Kansai Yamamoto

Elizabeth Glendinning

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA103

Born on 8 February 1944, Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto was at the forefront of contemporary Japanese fashion during the 1970s and 1980s. He pushed the boundaries of traditional fashion presentation on the runway, ultimately producing his “Kansai Super Show” for large audiences, something he attributed to his association with the musician David Bowie in the 1970s.

Yamamoto was the first Japanese designer to show a collection in London, in 1971, where he gained the admiration of stars such as Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and David Bowie. The knitted jumpsuit worn by Bowie for his Ziggy Stardust tour in 1973 was on display at the singer’s costume retrospective, “David Bowie Is” (2013), at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

In 1973 Yamamoto became one of the founding members of TD6 (Tokyo Designer Six), consisting of the top six Japanese designers, at a time when Japanese design was becoming popular in Paris. The group sought to establish Tokyo as a fashion center, subsequently creating Tokyo’s first fashion week.

Yamamoto established his label in the major fashion cities throughout the 1970s, presenting his avant-garde collections in Paris (1974) and New York (1979), and opening the first Kansai Boutique in 1977. His designs were influenced by Japanese kabuki theater, and, in the case of Bowie’s costumes, were referencing the kabuki movement of hikinuki, where one outfit would be stripped off to reveal another.

Yamamoto’s fundamental concerns resonated in the concept of the fashion show and the ability to interact with and gather vast crowds of people to experience the “super show.” In 1993, “Hello! Russia” attracted 120,000 people to Red Square in Moscow, with similar numbers attending “Hello! Vietnam” (1995) and “Hello! India” (1997). Yamamoto continued to attract huge audiences to these live shows, which broke the traditional concept of fashion presentation and spanned sporting events to film festivals internationally.

The desire to push boundaries extends to further design work for which he was duly acclaimed. In 2010 and 2011 he was awarded the Good Design Award and the Blue Ribbon Award respectively for his design of the Narita Sky Access, a high-speed train connecting Tokyo to Narita Airport, 37 miles (60 km) to the east.

Yamamoto has been recognized for the broad range of work he produced, receiving the 1977 Fashion Editor’s Club of Japan Award among others, and sat on the Council for Fashion Designers (CDF), Tokyo. One of his colorful jumpsuit creations was on display at the “Japan Fashion Now” exhibition in 2011 at the Museum of the Fashion Institute, New York, and in 2013 his work was shown at the “Soen and Soen Fashion Award,” an exhibition showcasing past winners of the Soen Prize at the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum in Yoyogi, Tokyo. Yamamoto died at the age of 76 in July 2020.

Kansai Yamamoto, F/W 1982Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Clark Hazel. ““Exhibition Review: Japan Fashion Now”.” Fashion Theory 16, no. 3 (2012): 365–376 .

Find in Library Garratt Sheryl. ““Kansai Yamamoto on Designing for David Bowie in April 1973”.” The Telegraph , 17 March 2013. http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/news-features/TMG9933155/Kansai-Yamamoto-on-designing-for-David-Bowie-in-1973.html .

Kansai Yamamoto. Website. http://www.kansai-inc.co.jp .

Find in Library Kawamura Yuniya. The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion . Oxford : Berg, 2004.

Find in Library Narumi Hiroshi. ““Street Style and Its Meaning in Postwar Japan”.” Fashion Theory 14, no. 4 (2010): 415–438 .

Find in Library Quinn Bradley. Techno Fashion . Oxford : Berg, 2002.