Dorange Sense 10/25/20 06:56
Best in Show: Kenzo (2020)
Best in Show
When great designers die they leave us with a simultaneous sense of sadness and awe. Sad, because they could still give us so much more, and awe, because of the realization of the scope of their gifts to us. It happened when Yves Saint Laurent died. It happened when Hubert de Givenchy died. And now Kenzō Takada, the Japanese fashion designer who somersaulted into the Paris fashion scene in the 1960s, has joined them, out of complications of Covid-19, as per news sources, at the age of 81.
Born on February 27, 1939, in Himeji, in the Hyōgo Prefecture, to parents who ran a hotel, Kenzo was early on attracted by fashion, loving his sister's fashion magazines and designing his own sketches. He attended Tokyo's Bunka Fashion College, one of the first male students there, winning the Soen Award in 1961 and putting his mark in the actual work at the Sanai department store, where he served as the girl's clothing designer.
portrait via Kenzo Takada official Instagram
But the great interest of Kenzo was Paris, and the (at the time) revolutionary work of Yves Saint Laurent. His teacher Chie Koike, himself educated at L'École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, encouraged him and so Kenzo soon established himself in Monmarte, the hippy and eclectic side of Paris. In this up till then virgin territory for fashion boutiques, he famously painted the inside of his first rented space, the Galerie Viviene, in jungle motifs inspired by Henri Rousseau's famous painting The Dream. His love of color and vivid imagery would make Kenzo famous very soon.
In June 1970, Elle featured one of his designs on its cover, which allowed him to move to the Passage Choiseul in 1970. The presentation of his collections in New York City and Tokyo in 1971 was followed by winning the prestigious Fashion Editor Club of Japan prize. Therefore, in October 1976, Kenzo Takada was able to open his flagship store, Kenzo, in the Place des Victoires. And the rest is history, as they say.
Awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, in 1984 by France, and the Medals of Honor / Medal with Purple Ribbon by Japan in 1999, Kenzo enjoyed tremendous success as the first Japanese designer in Paris, paving the way for the Japanese "invasion" into fashion in the 1980s. Contrary to the somber, ascetic, and intensely cerebral "black" designs of his Japanese fellows, however, Kenzo was always different with his colorful designs, which were multi-cultural rather than stereotypical Japanese. His joie de vivre was catching!
The Kenzo Parfums division was launched in 1987, though evidence of the earliest Kenzo perfume—1978's King Kong, in keeping with the "Jungle Jap" theme—suggests the designer was interested in fragrance prior to launching a separate fragrance division. Kenzo Parfums' first official release was 1988's Kenzo for Women, a scent whose name was later changed to ça sent beau (which translates to "it smells nice"). A series of successful fragrances for men and women have since been offered, including the company's flagship scent, the ground-breaking Flower by Kenzo.
Kenzo Parfums joined the multi-national luxury goods conglomerate LVMH in 1993, and Kenzo Takada officially retired from the company in 1999, though he has since reappeared as a designer of home decor and furnishings.
The collection of Kenzo fragrances is magnificent. Our international team of editors, saddened by the news of his passing, pay their tribute to the seminal fragrances which represent the magic of Kenzo Takada for them. Please join us in the comments below the article with your own favorites.
Introduction by Elena Vosnaki
Tuberose is always that multifaceted floral scent that can bring you many surprises and different emotions. The tuberose in Ça Sent Beau is a whirlwind of past and future, air and water, light and darkness. And it is (was) fascinating. I am lucky to have two bottles of this wonderful vintage, and as a lover of green florals and tuberose, this delights me as well as brings some nostalgia. Inside a romantic, artistic sculpture that happens to be a bottle, this scent is pure poetry. The tuberose is citric, but it is also musky. It is fruity and also green. But this tuberose is also natural and synthetic at once, evoking the smell of plastic. In fact, this has the strange and otherworldly element that later on we saw in Cacharel's Eden, Gucci Rush or Jean Paul Gaultier's Fragile. It's a retro-futuristic creation that extends our perception of a flower, amplifying all of its facets. Ça Sent Beau (This Smells Good) never stops being fun, it has that cheerfulness of someone who doesn't take him/herself too seriously. It's an emotional and sensual scent, but also something that isn't for everyone, hence its special allure. Ça Sent Beau is (was), in a word, visionary, and something iconic for the experimental period of the 80's and 90's.
