Designer profile: Yohji Yamamoto
Yohji Yamamoto on life, love and riding fashion’s rebellious side roads.
Since Yohji Yamamoto’s debut in Paris in 1981, his conceptualized and emotive approach to fashion has always run counter to Western sensibilities. He brings that same unexpected creative flair to his first-ever released biography, My Dear Bomb, which he co-wrote with Ai Mitsuda. The result is an unexpected poetic hybrid of fiction and non-fiction that inspires and mystifies. (We’d expect nothing less.)
Why did you decide to blend truth and fantasy?
“It was spontaneous; we did not plan anything. It’s a mix of novel, documentary, essay, confession and lying rather than a biography.”
What’s the story behind the title?
“I have a constant magma inside. I was born the only son of a war widow, and my anger started then. One day I read an essay by Ango Sakaguchi, which inspired me greatly. In Discourse on Decadence, Part II, I felt a huge resonance between Ango’s words and my own feelings: the anger, the resignation and the resentment that I had kept deep in my heart since I was three or four. I felt as if his words pulled the bomb deep from my heart.”
You wrote that at times you feel like retreating from the fashion scene. What stops you?
“My approach is intuitive and nakedly emotional. But, for example, a musician may claim ‘Music is a matter of sensitivity.’ However, in order to be widely recognized, he must spend years, perhaps decades, as an unknown while he polishes his craft.”
What is your philosophy on life?
“I don’t believe in enlightenment. There are individuals who dedicate their energies to the creation of something without flaw. Far grander than these [individuals], however, are those who grapple each day with the realities presented to them. They realize that we can’t produce perfection, and, based on that fearless acknowledgement, they forge an aesthetic of humility. They refuse to make assertions; they offer no conclusions; they leave it all ambiguous. Why the ambiguity? Because to them, the world of humans is without any transparent answers or simple conclusions.”
On the origin of his style…
After graduating from university and finding myself without direction, I casually suggested to my mother that I help her at the shop. She was furious. This reaction was only natural as she had expected me to leave the university and transition smoothly into a job at a fine company. She lectured me, insisting that if I was serious about the work, I should at least learn how to cut cloth. I enrolled in a vocational school for dressmaking and, jostled on all sides by women acquiring the skill in order to improve their marriage prospects, I spent my days tediously pinning fabric while agonizing over what constitutes a proper profession for a man.
I completed the course and began working at my mother’s dressmaking shop. Elegant madams would come into the shop with magazine clippings, asking us to make them the outfits they saw there. Hourglass figures they had not, but I diligently took their measurements as I grumbled silently to myself about the impossibility of reproducing the magazine look. I hated it. Intensifying my annoyance was the fact that the shop was in the Kabukicho area of Shinjuku, a place overflowing with women whose job was to titillate male customers. They had shaped my image of womanhood since childhood, and I was therefore determined to at all costs avoid creating the cute, doll-like women that some men so adore.
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On haute couture and the cult of beauty…
Deep down the truth is that everyone prefers the beauty of haute couture. At the same time, however, they desire some aesthetic to react against. They gradually began to mock the work of this Japanese designer from the Far East, and soon everyone had something to say about my work. It amounted to nothing more than this in the early days. In fact, though, I had never done anything other than work from within the fortress that is haute couture. All I had done was to tweak it a bit and insert some humor.
For example, the theme of my Paris collection for the fall and winter of 1986-87 was the paradox of obsessions with the perfect body. I announced that I would make garments that resembled a pencil case. I would burst the illusions of the women who wore them by turning the garments themselves into objects of appreciation. I imagined it as clothing designed with a strong graphic element. This was my way of posing a question to women: “Are you right to obsess over the perfect body?” Then why not get in shape, exercise good posture and try wearing these clothes? As mistaken as your assumptions might be, once you put on these garments, you will see that they work. It was a nasty trick to play, and I thoroughly enjoyed the thrill of it. Is it only the Western body type that is beautiful? In my personal opinion, it is the silhouette that sets the tone and reflects the attitude.
The obsession with the overall proportions at the expense of everything else is proof of how extensively Western aesthetics have poisoned our sensibilities. Japanese culture of long ago found beauty in the nape of the neck and in the curves of the back. At some point the sensitivity to the beauty in these things withered, and both men and women became blind to them. I have personally always found the greatest charm in the long, sweeping curve from the ribcage past the waist and down to the hips. It is the most subtle line, curving like a serpent.
Technique comes later. Everything begins with an appreciation of shapes and volumes. One must first be struck by the beauty of something, and only then may one ponder how to arrange the fabric, whether to use darts or hems.
Excerpted from My Dear Bomb
Above images courtesy of IMAXTREE.COM.
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