KENZO TAKADA PAT T ERN PROVOCAT EUR
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
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. roche-bobois.com
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)