He was born in Yokohama, Japan on the 3rd of October 1943 and had his first show in Paris, 1981. After his first showing there was a lot of controversy in the fashion media concerning his clothes. While the clothes usually shown were extravagant, he totally clashed with the image of Paris fashion week with his first collection, which showed women in oversized dark clothing and hats covering their faces. The media coverage even went as far as describing the clothes he showcased as “Hiroshima” or “holocaust chic”. Although there was a lot of controversy, it did not stop his clothes from getting a great following across the world.
Due to him being born in post-war time Japan, the world he grew up in was one of destruction and reconstruction. Which he thinks might be part of the reason why he makes his clothes the way he does. Due to the war he also never knew his father, this resulted in him holding a grudge against the world, which he says he might be conveying unconsciously. Growing up in this bleak post-war Japan he only had his mother, Fumi, to rely on. His mother ran her own dressmaking shop in Kabukicho, Tokyo. By working hard, she made sure she could provide her son a good education. Which she did as Yohji graduated from Keio University (1966) with a degree in law. Be he never practiced in his life, not even one day. He rather started helping his mother’s business, this Yohji did for five-six years, he hated it. Afterwards he decided to pursue a career in fashion by going to study in the famous Bunka Fashion college in Tokyo, where he graduated in 1969. The same year he won a fashion price to go to Paris. Arriving in Paris he witnessed the first ready-to-wear collections of all the big names in Fashion (Balenciaga, Chanel…). Yet instead of being mesmerized by the pieces of art presented by these designer everyone looked up to, he felt nothing, he felt totally alienated from what he saw.
He returned to Japan at the age of 26, and he was ready to leave his own imprint on the fashion world by defying everything it stood for. In doing so his mother once again fully supported him by selling her own shop to help her son out. She even let Yohji take one of her most loyal employees, Takayuki Kurihara, who is still employed with Yohji as his pattern chief. He started with a few raincoats he tried to sell in Japan and they soon got popular. At the beginning he had a map of japan, on which he marked the place that sold his clothing. Promptly his map was completely marked and he and his then girlfriend Rei Kawakubo were then ready to go overseas with their own luxury label.
Impression of his clothes
He debuted his first collection in Paris (1981), and completely silenced the West with what he showed. They did not know how to react to his women’s collection lacking any femininity, consisting almost solely out of black loose-fitting clothing. Critiques did not know how to describe him, as he did not conform to any of the norms established by the then western dominated fashion scene. However unintentionally he completely revolutionised what was thought to be women’s couture. Even the long standing image people had of femininity was turned upside down by him. However the only thing he did was convey his image of what is feminine. Not the typical sexy allure, which was present in all couture at the time, by accentuating every part of the female body with a piece of tight-fitting cloth trying to be as extravagant as possible, on the contrary he likes to depict them as a sexy, yet mysterious by hiding their silhouette in these oversized garments in almost exclusively black, lacking any decorations.
Men's clothing is more pure in design. It's more simple and has no decoration. Women want that. When I started designing, I wanted to make men's clothes for women. But there were no buyers for it. Now there are. I always wonder who decided that there should be a difference in the clothes of men and women. Perhaps men decided this.
Another inspiration for his clothing is the strength manifested by his hard working mother, this he tries to convey through dressing women in suits, which are a symbol of power and status, then exclusively worn by men. This touches upon another subject which he likes to confront people with, the borders concerning gender. He rarely made clothing conforming to the prescribed gender roles. He likes to play with these notions by dressing women in loose shirts or pants and in contrast dressing men in skirts.
Characteristics of his tailoring
His clothing embody the essences of (traditional) Japanese fabric manipulation, through the use of the concepts of wabi ( meaning ‘rustic simplicity’) and sabi ( meaning ‘ beauty that comes with age’). These concepts also include asymmetry, simplicity and modesty. For example the blended wool coats of his 1983 collection are a prime example of these concepts. Although these concepts might have looked innovative to the public, but this is only from a Western standpoint, because these are core concepts of the Japanese culture. This fact was later made known to the world through the 1986’s “Japon des Avant Gardes 1910-1970” ( Japanese Avant-Garde 1910-1970) exhibition held in the Centre Pompidou, Paris. This was not the end to Yohji’s revolutionizing of the use and shapes of fabric.
Yohji also liked to focus on the space in between the fabric and the body, this enables a balance between the person wearing the garment while leaving the fabric in a natural state. This empty space is part of another Japanese aesthetic called ‘ma’ ( means space). He likes to use the body to makes the characteristics of the fabric stand out, instead of making the fabric in a shape that accentuates the human body. For example by twisting and wrapping fabric, instead of cutting it in the desired shape, he leaves it in its natural state. These natural and straightforward designs are based on the design of the Japanese kimono, which if unworn is a flat and straight-cut piece of fabric.
I think perfection is ugly. Somewhere in the things humans make, I want to see scars, failure, disorder, distortion.
-- Yohji Yamamoto
These ideas of scars, failure, disorder, distortion he mentions are another core aspect of his clothes. The idea of deconstruction he so generously imbues in his garments are inspired by the destruction he witnessed in his youth, the ugliness he sees in his everyday landscape, but also the disassociation he felt with Western clothes. It was a way of showing he disagrees with the view of the West to make things beautiful, while in reality it isn’t. He wants to embody these dark and usually avoided parts of life. He prefers the raw beauty of this ugliness. This all gave birth to clothing that seem unfinished, because of the loose seems, roughly attached pockets, irregular hems and so forth. This message he likes convey is then all held together and enhanced by the bleakness of the shades of black in which he usually dabbles. All these characteristics are held together by his selection of fabric, yarn and other often missing accessories made into the shape of garments admired and worn by people all over the world.
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