Yohji Yamamoto: The poet of black looks back

As a new V&A one-man show opens the Japanese designer reflects on his thirty year career in fashion

A A A | Close

Video Transcript

Q: 30 years ago you caused a sensation when you first showed your work in Paris. How has your work and attitudes changed since then?

My main focussing coming in Paris was just opening tiny shop. But that happens, I think, because I wasn't the only one. The other designer, one more designer, did same thing. So for European people it was like a new movement arrived or a new army arrived. I think they accepted in that way. So I didn't mean it, I just wanted to open tiny shop.

I have a double feeling maybe I have changed something else, even minor change. But at the same time I feel I couldn't change anything at all. As you know, the market in the world became like ... fast, fast, fast, cheap, cheap, cheap, etc, etc, etc. It's very far from me. That means I couldn't change anything.

I'm strongly breathing in craftmanship and the human hand. For example, when I stick with Japanese craftmanship for weaving, for sewing, for cutting, maybe I'm touching a little bit of culture of the human being, human fingers ... strongly. Mentally I'm very far from mass production. So the meaning of American success, I'm not very successful designer. In America success means fame and money. I think myself maybe famous in Europe, but money? I don't know. For me, comfortable profit is enough, to keep on going.

Q: Do you design differently for men and women?

Designing men's clothing is very difficult for me because I don't like too much fashionable men. Do you like fashionable men? Very trendy, perfect fashion. So I think my rule about men's designing is just take it easy from trends. The customer of my men's creation, they are not wearing tie, not businessmen. Almost they're working as a free something. In that case, they can look a little strange and funny. Designing menswear is quite easy - shirt and jacket and pants, that's it. So we have to put some irony or joke or funny message. But for women, spiritually or philosophically, it's the same - let's be out, but women's body is for me like a desert and the blowing of the wind and the mountain of sand is always changing. So I can have so many imagination on women's body because it is always changing. Compared to women's body, men's body is already promised. We can only change sizes or length, width - that's it. But designing women's clothing is like a journey. I think that being strong a designer for women's designer is more important than being a strong designer for men. Historically ... I think the reason is that designing clothing for women we have no roof, everything is possible. Sometimes I feel too free - it's very hard. Freedom and duty is like a coin, surface and back and there always no answer for ever.

Q: What motivates you to carry on designing?

I have still people who understand my thinking and buy my clothing. I have to answer to them and same time if I say this, this sounds maybe too arrogant, but when you say beautiful things are disappearing every day. I want to keep it back. I want to say don't go too much, too far, too easy. Take it easy. I think this is my law.

Q: What do you think of fashion now?

I think - it's like thinking about the earth go to hell. We can't stop. We think we can stop. I don't think so. In my heart I'm always saying, go to hell, I don't care. Very roughly, if we choose two big responsibilities. One side is our government people, government. They can change the way of going of people. And one side is artist. They can also change, they can also make people think, make people doubt what's going on. But actually I'm not believing both of them because we went too far. So at least, like a very old man, I'm saying that, hey man, beautiful things are disappearing every day, look at them, keep them, be careful, don't go too fast. Look back. This is like old man's mumbling.

Q: You can always look back can't you really?

Yes, look back.

Q: You have chosen to include your own paintings in the V&A exhibition. Can you explain why?

You gave me a chance to give me my dream, because my dream from childhood was being a painter. Now you gave me a chance, so I started ... go back to a real painter or real drawer, you need exercise, practise a lot, it's not so easy. So I need to create time to exercise, to practise drawing and painting. So actually I have a chance which you gave me, but I'll be so busy. Happy.

Q: What makes you happy?

I'm often asked what is gorgeous for you? Then I answer, I don't like too much about, I don't care too much about the property, like a big house, private jet, big castle, I'm not interested in them at all. My most gorgeous moment is creating drawing. So in the meaning, I'm very lucky and a happy man.

Share

The fashion world hardly knew what to make of Yohji Yamamoto's extraordinary alternative vision of fashion when he  first showed his clothes on the Paris catwalks in 1981. Three decades later, it's a different story. Yohji is lionised not just as a fashion great but as a guru and an artist by his peers.

 

In this compelling 20-minute film shot in Yamamoto's Tokyo studio,  the designer provides a laconic, engaging and sometimes passionate commentary on his career and design values.

He  considers how  his work has evolved since his Paris debut, explains why he designs so differently for men and women and touches on his plans to paint murals for his V&A exhibition this spring. Along the way, Yamamoto also provides a withering personal analysis of the current state of the fashion industry.

Book Tickets to Yohji Yamamoto at the V&A
12 March - 10 July 2011