the worries and wisdom of yohji yamamoto
After his Paris collection at the weekend, we spoke to the master about a career and life lived without regrets, and why his brand will die with him.
Photography Charlie Engman
You have said that fashion had nothing to do with trends, what do you mean by that?
I never followed the rules of fashion. I always found short cuts, and paths that I created especially for myself. I wanted to oppose the system of trends and propose something new. When everyone says that something is beautiful, I don't like it.
Do you feel like an artist?
I don't know. I've always been very careful with the word "art". What is art? Something that can pierce your heart and change your life? It is a precious word, it is dangerous to use it inappropriately. If fashion was art, it would not be in fashion.
Has fashion never been an art?
No, never. It is always clothes.
Do you think the fashion world has changed a lot since you started?
Yes, fast fashion ruined everything. People waste clothing. They buy and buy, sometimes without even wearing it, and ultimately end up swinging it in the trash. It is pollution. Even some products that are used to make the clothes are toxic. There is already so much unnecessary waste in the world. How many planes are flying in the sky right now? The earth is becoming warmer. She is angry. We should really think about how to better manage our industry. I am not an environmentalist, but for some time I have felt very strongly that the earth is angry. We need everyone to calm down. Do not rush. It's tiring -- those people who always want more. Money is a boring thing, don't you think? Something that is meant to bring comfort is making people uncomfortable.
Are you aware of having influenced a generation of designers?
The new generation does not have time to breathe. They should stop watching their screens. They think about the world through their computers, but they do not know. For me there is no fight. I never found someone at my level. I have no rival. In any case, not yet.
Do you ever plan to stop one day?
I can not imagine myself retired. It must be so boring. I also think it's hard to imagine my brand without me. I think Yohji Yamamoto will die with Yohji Yamamoto.
Are you nostalgic?
Yes, a little bit. There is something romantic in the past. It stimulates me intellectually. But I do not rest on my laurels. I want to innovate, every season. That rhythm, that momentum, that's what keeps me going. I'm never satisfied, never happy with my work. This pursuit of "always better", that's my engine, which is something more than nostalgia. I am pessimistic; my mother was a widow, I grew up in poverty. At the age of five I realised that the world was unfair. I always had fire in my belly. It's hard, but that weight forced me to never fall into mediocrity.
What can we do to avoid mediocrity?
When I started in Tokyo, everyone criticised me, "Why does he creates these dirty outfits?" Rather than resign myself, I decided to take a risk, moving to Paris, this beautiful city, and opening a small store in the hope that people out there would appreciate my dirty clothes.
Well it worked, you've had a lot of success!
I have always been wary of success, it attracts a lot of violence. People are envious and jealous. And then when we taste it, we're just constantly chasing. For me, success is the reward for work well done. Americans have other ideas of success (laughs).
What do you want?
I have become an encyclopaedia, when it comes to clothing. I can answer any question. But it's starting to annoy me. Sometimes I want to move on. I have started to write and paint. I am a phoenix. I want to make films too.
What kind of movies?
Half fiction, half documentary. Or maybe porn.
Text Tess Lochanski
Photography Charlie Engman