By People Staff
May 06, 1974 12:00 PM

Shortly after Kenzo Takada graduated first in his class from Japan’s biggest technical arts school, he abandoned his native land. “It was no good for a dress designer,” he explains. “I had to follow European fashions.” So, he took off for Paris, and after four years’ apprenticeship with other stylists, he set up his own boutique called, with characteristic directness, “JAP.” Today many European, and therefore American, fashions seem to follow Kenzo. At 34 he is the king of the world ready-to-wear trade.

That is, of course, if a woman is ready for prices of, say $120 for a summer jacket. But knock-offs (the 7th-Avenue term for cheaper copies) have made the Kenzo look available to everybody—youthful, easy-to-wear “sloppy-joe” blouses, floppy Jackie Coogan pants, capped-sleeve tent coats and sailor suits. When one Kenzo opening drew 2,000 people instead of the expected elite 500, Kenzo initiated a tighter invitations policy. That helped do away with the fistfights that occurred at an earlier show but led to a thriving scalper traffic. Kenzo himself discovered it when a Neiman-Marcus buyer whom he had specifically disinvited proffered a black-market ticket.

This spring the presentation of his fall line brought out the usual SRO crowds. But the starved fashion press, of which he is both beneficiary and victim, greeted JAP as if it had pulled a Pearl Harbor on the garment district. Embellishing his own fondness for floppy, loose clothes and Paris’s “big droop” trend, Kenzo went to what many considered extreme outlandish-ness. He showed heavy tent dresses surrounded with acres of pleated flannel, outfits with bulky cardigan sweaters layered over other sweaters, and “flea market” accessories like thick wool scarves. “I don’t think much of it,” says American designer Halston. “Paris is in dangerous waters—at least insofar as the American woman is concerned.” “I call it the Comrade Look,” snipped this year’s Coty Award winner Clovis Ruffin. “It looks like something a Communist streetcar operator would wear.”

Whether American women fall for his new “droop” does not seem to bother Kenzo. His fashion empire—with boutiques in Paris, London, Rome and Munich, and a clientele the likes of Catherine Deneuve—already grosses $10 million a year. And the proprietor’s bachelor tastes are simple. “In my free time,” he says, “I like to do nothing.” He prefers a Japanese novel sent by his bourgeois mother back home to the nocturnal pleasures of Paris, and he still lives in a modest hotel room.

Besides, for all his New World success, Kenzo finds Americans “very mysterious.” Which is his tactful way of saying that, like his Japanese countrywomen, Americans are too slavishly taken in by the dictates of fashion arbiters. “I find it ridiculous,” he says, “for women to automatically follow everything in the latest fashion. I don’t like women who are too much à la mode. It’s like wearing a uniform. If an American dresses in style, she tends to dress from the top of her head right down to her toes in that style. The Frenchwoman can’t be led around like that—she’s much more discreet, much more sophisticated. She never loses her personality. It would be terrible,” Kenzo concludes refreshingly, “for women just to wear my clothes.”