PARIS • Japan's most famous fashion designer Kenzo Takada, founder of the global Kenzo brand, died in the French capital on Sunday aged 81 after contracting the coronavirus.
Tributes have poured in for Takada, the first Japanese designer to decamp to Paris and known especially for his signature floral prints.
"Today, his optimism, zest for life and generosity continue to be pillars of our Maison (House). He will be greatly missed and always remembered," the Kenzo fashion house he founded wrote on Twitter.
He "helped to write a new page in fashion, at the confluence of the East and the West", said Mr Ralph Toledano of the Haute Couture Federation.
Takada's death comes 50 years after he launched his first collection in Paris, which he has made his home.
"Every wall, every sky and every passer-by helps me build my collections," he once said of the city.
He retired from fashion in 1999, six years after selling his brand to luxury conglomerate LVMH, and dedicated his time to one-off projects including a design collection at the start of this year.
Born in 1939 into a family of hoteliers, Takada chose to study art not catering, becoming a star pupil at Toyko's Bunka Gakuen college, where he took the top prize. He went on to work for Sanai, a major chain of fashion shops, but dreamt of Paris.
He arrived in Paris in the winter of 1965 hardly speaking any French, and the only job he could get was in a poodle parlour.
In 1970, however, he took the lease of premises in the Galerie Vivienne, then a rather down-at-heel shopping arcade.
His first show using amateur models to save money was held there. One of only 20 people invited included the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, who liked the collection so much she ran it on the front cover.
He became a name almost overnight and went on to revitalise the knitwear industry with his contemporary interpretations.
By the early 1980s, when other Japanese designers were making their way in Paris, Takada was already well established on the French fashion scene.
His first men's collection was presented in 1983 and his first perfume, Kenzo Kenzo, in 1988.
Takada's romantic style, with its eclectic mix of colour, touches of exoticism, ethnic prints and folksy embroidery, suited the mood of the 1970s but adapted well to the sharper-looking 1980s and 1990s.
He guarded his privacy by building himself a house in the country in the very heart of Paris, complete with authentic tea pavilion and a pool of carp.
"A designer with immense talent, he gave colour and light their rightful place in fashion," said Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo on Twitter. "Paris is today mourning one of its sons."