Yohji Yamamoto is one of the key reasons I got into fashion. My loyalty cannot be broken. It cannot be swayed. I still have my first invitation from the first ever show I ever attended of his framed on my wall, and I dust it off with more regularity than any of my diplomas. I don’t even know where my graduation diplomas are. But my Yohji invitation? Front and center.
It’s absurd how much fondness I have for the man considering I own none of his designs and so much of the quotes attributed to him are problematic to me (the quote on black makes me want to talk about color theory and racism, forever, until I die). Still, we do owe him so much for his designs, and that is the saving grace and what really matters in the end. Without them, fashion wouldn’t be the same.. Bringing black uniforms to Paris at a time when everyone was on the power suit/new glamour grind was ultimate troll behavior It’s made better by the fact he has historically been portrayed as a designer of sexless fashion: the fashion industry wasn’t ready for him, and it showed in the criticism thrown at him. A fantastic example of the narrative given to his work was the idea that you can’t get your body rocked in black clothing. Both he and Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons were grouped together as the black crows of the Orient (certainly not my words, but paraphrased from WWD archives). Here are some choice quotes from yesteryear:
“The trouble with Yohji’s clothes,” said Meredith, “is that you can’t get out of them in a hurry. Do you suppose these girls get any sex at? They’re clothes for puritans, mind clothes, not body clothes. Yohji’s an intellectual, a recluse. He lives in the country somewhere outside Tokyo and washes linen in streams, you know, arts and crafty. Never cracks a smile. . . It won’t last though. The Japanese will be interesting for a couple more seasons but they’ve nowhere to develop, you’ll see. It’s ethnic, after all. It’s old National Geographic school of design. If Saint Laurent goes to Marrakesh for a long holiday you know jolly well there’ll be a few jellabas knocking about in his next collection. If he went to Tokyo instead, he’d produce a stronger Japanese collection than Rei Kawakubo.”
That was excerpted from The Fashion Conspiracy by Nicolas Coleridge. Meredith Etherington-Smith was–at the time of this quote–a London correspondent for WWD.
““Sexy” is too simplistic a word to describe these clothes, though Saint Laurent at his worst overemphasizes a woman’s shape, and then his clothes look tarty. When he’s at his best, their sex appeal is part of something larger—a sense of pride, even of power. His clothes also convey intelligence, dignity, integrity, arrogance, sophistication, and a respect for order. The dread and hopelessness that pervade so many of the recent clothes by Japanese designers, notably Rei Kawakubo, are nowhere to be found in Saint Laurent’s collections. Japanese fashion in its more extreme forms prefigures a world that no one is looking forward to.”
And that gem was from “The truth in Fiction” by Holly Brubach in The Atlantic, May 1984.
Thankfully, by now, most fashion writing about the two designers leaves their race (and, consequentially, the stereotypes in regards to them) out of the picture and focuses on the clothes and their narrative. Fashion has swung the way of wabi-sabi and the art of goth clothing, something both Comme des Garcons and Yamamoto are experts at. No one can turn up their nose at the sexiness of a black dress – and much of that is owed to Yohji’s work. This was completely intentional, as his work is driven by the female form as it walks away from a good lay. In his own words in Talking to Myself:
“For some reason, I am moved by the female form, as seen from the side, or diagonally from behind. Like a feeling of waiting to chase after and restrain something that passes by, or passes through. You could call it a feeling of ‘missing’ something. A lingering scent is the same. A kind of feeling of longing for something. There is always an adoration for women in me which resembles the temptation I have for things that have passed me by. And so I can only see a woman as someone who passes by, a person who disappears. Therefore the “Back” is important to me. I think clothes should be made from the back, and not the front. The back supports the clothes, and so if it is not properly made, the front cannot exist.”
While Yohji’s had his ups and downs in the fashion industry, with bankruptcy claims and all that entails – he’s been on an upswing lately and his collaboration game is strong. Of course, he’s a troll about those, too. His Dr. Martens collaboration? A joke.
The only real difference between these and your regular Doc Martens are the lack of a logo and zippers. $200 price jump. Keep on keeping on, my friends.
There was also his perfume foray. He spoke to The New Zealand Herald about the premise of his fragrances. They are based on his actual hatred for perfumes, the stench of a strong perfume in an elevator. His goal for his first perfume venture was, and I quote, “I’m going to create a very strong scent which can kill a boy!”
What I’m seeing here is a pattern, in which he does little to no work or he does the exact opposite of what he claims to like, and it turns out amazing. One can only hope to be such a fortunate hypocrite. A truly exemplary contradiction, you know? This all brings me to his latest endeavor: a skateboard for Selfridges 2014 Board Room Concept store, and the entire effort is a contradiction to his own desires. Here is a snippet of his interview with Dazed & Confused.
DAZED: What does the skull represent to you as a motif?
Yohji Yamamoto: I always thought it was tacky and blunt to think of the skull as a symbol or an emblem. After all, every human body incarnates an entire skeleton. It is Western Christian culture that established the existing image of the skull as one of the symbolic representations of death or evil. I didn’t want to give it that usual ghoulish impression. I wanted it to be somehow expressive, possibly comical and lovable.
DAZED: Have you tried out your skull skateboard? Or ever skateboarded?
Yohji Yamamoto: No, but I can’t wait to see it. And no, I have never skateboarded in my entire life. I don’t think I should start at my age – I could hurt myself.
Translation: “I always thought it was tacky and blunt to think of the skull as a symbol. I’m going to put it on a skateboard. I also do not skate at all. Please buy my things regardless.”
With pleasure, you old man. I love you so much. Never change.
Tags: yohji yamamoto