By  on May 28, 2008

TOKYO – Mitsuhiro Matsuda, a trailblazing Japanese designer known for his modern interpretations of sportswear and innovative fabrics, died May 17 at the age of 74 from liver cancer.

A private family funeral was held May 20. Details of an upcoming memorial service have not been finalized.

Matsuda was born in Tokyo in 1934, in the same house that 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 fellow 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 apparel company 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 own 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.

For more, see Thursday’s issue of WWD.

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