Flower By Kenzo is easily one of the canonized Kenzo fragrances that is classic yet still polarizing to this day. At least where I spent my childhood, in China, most of us Gen Y and Gen Z rave that L’Eau par Kenzo Pour Homme is the ultimate sunny boyfriend in white shirt type of scent, while Flower By Kenzo evokes the domineering lady image and it picks it wearer. Somehow these Kenzo scents, and most of the other popular Kenzo creations, are much more well accepted than classics like No.5 or Shalimar among the new fragrance wearing generation. I guess it says something about where Mr Kenzo Takada’s perfume empire sits with the young. After all, it is Kenzo who famously said, "but I am influenced by the world that says I influence it. The world I live in is my influence."
Flower By Kenzo was built on the idea of showing the scentless poppy flowers' fragrance with an artificial construction of scents. Some cannot handle it for various reasons, but I must be one of the lucky ones who find Flower By Kenzo beautiful and easy to pull off, akin to a nicely fitted dress you can wear to almost any occasion, from a picnic to work. It is categorized as an oriental floral perfume, but instead of your typical amber, spice, or woody notes you find in many of these type of perfumes, Flower strides perfectly on the line between the Morillas-style fluffy and comforting gentle musk, and the sense of an almost calligraphy type of clearness and wildness. It showcases a scent kaleidoscope with fragments made of earthy green yet spicy violet, soft silky Bulgaria roses, sweet, warm, almost gourmand vanilla, hawthorn, and a soft and comforting musk. It’s the perfect balance of push and pull among these ingredients, so it’s hard to really call it powdery, sweet, floral, or even clean. It’s like an equilibrium between the déjà vu of baby powder and retro makeup nostalgia, and the sharp focus of a clean and sheer chiffon dress blown up by a spring breeze. Somehow it is like a scent parallel with the Kenzo fashion trademark of a profusion of bright colors.
Flower by Kenzo is what I call an avant-garde creation with a wearability check. I hope its aroma and vision, which has been scenting generations over the past two decades, will keep on influencing us. Rest in peace, Mr Kenzo Takada.
A weightless floral for men that stands for anything but “power”! It was the legacy of the Japanese house coming through via Kenzo Power in 2008, housed in a sleek silver bottle with the concept of a minimal composition for a masculine edition. Power is a fresh spicy, sensual, and more pronounced expression of what makes many shy fragrances present but not persistent. It opens up fresh; a balsamic citrus floral accord takes the lead like a gleam – it steadily projects without being loud. Power sprinkles a cold whiff of spicy coriander over an elegant floral bouquet; it feels like monsieur Polge lightened the heavy weighing musky violets of Kenzo’s Flower to fit them into a masculine olfactory pyramid, and it was felicitous. It manages to remain cozy in terms of a zesty aromatic freshness rather than being warm or resinous.
The rose/floral nuance sprinkled into a dusty yet airy-powdery base keeps the entire development fresh like a cold breeze; its sappy spiciness leaves me with an insatiable appetite for what’s next! It never develops into a regular warm masculine base; instead it gets smoothly textured, a bit less floral and falsely modest. Power is unique, leaving what’s expected and trend-following behind. It fits a gray horizon and running rivers, with sun gleams over distant green peaks, extensively fresh, smiles echoing, extended moments of quietude, tranquility and peace of mind wrapped up in a contemporary heart.
