“Son of Paris”: Memoir Looks at the Life of World-Famous Designer Takada Kenzō

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World-renowned designer Takada Kenzō passed away in 2020 at the age of 81. A book by former manager and friend Suzuki Yayoi looks back on her relationship with the fashion icon.

Olympic Uniform Fuss

The death of fashion designer Takada Kenzō in 2020 at the age of 81 was met around the globe with surprise and sorrow. One of Japan’s leading creators, he founded the brand Kenzo and was an influential force in fashion and other fields. A new book—Takada Kenzō to watashi: pari no musuko to sugoshita 37 nenkan (Takada Kenzō and I: My 37 Years with the “Son of Paris”)—by long-time manager and close friend Suzuki Yayoi presents a rarely seen side of the fashion icon.

Suzuki first met Takada in 1983, and not long after she started helping the fashion designer with his licensing-related work. In 1990, around the same time she established her own PR company, she started full-scale work as a PR manager for the Kenzo brand. Although 20 years Takada’s junior, she was one of the people Takada was closest to up until his death.

In the book, Suzuki details for readers Takada’s many achievements that earned him world renown as a designer, as well as offers insight into his tastes, hobbies, glamorous life in Paris, and above all, his personality. She notes that while Takada was shy, he treated everyone with humility and courtesy, and describes how he worked energetically until the end of his life. Drawing on personal episodes, the author’s gentle narrative presents a side of Takada that few have ever seen.

Takada graduated from Bunka Fashion College and moved to France in his mid-twenties. He started out selling his design drawings to boutiques, and with hard work he parlayed his talents into a successful career in the fashion industry. The book describes two interesting episodes from his later years.

The Japanese fashion brand Uniqlo was chosen to produce the official uniforms of the Japanese Olympic Team for the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece. Uniqlo president Yanai Tadashi commissioned Takada to design the outfits. The year before the games, Takada returned to Japan to show Yanai several designs he had made. However, Yanai seemed unimpressed by the sketches, which included traditional themes like Mount Fuji and cherry blossoms. He is purported to have asked Takada, “Is this old Japan?” Suzuki recalls the meeting.

I was sure that Yanai would love the design, so I was confused. Since Takada certainly put his heart and soul into the designs, I was surprised Yanai felt the way he did.

However, Takada felt differently about the encounter. Suzuki describes his reaction on the way back from the meeting.

“He [Yanai] took a good look at my ideas and gave me his honest impression. I thought… he was right.” Takada nodded his head, taking the criticism he’d received to heart. He respected and accepted whatever opinions he received with humility and openness . . . he became even more motivated without becoming dejected. “We had a very productive meeting, talking about ideas late into the night.”

Final Days

The book describes in detail the situation before and after Takada’s death, which have not been widely reported. The designer was in Paris at the beginning of 2020, and even at 80, he was still working tirelessly. He had recently created a new lifestyle goods brand and was absorbed in preparing for its announcement. He had three other major projects underway as well, one of which was the production of his own documentary film. The film was shot in Paris from January to February 2020 and was set to be released sometime in 2023. Suzuki describes this period.

Perhaps because he was so busy and tired, Takada fell ill in late February. He was sensitive to drafts and would often develop a mild fever when he caught a chill. Even so, the shooting continued . . . Takada, who is usually calm, seemed to grow a little irritable.

At this time, France was seeing COVID-19 cases skyrocket. Takada went back to Japan every year for the cherry blossom season, but he had no choice but to give up his plans when the country went into lockdown on March 17. Speaking to Suzuki on the phone, he said that “the cherry blossoms will have to wait until next year.” Turning to the local situation, he said, “The color of the sky is different, probably because there are no fumes in the air. I think I’ll open the window and take a deep breath.”

In mid-September, Takada fell ill again and was hospitalized with a persistent low-grade fever. Takada called Suzuki in Japan: “They tested me. I have COVID, just like all the other old people.” Suzuki could not visit him due to travel restrictions, and three days after being hospitalized, he told her, “Last night I was able to sleep comfortably until the morning for the first time in a while, and it felt good. The doctor told me that I’m recovering. That was a relief to hear.” These would turn out to be the last words Takada spoke to her.

Takada’s funeral was held at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, but travel restrictions prevented his family from attending the ceremony. Suzuki says that his remains were returned to Japan in September 2022.

So, what is “Son of Paris” in the title? When asked to give his impression of Suzuki, Takada said she was like “a mother, a sister, a friend… and a drinking buddy.” The book is a heartwarming memoir written with deep respect for Takada.

(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: The cover of Takada Kenzō to watashi: pari no musuko to sugoshita 37 nenkan. Courtesy of Jiji Press.)

Takada Kenzō to watashi: pari no musuko to sugoshita 37 nenkan

By Suzuki Yayoi
Published by Jiji Press in February 2023
ISBN: 978-4-7887-1872-2

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