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Fashionable Gift to the Kunstgewerbemuseum: A Kimono Dress by Designer Kenzō Takada


A few weeks ago the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin was given a kimono dress created by Japanese designer Kenzō Takada (1939–2020).

Combining Asian and European Cultural Influences

Kenzō Takada (b. 1939 near Osaka, Japan), founded his company in Paris in 1970, where he opened his first boutique under the name Jungle Jap that same year. Unconventional colour and pattern combinations and polychrome jungle motifs were the label’s trademark. Today it is best known for the logo of a roaring tiger with the word KENZO in its mouth.

Kenzō’s designs merge Asian and European cultural influences. He opened Western doors for Japanese fashion design and paved the way for designers such as Yōji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo. At the beginning of his career, Kenzō gave his label the disrespectful sounding name JUNGLE JAP/Paris. Around 1972 he began putting his name on the brand’s labels as well, with his portrait at the centre: KENZO JAP/Made in France. 

An Early Prêt-à-Porter Fashion

The gift is one of the designer’s earliest prêt-à-porter fashions. The photos showing Ms Marchl in the Kenzo dress were taken around 1974, and render the colours as being somewhat brighter. The dress, however, testifies to having been a much-worn favourite.

It is not known how and when the purchase actually came about. At the time, Ms Marchl was very successful professionally and a regular visitor to designer boutiques. Many years later, Kenzō Takada’s death ultimately reminded her that she still owned a piece by the designer, which she subsequently offered to the Kunstgewerbemuseum as a gift. 

A Wonderful Addition to the Kunstmuseum’s Fashion Collection

Kenzo’s kimono dress consists of a monochromatic, cream-white chemise and a floral-patterned, lightweight cotton outer garment. The latter features Japanese-inspired black-and-white maple leaves in combination with flying birds on a ground recalling the Shibori technique.

The neckline overlapping across the chest in the style of a kimono is trimmed with a light yellow facing, an element repeated in black on the chemise so that both layers are visible when worn. The yellow facing is used as edging around the entire outer garment.

The oversized kimono sleeves and top are set off from the skirt by a black band with white graphic ornamentation; two bands join together the open sides at the waist. A strip of the same graphic pattern repeats along the edge of the yellow facing at the neckline.

Specialised literature in the Lipperheide Costume Library has been very helpful for inventorying and research. It has been possible, for example, to determine when this particular label format was used, allowing for a first approximate, verifiable dating of the garment. The dress narrows a large gap in the Kunstmuseum’s collection of Japanese fashion design from the latter half of the 20th century.