Some fragrances are milestones in our own personal development. As much as aquatics and fresh fragrances get a bad reputation these days, I continually add a significant foot note to that summary, reminding myself and others about the beauty that is L’Eau par Kenzo pour Homme. A cool, waterlily-infused fragrance full of yuzu and mint, it’s an uncomplicated, dynamic, but thoughtful fresh scent of late Sunday afternoons at the close of summer. I first wore L’Eau par Kenzo pour Homme at the end of a difficult transition in life, having relocated back to the US after living abroad for a while. I picked this fragrance out of many in a shop on Cape Cod in Massachusetts - the intention was to find something that would brighten my mood, and this seemed to do the trick.
Some fragrances can provide a bit of armor for us while they also provide an appealing smell - I wore L’Eau par Kenzo pour Homme well into autumn that year, looking forward to the start of each day when I could put some on. It’s that perfect fit for people who want the bracing cool of zesty citrus but the personal comfort of musk. It’s not sweet, and a note of green pepper adds a certain mild bit of spice in a wet, snapping, freshly-cut way, assuring that your senses will be alert and sharp. Cedar is one of the few base notes in this otherwise top- and middle-note-heavy scent, but you’re not going to miss any heavy nuances here. This perfume does not try to knock you over, (doesn’t want to knock anyone over, for that matter,) but does create a zone of bright, sparkling comfort around it.
Kenzo’s perfumes often involve twists on ideas that we’ve grown used to, or fresh looks at previous traditions. L’Eau par Kenzo pour Homme first appeared in the late 90s and one wonders if the world needed yet another Cool Water in the vast catalog of aquatic fragrances. But Kenzo’s notion of “watery” was different - where Cool Water is a sharp blast, L’Eau is haiku. And like the poetry, it’s substantial enough of a citrus perfume that it can be worn throughout the day, and even leave traces on the body at night - gentle and profound. It sends you delightful remembrances of warm days and provides a shoulder to lean on when yours might be weak. How does a perfume do that? It distracts you from your thoughts and tells you to calm down. It soothes, particularly through the use of yuzu and lemon (lending a humming, zest-full top note,) and provides structure (by sticking around for a long while.) I don’t wear this as often as I did - perhaps I don’t need the externalized comfort as much now? But just the thought of L’Eau par Kenzo Pour Homme makes me thoughtful and puts me at peace.
The first encounter I had with this unique ethereal green floral fragrance was with its predecessor in the misty glass and plastic bottle with the huge dew drop on the leaf that served as cap. The 1992 Parfum d'Ete. It was an eventful summer for me, with lots of glorious escapades that marked my youth, and the company of this delicate green jasmine that sang on the verdant throes of lily of the valley was the perfect embodiment of that carefree summery disposition which remains a wonderful memory. Back then, all I knew about Kenzo was that he was a Far Eastern designer who resided in Paris. And the fragrance in my mind seemed to embody both ends of the spectrum, being light and cerebral, like I imagined the Japanese to be, judging by their elaborate tea ceremony, and at the same time insidiously sensuous and subtly sexy in a carefree way, in the way models on the French Elle magazine spreads used to sprawl under the sun in the French countryside; I used to devour those magazines. Alongside Kenzo Homme, a revolutionary aquatic for men with an algae-woody backdrop, for a long time these two represented the new fresh breath of air that the Far East blew into the perfume scene, for me.
Enter 10 years later and the 2002 edition of Parfum d'été substituted my lovely bottle with a more architectural, sparser design. At first, I was afraid that the repackaging was worse, and therefore the experience would be tarnished as well (though reformulations were not as big, nor as well known as nowadays, but the aesthetic was part of why the first edition had caught my eye in the first place). Thankfully I was soon proven wrong. The spicy green top note remains, as if a drop of galbanum had been dropped into a giant vat of lily of the valley materials with a side helping of my beloved hyacinth; cool, dewy, and sharp at first, delicate and whispering later on with musk remaining on the skin for a long time, though subtly perceptible. As fresh as tomorrow! If only we could graft this mood onto ourselves as well, sometimes...
Do you have a favorite fragrance by Kenzo?
We'd like to know what it is: join the conversation in the comments below!
Elena Vosnaki Editor, Writer & Translator
Elena Vosnaki is a historian, archaeologist and fragrance...
John Biebel Writer
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