Standing a few feet away from me in the warm, humid summer air of Hong Kong, Mr. Yamamoto had a small trace of smile on his face and a cigarette in one hand. He spoke humbly and softly, a world away from the stereotype of designers nowadays with big personalities and even bigger egos.
This is my memory of the master of Japanese avant garde from last summer, running into him by himself, smoking a cigarette, as I exited the crowded space of an event he was hosting and onto the balcony for a breath of fresh air. I proceeded to introduce myself and ramble about what a big fan I am of his designs, how I love Japan and possibly how much I like sushi too. Then I stopped. He replied slowly and quietly, Japan is getting boring for him. I asked, so where is exciting? Long pause..... Germany, he answered. Berlin.
I remembered looking at the video of some of his early collections… When he first showed in Paris, him and Rei Kawakubo made a storm – while everyone was focusing on making form-fitting clothing that emphasizes the curves of the body, he was making clothes focuses on the flow, the drape and the sculptural quality of the fabric around the body instead. There is something attractive, something liberating about women that could move spiritedly in clothing that don’t constrict, that waltzes along to the body’s movement instead of clinging to it. A few days ago, Yohji Yamamoto took a walk down the runway post show again amid a sea of applause, 33 years after he first debuted in Paris. It was a collection that reminds me how timeless his designs are – for clothes that accentuates feminine charm without overpowering it would always be relevant.
'Women’s body is for me like a desert, and the blowing of the wind, the mountains and sand are always changing. I can have so much imagination on women’s body, because it is always changing. Compared to a woman’s body a man’s body is already promised..... I think designing clothing for women – anything is possible. Sometimes I feel too free. It's very hard. Freedom, duty, it's like a coin, surface and back. – [there is] always no answer.'
Mr Yamamoto’s quiet presence, draped with a collage of warm night air and cigarette smoke, commanded attention. Called ‘Poet of black’ by short documentary film made about him recently by the Victoria and albert museum in London, again it is the doses of silence between his minimal choice of words that rang loud and clear - let my clothes do the talking.
On what success means to him, he thinks of this: ‘Mentally I am very far from mass production.... I am not a very successful designer America. In America, success means fame and money, and I think I am maybe famous in Europe, but money - I don’t know. To me comfortable profit is enough to keep on going.’
‘This maybe sounds too arrogant, but beautiful things are disappearing every day - I want to give it back. I want to say: don’t go too far, too fast, too easy. Take it easy.’
In times when the fashion industry seems to be going at a breakneck speed, it is refreshing, and calming to see a collection that seems to say 'why the hurry? spend the afternoon, you can't take it with you.'
We could all do with the reminder once in a while.