A Kansai Yamamoto Design - Circa 1970's
If you’ve read any of our other blog posts you may have picked up on the fact that clothing and textile design has always played an important role within Japanese culture. Used as a means to decipher complex social structures (read our article on the ‘meaning behind kimono colours’ here, or about how to ‘decode kimono embroidery patterns’ here), Japans textile industries were also a means to generate vast wealth, develop new technologies and were implemented to help spread the influence of Japan abroad (read about ai-zome or Japan blue here or about ‘kimono silk production’). It makes sense given this context that contemporary Japanese fashion design has played a significant role in terms of influencing the western fashion world. From innovative textile manufacturing processes such as those first conceived of by Issy Miyake with his infamous ‘Pleats Please’ collections through to the avant-garde coolness exuded by Rei Kawakubo’s ‘Commes des Garcons’ label, contemporary Japanese fashion design is both innovative in terms of its forward thinking use of advance technologies as well as being reflective on Japans vast history of clothing and textile design. So without further ado, we introduce to you a list of 11 Japanese fashion designers whose names you should definitely know.
Comme des Garçons Advertising CampaignsComme des Garçons 1986Christy Turlington, Photography by Steven Meisel
Issey Miyake (三宅 一生 )
Born in 1938, Issey Miyake is credited with ‘reinventing the pleat’. During the late 1980’s Miyake developed a new method of pleating which was designed to allow for maximum comfort and freedom of movement for the wearer whilst at the same time being quick and efficient to produce (compared to more conventional methods of pleating which were time-consuming and costly at the time). The process saw the garments cut and sewn before they were folded between sheets of paper and pressed with a heat press. Once pressed the fabric of the garment held the ‘memory’ of the pleat and was ready to wear. It's easy to see a correlation between the 3d fabric manipulation created by Issey Miyake and traditional Japanese shibori batik techniquesif you ask us. Fun fact: Issey Miyake was the designer who supplied Steve Jobs with his infamous black turtleneck sweaters. Apparently Jobs asked Miyake to design him a black sweaterupon which "he made me like a hundred of them."
Issey Miyake Fashion Campaigns from 1989 and 1994. Photographed by Irving Penn
Rei Kawakubo (川久保 玲)
Rei Kawakubo started the brand ‘Comme des Garcons’ ( コム・デ・ギャルソン) in Tokyo in 1969. The name was inspired by Francoise Hardy's 1962 song Tous les garçons et les filles and translates roughly as ‘like boys’. The labels debut show during Paris Fashion Week in 1981 was widely panned by critics who wrote that the clothing was ‘unrefined’ due to Kawakubo's use of distressed fabrics and unfinished seams. Funnily enough Comme des Garcons adamant use of hand-made manufacturing processes as well as the brands unique aesthetic have seen its past collections become highly prized collector's items with vintage pieces selling for far above their original price. Comme des Garcons is known for fusing the masculine with the feminine, for example by combining traditional menswear tailoring with feminine printed fabrics or ruched details. The brand is also well known for its partnerships with artists such as New York-based choreographer Merce Cunningham as well as for its collaborations with brands such as Nike, Moncler and Louis Vuitton. Comme des Garcons is a red carpet darling and brand of choice for many celebrities including Bjork, Tilda Swinton and ASAP Rocky. The brand has also successfully launched a number of sub-labels including the one with the ‘heart logo’ better known as ‘Commes des Garcons Play’ (a casual luxury line and firm favourite of Kanye West, Pharell Williams, and Justin Timberlake).
Junya Watanabe was born in Fukushima in 1961 and is a protege of Rei Kawakubo. He began his apprenticeship at Kawakubo's brand ‘Comme des Garcons’ in 1987 and went on to become the head designer and pattern maker for the brands Tricot knitwear line as well as for the ‘Comme des Garcons Hommes’ line. Starting in 1992 Watanabe began work on his own brand ‘Junya Watanabe’ under Comme des Garcons. Known for his intelligent and technological approach to fashion, Watanabe's designs are characterised by his use of advanced technologies and unusually structured aesthetic. Like Comme des Garcons, many of Watanabes designs become coveted collector's items and the brand is a firm favourite of the insider fashion ‘clique’.
Yohji Yamamoto (山本 耀司 )
Yohji Yamamoto is a Japanese fashion designer born in 1943. Yamamoto actually graduated with a law degree before deciding to assist his mother with her dressmaking shop. This is where Yamamoto learnt his tailoring skills. Considered a master tailor, Yamamoto is known for his avant-garde style which sits outside of current trends. His oversized draped cuts are designed to be ambiguous in terms of gender. Yamamoto has said of his designs that "I think that my men's clothes look as good on women as my women's clothing […] When I started designing, I wanted to make men's clothes for women." Yamamoto's clothes are primarily designed in black, a color which he says communicates the message of ‘"I don’t bother you - don’t bother me". Yamamoto's main fashion line is ‘Yohji Yamamoto (women/men). He also has a streetwear brand Y’s as well as the men's line ‘Pour Homme’. He has also collaborated with brands such as Adidas and Hermes as well as with artists such as Pina Bausch, Tina Turner and Elton John.
