Yohji Yamamoto

Tonie Ong

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Articles on Yohji Yamamoto

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Throughout the 20th century, fashion was led by the designers in Europe and the United States. The old continent boasted of their traditional haute couture while the US had Hollywood as its main source of glamour and style. Almost all of today’s present practices and crafts in the industry were developed and nurtured through the fashion houses in Europe and the costume designers of Tinsel Town. However, in the 1980’s, the Japanese invasion came about. Designers from the far east went to Paris and showcased their innovative and avant-garde designs, changing the course of fashion forever. Among them was Yohji Yamamoto.

Yohji Yamamoto is known as one of the most talented and most intellectual designers in the industry. His avant-garde looks challenged both the wearer and the spectator, changing one’s perception of shape and silhouette. He created fashions that were both refined and outrageous, more attuned to the artistic side of the industry rather than its commerciality. Oftentimes, his looks carried a message as well, be it political or poetic. More than the aesthetic, his fashions are cherished as works of art that are as worthy to be placed in museums as they are in the most prominent luxury retailers in the world.

Finding his rightful place in fashion

Adidas Y-3 by Yohji Yamamoto Fall Winter 2010 fashion show at New York fashion week
Yohji Yamamoto

Yohji Yamamoto was born on June 3, 1943, to dressmaker mother. He was initially interested in law and took it up as a major course at Keio University. Upon graduation, he entered into a career in law, hired by a firm at a very early age. However, after a few years, Yamamoto quit his job, ended his prospective legal career and chose to help his mother run a dress shop. He eventually studied fashion design at the prestigious Bunka Fashion College, graduating with a degree in 1969. It was there where he learned to perfect his craft and through his mother’s business, he learned how to run a fashion company.

He opened his fashion line, entitled “Y” in Tokyo in 1977. That same year, he debuted in Tokyo Fashion Week. Two years later, in 1979, he launched his menswear collection, eventually showing in Fashion Week as well. By the 1980’s, Yamamoto was part of a group of Japanese designers who took Paris by storm. He debuted in Paris in 1981, presenting a ready-to-wear collection. The uniqueness of his designs saw an avalanche of conversation from the European and American fashion press. Some were aghast by his avant-garde looks, while other embraced them as the new revolution in fashion. To this day, Yamamoto still shows during Paris Fashion Week, now accepted as one of the best designers of the whole of Fashion Month.

Trademark: deconstruction and intellectual fashion

Models walk the Y-3 runway during Spring 2014 Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week
Models walk the Y-3 runway during Spring 2014 Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week

Alongside Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons and Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto was part of a group of Japanese designers who debuted established their brands in Paris in the 1980’s. At the time, only European and American designers and fashion houses were dominating the industry, which made their move that much more daring. They introduced a new way of designing clothes: deconstructing them. Far from the perfections and fine finishes of haute couture and the clean minimalism of American sportswear, the Japanese designers showed a disheveled and raw way of presenting glamour.

Apart from his contemporaries, Yamamoto is also known for his intellectual approach to fashion. Beyond the glitz and glamour, his clothes conveyed messages to society—often a criticism of humankind. His long and lean silhouettes have also become part of his signature, as well as the dark and somber mood of his collections. Beyond the runway, Yamamoto also lent his designs skills to theater, especially in the 1990’s. He designed the clothes for the Opéra de Lyons’ production of Madame Butterfly, the 1993 performances of Tristan and Isolde, and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Life in 1999. By doing these projects, he introduced his own unique vision beyond the common fashion audience.

Successful Collaborations

Y3 Boutique at Soho, Manhattan.
Y3 Boutique at Soho, Manhattan.

Apart from his theatrical projects, Yamamoto is also open to collaborating with other retail brands. His most famous collaboration is with American sportswear and sneaker brand Adidas, creating their Y-3 line. Combining the practicality and durability of Adidas with the somber and emotional aesthetic of Yamamoto, the line offers footwear that’s both functional and fashionable. They feature a lot of the Yamamoto’s minimal and simplistic touches. In 2007, the designer also teamed up with Italian luxury leather goods brand Mandarina Duck, producing a line called “Y’s Mandarina”. With a similar approach with Y3, Y’s Mandarina offers both high fashion sensibilities with the functionality of luggage and bags. With this line, the designer created hybrid pieces that are both garments and luggage.

As historic as his debut in Paris was all those decades ago, Yohji Yamamoto continues to be an influential force in fashion. His collaborations and expansion have gone beyond fashion, putting on artistic touches to seemingly-normal objects. His avant-garde creations, often with somber and dark undertones, have become art pieces themselves. Such is the prestige and genius of Yohji Yamamoto.

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