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Designer Mitsuhiro Matsuda

Mitsuhiro Matsuda, a trailblazing Japanese designer known for his modern interpretations of sportswear and innovative fabrics, died of liver cancer on May...

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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.

In 1974, Matsuda and five of his contemporaries — Koshino, Yukiko Hanai, Kaneko, Takeo Kikuchi and Kansai Yamamoto — formed Tokyo Designer Six , or TD6, creating the city’s first official fashion week.

Matsuda joined the international fashion scene in the Eighties, opening his first U.S. store on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. The store was later relocated to Fifth Avenue in 1989. The designer showed his collections in New York under the brand name Matsuda before moving his runway shows to Paris. WWD penned this accolade for Matsuda’s fall-winter 1995-1996 collection shows in New York: “Matsuda still has plenty of edge and showed it with his imaginative use of fabrics. He used plastic-coated cotton for a men’s wear vest, boiled wool for a ‘pot-holder’ jacket and even translucent nylon that looked just like Brillo pads for fitted, striped sweaters.”

Despite his exclusive approach to innovative fashion and high-quality materials, Matsuda also showed an appreciation for the other side of the retail spectrum. On one business trip to New York in 1997, he made time to shop at off-price shopping center Woodbury Common in Harriman, N.Y., and the NikeTown on 57th Street and even gobbled down a Big Mac for lunch.

Still, Matsuda knew how to appreciate the good life. An avid golfer, he took to the course with his old friend Kenzo at the latter’s home in Phuket, Thailand, during the late Nineties. “There, you have three people follow you on the golf course,” Matsuda told WWD. “One to carry the umbrella, one to carry the chair and one to carry your clubs.”

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