“His first fashion shows were memorable,” Mr. Gabet said. “Light and playful, with models more dancing and walking than presenting clothes, faraway from the hierarchical vision of French couture.”
Known for his sense of fun, Mr. Takada — who disliked being known as a “Japanese designer” since he considered himself a “fashion designer” first — staged shows in a circus tent, and with himself riding an elephant. They were “legendary, and the toughest ticket in town,” said Gene Pressman, former co-chief executive of Barneys. “He was a cult figure for the young and young-hearted.”
Mr. Takada introduced men’s wear in 1983, a jeans line in 1986 and perfume in 1988, but by 1993, struggling after his life partner died and his business partner had a stroke, Mr. Takada decided to sell his company to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the French fashion conglomerate, for approximately $80 million. Though he initially stayed on as the designer, in 1999, he had had enough and decided to step away from fashion, with its increasingly frenetic pace and commercial demands.
“Everything has changed, from the way we make clothes to the way information spreads and how many seasons there are now,” he said to The South China Morning Post.
Though Kenzo, the brand, continued under a series of different designers — including the team of Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, who brought back Mr. Takada’s signature trendsetting tiger, and the current artistic director, Felipe Oliveira Baptista — Kenzo, the man, explored other creative avenues.
He designed costumes for the opera, created the Japanese Olympic uniforms in 2004, painted, and created a new homewares collection. He opened his archives for a coffee table tome of his work released in February 2019, “Kenzo Takada,” combining sketches, diary excerpts, letters and photographs.