. She bought me a lot of drawings, even more expensive! At the end of the week, I was hired in a small house, the Pisanti house. It was Mr. Pisanti who took care of my residence permit and all the papers. In the end, the Parisians were very friendly, all it took was for winter to stop!

In 1968, I wanted to fly on my own, to open my own house. But there was May. A crazy thing for a Japanese, where you never demonstrate, where you never go on strike.

All my friends from school in Japan were starting to set up their houses. In Paris I didn't have enough money. We regrouped. With a small group, we rented a flat at Christmas at the Galerie Vivienne, and for four months I painted the decorations by copying the jungle of the Douanier Rousseau, with a woman on the sofa in the painting: the owner of the flat. When we organised our first small parade inside the flat, the ELLE newspaper came, and after a month, I made the cover of ELLE! The brand was called Jungle Jap, because of the decor. But I was told that I had to change my name, because in French Jap is pejorative.

When I opened my shop, I didn't know what my identity was. Calling the label Kenzo helped me to ask myself questions. What was my difference? I wondered what Japanese clothing was, and I became interested in kimono, how to offer it here. I worked on flat cuts. 

My mother liked kimonos very much and I loved to look at her in traditional clothing. At the time, ready-to-wear didn't exist in Japan. Everyone went to their dressmaker. The only names of dressmakers I knew when I was in Japan were Pierre Cardin and Dior of course. Then Saint-Laurent came. I also knew Givenchy, because I was very fond of Audrey Hepburn.

Right away, for me, doing fashion and organising fashion shows in Paris was immediately confused with partying. I liked that there was a joie de vivre, boys and girls dancing. That it was surprising. A show. There were no limits. It was Paris."

Interview by Anne Diatkine, in 2014, on the occasion of the publication of the catalogue "Fashion Mix. Mode d'ici, créateurs d'ailleurs", an exhibition outside the walls of the Palais Galliera at the Palais de la Porte Dorée, Cité de l'Immigration.