TOKYO — Mitsuhiro Matsuda, a trailblazing Japanese designer known for his modern interpretations of sportswear and innovative fabrics, died of liver cancer on May 17. He was 74.
A private family funeral was held May 20. Details of a memorial service have not been finalized.
Matsuda was born in Tokyo in 1934, in the same house his parents used for their kimono-making business. After graduating from Waseda University's school of education, Matsuda entered Bunka Fashion College master's course, where he studied with classmates Kenzo Takada, Isao Kaneko and Junko Koshino.
"Matsuda was one of my oldest friends, so it's a shock for me," Takada said. "In Japan, he was a ready-to-wear pioneer and he was appreciated for his talent. It would be hard to find someone more faithful, honest and sincere. That's what I appreciated about him most. Every time I had a problem, he would call me."
Koshino shared a similar sentiment in a condolence card from Paris: "Together with you, Kenzo, Isao and me, we had wonderful school days."
Matsuda spent two years working at Japanese fashion retailer San-ai before boarding a ship to France in 1964 with his close friend Takada. While Paris had a profound influence on Matsuda's approach to fashion, his stay there was relatively brief. Back on his home turf in Japan he founded his fashion company, Nicole Co. Ltd., in 1967.
"When Kenzo and I went to France 35 years ago, I saw a model in Elle magazine named Nicole. She became my absolute favorite model," Matsuda told WWD in 1997, clad in a lightweight double-faced wool color-blocked jacket.
The Nicole business continues to trade in Japan, selling women's and men's apparel and accessories under brand names like Boutique Nicole, Nicole White and Monsieur Nicole. Last year, the firm celebrated its 40th anniversary, tapping designer Kyoko Higa to rejuvenate the Boutique Nicole brand.
"Matsuda's always positive attitude gave us all a tremendous power," said Naotaka Kinomura, president of Nicole Co. Ltd.
Matsuda showed his debut collection at Tokyo's Akasaka Price Hotel Guest House in 1967. The following year, he opened his first store, Boutique Nicole, in Tokyo's Aoyama neighborhood. "When he opened his shop in Tokyo, he inspired me to open my own shop in Paris and launch my own line. So, in that respect, I owe him a lot," Takada recalled.
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"It's really hard sometimes. I think I have a reputation for being really tough and aggressive and pushy but I really am a very shy person who wants to be liked, and that's the conflict constantly. There's something that takes hold - I want people to like me, I don't want to be mean - but if I see something that just cries out to be answered, I go for it," says renowned NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell. (📷: @axeldupeux)