Yohji Yamamoto

Vanessa Semmens

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA350

Vivienne Westwood models for Yohji Yamamoto’s fall/winter 1998 menswear show. Niall McInerney, Photographer © Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Yohji Yamamoto was born in 1943 in Tokyo. He studied for a degree in law at Keio University before going to the Bunkafukuso Gakuin College of Fashion and graduating in 1969. Yohji Yamamoto Inc. was founded in 1972, and he started Y’s, a womenswear line, which debuted a collection in Tokyo in 1977 before showing in Paris in 1981. The women who wore his clothes in the early years were known as “the crows”: Yamamoto is known for his use of black, which he calls “both modest and arrogant at the same time.” He follows the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, in which absence gives form to that which is present, and is interested in the space between a garment and the body. The photographs of August Sander are a constant influence on his work and he has a strong interest in the textiles that he uses.

Yamamoto has a number of fashion lines. In 1984 his menswear line debuted on the runway in Paris. He has also collaborated with a number of brands, photographers, and other artists: one of his most well-known collaborations has been with Adidas, producing the line Y-3 in the early 2000s (the “Y” is for Yamamoto and the “3” is for the three-stripe logo of Adidas). In 2002 Yamamoto showed his haute couture line in Paris and a year later he designed the costumes for Elton John’s “Red Piano Show” in Las Vegas.

He has also created costumes for a number of operas and films including Tristan and Isolde (Bayreuth Festival, 1993), Madame Butterfly (Opéra de Lyon, 1990), Brother (Takeshi Kitano, 2000), and Dolls (Takeshi Kitano, 2002). There have been a number of exhibitions and retrospectives of Yamamoto’s work in museums around the world.

Yamamoto has been given a number of awards and honors: International Award (Council of Fashion Designers of America, 1999), Fashion Editor’s Club Award (Tokyo, 1982, 1991, 1997), Mainichi Fashion Award (1986, 1994), Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France, 1994), Arte et Moda Award (Florence, 1998), and Shiju-Hosho (Japan, 2004).

In 2008 Yamamoto received an honorary doctorate from the University of the Arts, London. In 2009 the company filed for bankruptcy, but it continued to operate under Japan’s corporate rehabilitation law. A private equity fund, Integral Corp, funded the rehabilitation of the company.

Yamamoto’s right-hand man and head of planning is Tadashi Kubo, and their everyday conversations provide a lot of his inspiration. Yamamoto finds it particularly rewarding to see people on the street wearing his pieces and to hear about good sales figures.

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Alexander H. ““Yohji Yamamoto: Historic Fashion Initiative.”” The Telegraph , 23 February 2008 .

Find in Library Baudot F. Yohji Yamamoto . New York : Assouline, 2005.

Find in Library Duka J. ““Yohji Yamamoto Defines His Fashion Philosophy.”” The New York Times , 23 October 1983 .

Find in Library Frankel S. “‘“My Anger’: Japanese Designer Yohji Yamamoto Opens Up About Losing His Father and His Rage at Fashion’s Frivolities.”” The Independent , 21 November 2010 .

Find in Library Long C. ““Yohji Yamamoto: The Designer Stages His First Show in Beijing.”” The Independent , 22 June 2008 .

Madsen S. “Inside the Head of Yohji Yamamoto.” Dazed Digital, 2014. http://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/19283/1/inside-the-head-of-yohji-yamamoto

Radical Elegance: Yohji Yamamoto’s Garments in Australian Collections.” Art Gallery of Western Australia, n.d. http://www.artgallery.wa.gov.au/publications/documents/Yamamoto.pdf

Yohji Yamamoto: About the Exhibition.” Victoria and Albert Museum, 2011. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/yohji-yamamoto/about/

Yohji Yamamoto: ‘People Have Started Wasting Fashion.’ ” The Talks, 31 August 2011. http://the-talks.com/interviews/yohji-yamamoto/