Designer Focus: Yohji Yamamoto

Philosopher, genius and ‘sexiest man alive’ are just a few of the ways Yohji Yamamoto has been described. Indeed, even fashion luminaries such as Giorgio Armani and Donna Karan have referred to him as a poet, an artist.

However, while these opinions are arguably subjective, it is fairly self-evident that the diminutive, chain-smoking, rock-band frontman is one of the most prominent and influential designers working in contemporary fashion.

Born in Yokohama, Japan in 1943, Yamamoto initially enrolled at Keio University to study law in order to appease his mother, who had been forced to become a seamstress following the death of his father during World War Two. Nonetheless, the desire to create proved too strong, and he dropped out to study fashion at the Bunkafukuso Gakuin College of Fashion in Tokyo.

By 1972 he had established his own clothing line and within five years had put on his own exhibition in Tokyo. His work was very much inspired by his upbringing; major influence came from the blue-collar workers and the utilitarian aesthetic of people such as his mother, in stark contrast with the opulent Western designs she was commissioned to emulate by her clients.

In 1981, Yamamoto journeyed to Paris, arm-in-arm with fellow Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo, creator of Comme des Garçons. His collection was criticised by the French fashion establishment, who were simply not ready for the asymmetrical black shapes and flat shoes they saw emerging onto the runways. His pieces were disregarded as shapeless and meaningless ‘shrouds’; opinions that completely missed the textures and shading that Yamamoto wished to accentuate.

In recent years Yamamoto has embraced the concept of collaboration in a huge way, working with names such as Hermés, Mikimoto, Mandarina Duck and of course Adidas, an unprecedented relationship that combined two completely opposing worlds of apparel into Y-3, itself now a highly successful and prestigious label both on the runway and the street.

Yamamoto’s designs generally reject current trends, something which he has become fairly notorious for; however, a favourite inspiration of his is a traditionally Japanese ideal which prioritises concealment of the body, hiding the natural contours of the body beneath his creations. His 2005/2006 autumn/winter collection in particular emphasised volume, experimenting with differing weights of fabrics and textures to achieve the iconic and unconventional styling he has become so famous for.

Yamamoto, a man seen by many as being something of a poster child of ‘anti-fashion’, has managed to do what most designers can only dream of – hold court with the highest echelons of haute couture and at the same time design street-inspired sportswear coveted by proponents of urban culture – arguably sartorial democracy at its finest.



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