yamamoto & yohji - the ten greatest yohji-sms

Exploring the major themes in Yohji Yamamoto's 40 years of counter-fashion design, YAMAMOTO & YOHJI delves deep into the mind’s eye of one of the most enigmatic and iconoclastic fashion designers of our time.

by i-D Staff and Steve Salter
06 November 2014, 6:25pm

From his sartorial philosophy to influential extensions into scenography, runway shows, monographic exhibitions, and costume design, each chapter of Rizzoli's luxuriously bound book elaborates on a particular theme and is anchored by an essay or interview that lends crucial insight to the captivating tale of Yohji Yamamoto, told by Yamamoto himself and the people know know him best; Wim Wenders, Jean Nouvel, Charlotte Rampling and Takeshi Kitano. Weaved throughout the 425 pages is the thread of Yohji's thoughts in his own words. Before the book's release next week, we've selected ten of our favourite Yohji-sms.

1) "In the beginning I wanted to be very tough, to challenge people's ideas of beauty and to fight conservative values and the establishment. I was always battling."
When Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, his girlfriend at the time, arrived in Paris in 1981, the pair couldn't have been more contrary to the French fashion capital's expectations, sending out models masked in white make-up and asymmetric black clothing. It could be described as rebellious, avant-garde, anti-conformist. It was different. The establishment dubbed his look 'Hiroshima Chic' and were soon drawn into his breathtaking romance. Throughout their respective careers Yamamoto's and Kawakubo's experimentations question conventional concepts of construction, elegance and beauty. He has remained as independent and impassioned in spirit as he ever was. "Born angry" is how Yamamoto himself puts it.

2) "Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy - but mysterious. It means that many things go together, yet it takes different aspects in many fabrics. You need black to have a silhouette. Black can swallow light, or make things look sharp. But above all, black says this: 'I don't bother you - you don't bother me.'"
Lurking in the shadows, black is never far away but it's entwined with Yohji Yamamoto. One is rarely without the other. When he painted Paris black in 1981, the colour was closely tied to his protest manifesto. 

3) "Fabric is the skin."
Rather than expose or reveal, Yamamoto's designs envelop and embrace. In his mind's eye, the fabric is alive and the real thrill lies in taming the tail of a living thing. 

4) "Are you listening? The fabric has much to teach us."
Far from being a simple and silent medium just waiting to be cut, draped and stitched, Yohji listens (to a voice few can hear) as it tells him how and why it should be formed. It dictates how it should be stretched, crushed, cut, frayed and crumpled.

5) "In my philosophy, the word androgyny doesn't have any meaning. I think there is no difference between men and women. We are different in body, but sense, spirit and soul are the same."
Yamamoto's philosophy of gender has seen him blur the boundaries between masculine and feminine code of dress. His love of women, the femme fatales of his life - his mother, Fumi, Rei, his daughter Limi - is well documented but his desire to set them free is less so. Rather than reveal and shape he hides and envelops femininity in a genderless armour.

6) "I like to leave a notion of blank space - what we call ma in Japanese. I think it is the space that gives my clothes the Zen feeling."
Yamamoto's designs float because he crafts a space for air to circulate between fabric and skin. In his hands silhouettes are alive, they can breathe with the wearer. "A good garment is one that allows you to live well and grow old well in its company."

7) "When I started a men's line in Paris, my message was very simple: let's be outside of this. Let's be far from our suits and ties. Let's be far from businessmen. Let's be vagabonds."
From the moment Yamamoto stepped into the wonderful world of menswear in 1984, he set about redefining the men's wardrobe by shaking up silhouettes and playing with proportions. It was unstructured, asymmetrical, relaxed and ultimately personal, as Yohji was designing for himself. The final few words might sound a tad Zoolander but far from Mugatu's derelicte line, Yamamoto set about creating a new, more relaxed uniform.

8) "With Y-3 I'm trying to create something that does not exist in the world."
The seemingly simple combination of letter, hyphen and number is anything but as it seals a pact between Yohji Yamamoto and Adidas. Inspired by seeing three stripes across Tokyo and beyond, Yamamoto approached adidas and the pair's creative coming together first came about when they collaborated on a collection of limited-edition trainers for his Yohji Yamamoto womenswear collection autumn/winter 01. Striking a chord with the everyday reality of the street, it was the perfect mix of high and low, formal and casual. A few years later, the launch of Y-3 duly kick-started two global, industry-defining trends: high fashion sportswear and a new breed of covetable collaboration. With over a decade of Y-3 behind them them both, the duo have continually shown that the poetry and purity of Yamamoto's tailoring and conceptual skills can be applied to the world of sportswear with the technical ingenuity and innovation of the German giant.

9) "I always sing the same song with new arrangements."
Yamamoto isn't interested in riding fashion's trend merry-go-round, he evolves rather than revolves and the underlying message is the same. His collections are a shape shifting echo but his voice is crystal clear and his stubbornness is as seductive as it ever was.

10) "My life is a paradox: I renounce fashion by creating it."
Precisely why we love Yohji Yamamoto.


Text Steve Salter
Portrait Yutaka Yamamoto
[The Livin' Loud Issue, no. 311, Pre-Spring 2011]
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