Born: February 27, 1939;

Died: October 4, 2020.

KENZO TAKADA, who has died, aged 81, of a Covid-related illness, was a Japanese fashion designer based in Paris, who rapidly built his business from a small ready-to-wear shop in one of the 2nd arrondissement’s glazed arcades into a couture house that had a huge influence on international fashion.

Having begun in prêt à porter, Kenzo (the brand) was quick to capitalise on the cachet that came with plaudits for its couture; scent and skincare under the name quickly joined clothing, and in the early-1980s Takada was one of the first to exploit the possibilities of what is now called a diffusion line. In 1993, the house was acquired by the huge luxury goods conglomerate LVMH.

Unlike the slightly younger Rei Kawakubo, the similarly Japanese-French founder of Comme des Garçons, Kenzo’s contribution to fashion was not notable for being especially challenging or original in cut, and was in stark contrast to her monochrome approach. His work was characterised by a magpie-like ability to transmute and combine styles from around the world – he was an inveterate traveller – and a bold and joyful use of pattern, textiles and colour. The painter Henri Rousseau was an early influence and, in retirement, Takada largely devoted himself to painting.

Kenzo Takada was born on February 27, 1939, in Himeji, the principal city of the Hyogo prefecture, in the southern central region of Honshu, Japan’s main island. His parents were hoteliers, and Kenzo was one of seven children. He grew up fascinated by the costumes of the geishas who worked in his parent’s teahouse, and the cloth samples produced by visiting kimono salesmen, and was a keen reader of his two sisters’ fashion magazines.

In 1957 he went on to Kobe University to study foreign literature at his parents’ insistence, but during his first year there his father died and Tokyo’s Bunka Fashion College in Shinjuku, which had previously admitted only women, became co-educational. Inspired by one of his sisters, who was doing a dressmaking course there, Kenzo transferred, and at the same time took a part-time job designing girls’ clothes for the Sanai department store.

One of his classmates and close friends was Junko Koshino, later to run her own successful house; she won the Soen Award, a prestigious competition, in their first year, and he in their second. An early influence was the work of Yves St Laurent. In the run-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Takada’s apartment building was bulldozed, and he was given compensation by the government. On the advice of his teacher, he decided to spend the money on a trip to Paris. He intended to stay six months; in the event, he made his home in France (or Monaco) for the rest of his life.

After his arrival in 1965, he stayed in a room costing nine francs a night, and scraped a living selling sketches to design houses (at 25F a go) and, conversely, supplying photographs of Parisian style to Japanese magazines. In 1970, he got the opportunity to take a small space in the Galerie Vivienne, and created his first ready-to-wear collection there with a couple of hundred pounds’ worth of ethnic prints picked up at Montmartre’s St Pierre market.

His simple, loose-cut clothes were an immediate success, and he cabled Japan for further supplies of cloth. Asian prints, in the aftermath of the hippy period, were greatly in vogue but hard to come by; Kenzo’s great strength lay in the fact that, to his eye, Western staples had much the same novelty. By combining patterns and styles from both cultures (and then going on to add influences from other parts of the world), he produced readily recognisable, and extremely popular, work.

This first shop was called Jungle Jap, and was decorated with a bright mural painted by Kenzo himself. In the year it opened, his clothes made the cover of Elle magazine, and he put on a pop-up show in New York, where he learned that “Jap” was regarded as politically incorrect. Renaming the business Kenzo, he moved to larger premises in the fashion district, before launching as a fully-fledged couture brand in 1976.

From the Place des Victoires, Kenzo expanded around the world and had huge success with his flamboyant shows, which featured multi-ethnic models and,

at the end, an appearance from the man himself, with an abundant mop of hair and, on one occasion, riding an elephant. He became a celebrity, frequenting nightclubs and casinos (he was an enthusiastic and expansive gambler). Throughout the 1980s, his brand became a multi-national, diversifying into perfume, jeans, childrenswear and even film-making.

In 1990, his long-term partner (in life and business), the architect and interior designer Xavier de Castella, died and the firm’s financial director retired through ill-health. Takada found himself struggling to cope and, in 1993, agreed to sell the firm to LVMH. He stayed on supervising the design side of the business for a few more years but retired in 1999, intending to devote himself to painting and travelling. He briefly considered a return to Japan but, in the event, stayed on in France, where he had been awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1984, and became a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur in 2016.

He made a few forays back into design, concentrating on homeware, ceramics and furnishing, and producing the costumes for a production of Madama Butterfly in Tokyo last year. Earlier this year, he launched a lifestyle brand called K3, which specialised in Japanese-inspired furniture, with a boutique in Paris; one piece

was a low table with a recess in the middle that could be filled with water and floating petals. “I like something that is soft and poetic, not aggressive,” he told Agence France-Press. “I like dreaming.”