Famed for his abstract silhouettes, flat shoes and unswerving loyalty to the colour black, Yohji Yamamoto is one of the most important and influential fashion designers working today. Uniquely, Yamamoto’s clothing combines intellectual rigour with breathtaking romance; in his hands, stark and often extremely challenging modernity segues with references to Parisian haute couture.
Born in Japan in 1943, Yamamoto was brought up by his seamstress mother, following his father’s death in the Second World War. It was in an attempt to please his mother that he initially studied law at Tokyo’s Keio University, later switching to fashion at the Bunka school, where he graduated in 1969. Following a trip to Paris and a period fitting customers at his mother’s shop, Yamamoto established his own label in 1971, holding his first show in Tokyo in 1977. By the time he had made his Paris debut in 1981, along with his girlfriend at the time, Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, his label was already a commercial success back in Japan.
Yamamoto sent out models wearing white make-up and asymmetric black clothing, and the establishment dubbed his look ‘Hiroshima Chic’. However, a younger generation embraced Yamamoto, and both his womenswear and menswear – the latter shown in Paris for the first time in 1984 – became a status symbol for urban creative types.
Despite his elite credentials, Yamamoto has expanded his business exponentially. He now has over 333 retail outlets worldwide, a groundbreaking collaboration with Adidas (Y-3), five fragrances, and casual collections, Y’s For Women (established 1973) and Y’s For Men (1971). He has been represented in numerous films, books and exhibitions; Juste des Vetements, Yohji Yamamoto’s, his first major solo exhibition, was held in 2005 at the Musee de la Mode in Paris. Yamamoto is also a karate black belt and chief organiser of the Worldwide Karate Association.