We catch up with the flam­boy­ant fash­ion de­signer at home to dis­cuss his lat­est project – cre­at­ing a new look for Roche Bobois’ ‘Mah Jong’ sofa

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - Style - Words CHAR­LOTTE BROOK

Jerry Hall disco-ed down the cat­walk wav­ing a Cham­pagne bot­tle above her head for Kenzo Takada’s wild 1976 fash­ion show, but the de­signer claims he now prefers a qui­eter life – he of­fi­cially ‘re­tired’ in 1999.

Step into Takada’s town­house just off the el­e­gant bou­tique and bistro-lined streets of St Ger­main on Paris’ left bank and you en­ter four floors of hushed, im­mac­u­lately cu­rated rooms. Each one is painted white and filled with fine art; the air per­fumed by white freesias, roses and tow­er­ing arum lilies. A black lac­quer take on the tra­di­tional Ja­panese shoji screen par­tially con­ceals glass bud­dhas – de­signed by Takada for French crys­tal­liers Bac­carat – sit­ting cross­legged atop a mar­ble man­tel­piece.

So far, so zen. Can this re­ally be the home and stu­dio of the Himeiji-born youth who daubed mad Henri Rousseau- in­spired mu­rals onto the walls of his first shop in the 70s, called the look ‘Jun­gle Jap’ and sold out of the kalei­do­scopic, cul­ture-clash­ing ath­leisurewear he de­signed and sold there?

Ab­so­lutely. Af­ter a child­hood in ru­ral Ja­pan, Takada set sail on a six-week cross­ing to Paris in 1964. He’s never looked back, but still draws on his birth coun­try’s craft and cul­ture for in­spi­ra­tion. As out­lined in our Au­gust is­sue, the Japon­isme look is hav­ing a mo­ment in the de­sign world: sim­plic­ity, black car­bonized wood, the im­per­fect wabis­abi aes­thetic. At the op­po­site end of that trend sit the pix­e­lated Tokyo pop-cul­ture ref­er­ences and the ki­mono-style graph­ics of Kenzo clothes. When did one era end and the other be­gin? ‘Never!’ he tells us. ‘I need black and white, the sober colours of zen, but I also love colour-sat­u­rated pat­tern. It’s the con­trast be­tween the two that I love.’

Hav­ing dis­rupted the abid­ing aes­thetic of tai­lored sil­hou­ettes and the pared-back ➤


pal­ette of French fash­ion (‘ I gave the French jour­nal­ists some­thing fresh to talk about,’ he fondly rem­i­nisces), Takada sold what had be­come a cult la­bel to lux­ury power cor­po­ra­tion LVMH in 1999, and an­nounced his re­tire­ment from fash­ion in or­der to fo­cus on his art. Oil painted self­por­traits hang on the walls of his home, sketches are ev­ery­where, and he re­cently tried his hand at pot­tery in ru­ral Ja­pan.

Takada hasn’t com­pletely stepped out of the lime­light, though. The fam­ily of French fur­ni­ture brand Roche Bobois spot­ted his eye for colour and in­vited him to de­sign three new fab­ric cov­ers for its sig­na­ture sofa: the ‘Mah Jong’. De­signed for mod­ern, in­for­mal liv­ing, the mod­u­lar ‘Mah Jong’ can be bought piece- by- piece to cre­ate a mis­matched ef­fect, and has, re­mark­ably, been the brand’s best-sell­ing prod­uct ev­ery year since its launch in 1970. The lat­est in a line of de­sign­ers to have ‘dressed’ the sofa, in­clud­ing Jean Paul Gaultier and the Mis­soni house, Takada has cre­ated six ge­o­met­ri­cally-pat­terned fab­rics in­spired by the ki­monos worn in pro­duc­tions at Noh the­atres in Paris (Noh is an an­cient form of Ja­panese sto­ry­telling, where ac­tors wear op­u­lent at­tire and masks, of­ten heavy with sym­bolic mo­tifs). The pat­terns come in three colour­ways that echo the chang­ing light of day – Asa (dawn, pas­tel pinks and yel­lows), Hiru (mid­day, crim­son and sky blue) and Yoru (evening, mid­night blues). The de­signs are in­dica­tive of the op­ti­mistic play­ful­ness that per­vaded Takada’s fash­ion lines.

Hav­ing lived in Paris for over fifty years now, which coun­try does the de­signer feel most con­nected to, France or Ja­pan? He pauses for thought. ‘In Ja­pan, I feel so French, but when I’m in Paris, I def­i­nitely feel Ja­panese.’ This East-west mélange clearly man­i­fests it­self in Takada’s home: bo­hemian artist Jean Cocteau’s mata­dor draw­ings hang be­side a Ja­panese ink cal­lig­ra­phy sketch; the del­i­cately cor­niced wall in one of his workspaces is dec­o­rated with a 100-strong fleet of origami birds, painted pure white. He uses a beloved 18th-cen­tury Provençal din­ner ser­vice for par­ties, and drinks his tea from Ja­panese porce­lain cups.

Any re­main­ing dreams? ‘To buy a ma­jor piece of mod­ern art.’ By who? ‘ I’m not say­ing!’ In­deed, Takada’s mis­chievous and no­madic spirit has not faded: ac­cord­ing to his stu­dio as­sis­tants, who are cheer­fully beaver­ing away on sewing ma­chines next door in the light-filled ‘work­shop’ as we talk, their boss may be schem­ing to move once more. He dreams of a river­side apart­ment, as he’s never lived on the Seine. ‘My per­fect abode would be a mix of Hauss­mann (the five- floor, sym­met­ri­cally pro­por­tioned 19th- cen­tury Parisian build­ings) with a Ja­panese aes­thetic,’ he de­cides. ‘A lit­tle con­tem­po­rary, but I don’t care for too much mod­ern – no Cor­bus­ier! Af­ter all,’ he muses, look­ing about his tree- filled draw­ing room, ‘it’s all about at­mos­phere’.

Takada plans to con­tinue ex­per­i­ment­ing with ceramics, paint­ing, trav­el­ling – and work­ing. ‘Now, I like work. I need it. I must work to stay young!’ he ex­claims, though he’d pre­fer to col­lab­o­rate than work on solo projects. In­deed, Takada is all about the fi­nal adorn­ment of an al­ready ex­ist­ing form – whether that’s Jerry Hall or the ‘Mah Jong’ sofa.


Takada is the lat­est in a line of de­sign­ers to have ‘dressed the ‘Mah Jong’ sofa, in­clud­ing Jean Paul Gau­tier

A se­lec­tion of ac­ces­sories from the mod­u­lar ‘Mah Jong’ col­lec­tion, in ‘Hiru’ reds (above) and ‘ Yoru’ (top right)

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