Kenzo Takada (高田 賢三 )
Born in 1939, Kenzo Takada studied fashion at Tokyo's Bunka Fashion College. Inspired by french designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Takada moved to Paris in 1965 and initially made a living selling fashion sketches to french fashion houses for 25 Franks each. With very little money at his disposal he began to buy fabrics from flea markets and combined the different patterns and textures into eclectic colorful garments. With his bold and Kaleidoscopic aesthetic Takada eventually caught the attention of the fashion press and in 1970 Elle Magazine featured one of his coats on the cover. Takadas main line ‘Kenzo’ was well known for its extravagant fashion shows during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. For example, one show was held in a circus tent and featured performers in transparent uniforms with Takada himself riding an elephant. As well as the main ‘Kenzo’ line, Takada also developed a successful range of perfumes, a menswear line and a children's line called ‘Kenzo Jungle’. In 1993 Takada sold his entire brand to French luxury goods company LVMH.
Chisato Tsumori (津森 千里)
Chisato Tsumori was born in the Japanese city of Saitama and like Kenzo Takada, studied fashion at Tokyo's Bunka Fashion College. She initially worked with Issey Miyake under the ‘Issey Sports’ line which was later renamed to "I.S. Chisato Tsumori Designs. In 1990 Tsumori started her own line and moved to Paris. Best known for her wonderful prints which are a blend of Manga, Japanese cuteness, Japanese art and various other sources, Tsumori has built up a loyal following of customers. The brand continues to expand with new store locations opening regularly.
Kansai Yamamoto (山本 寛斎)
Kansai Yamamoto was born in Yokohama in 1944. After completing his studies in civil engineering and english, he went on to study fashion at Bunka Fashion College in 1967. Yamamoto apprenticed for Japanese fashion designer Junko Koshino and Hisashi Hosono before opening his own fashion company the ‘Yamamoto Kansai Company, Ltd’ in 1971. One of the first Japanese designers to move to Europe (before Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto ) Yamamoto is known for his avant gardist designs which reference Japanese art and theatre. Credited with renewing interest in the traditional Kimono, Kansai Yamamoto was commissioned by David Bowie to design the costumes for his Ziggy Stardust tour. The costumes consisted of widely cut and printed Kimono, extravagant silhouettes and suits made out of synthetic shiney materials. Kansai Yamamoto's fascination with the Japanese concept of Basara, the love of colour, flamboyance and bold colour put him in stark contrast to other Japanese designers at the time such as Yohji Yamamato and Kawakubo. In the 1990’s as the trend moved towards a more minimalistic aesthetic Kansai Yamamoto felt there was no longer any space to present his aesthetic vision and decided to show his final collection in 1992
Yoshiyuki Miyamae works as the head designer at Issey Miyake. Notoriously private Miyamae has non-the-less established himself as one of the best Japanese modern designers of today. Keeping in line with the brands innovative approach to fashion, Miyamae combines technology and Japanese craftsmanship in his work. Through an endless process of trial and error Miyamae has developed a new system for pleating fabrics called ‘3D Steam Stretch’. The 3D Steam Stretch technology harnesses and combines the existing pleat technologies first developed by Issey Miyake: PLEATS and A-POC. 3D Steam Stretch technology allows for never-seen-before 3d pleated surfaces to be created. These 3D shapes created from a single piece of cloth promise a future of unlimited potential for making clothes.
Junko Shimada was born in Japan in 1961 is known as the most ‘french’ of the Japanese fashion designers. Shimada worked as the head designer for the French fashion house Cacharel and in 1984 she opened her own boutique in Paris. Shimada is known for her feminine silhouette, often sculpting the female form in concentric circles. Shimada's pieces have been worn by Lady Gaga. Her clothing is very popular in Japan and Japanese buyers form a large part of her audience.
Hanae Mori (森 英恵)
Hanae Mori was born in Japan in 1926 and is one of the only female Japanese fashion designers to have shown collections in both Paris and New York. She is also the first asian women to be admitted to the french official haute couture design house by the fédération française de la couture in France. Mori opened her fashion house in 1951 and spent the next several years designing costumes for movies. In 1965 she presented her first collection at New York Fashion Week and some years thereafter opened her first haute couture atelier in Paris. Mori’s signature design inspiration is the Butterfly and she is well known for her costume designs for operas including "Madame Butterfly" and "Elektra". Mori has also designed uniforms for Japan airlines as well as designing the wedding dress of Princess Masako, Crown Princess of Japan. Mori’s designs have been worn by Hillary Clinton, Nancy Reagan and Princess Grace of Monaco. Hanae Mori is now retired but she continues to produce fragrances for her perfume line ‘Hanae Mori Parfums.’
Hanae Mori Campaign
Tadashi Shoji is an American based Japanese fashion designer known for his glamorous red carpet ready dresses. Having studied fine art in Japan Shoji initially apprenticed with the Japanese artist Jiro Takamatsuwhere he spent three years creating conceptual art in the artists studio. Shoji moved to the United States in 1973 and studied fashion at the Los Angeles Trade–Technical College. During his time as a student Shoji apprenticed for costume designer Bill Whitten. Bill Whitten has designing stage costumes for, amongst others, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Neil Diamond. Shoji opened his own boutique in 1982 stating that ‘he was inspired to branch out on his own when he noticed that women had few choices in the contemporary market when it came to special occasion dresses’. His dresses, designed to flatter the female form, were made using couture tailoring techniques combined with skillful engineering. Shojis evening dresses are a firm celebrity favourite and can often be spotted on the red carpet. Some of his celebrity clients include Kate Hudson, Helen Mirren, Demi Lovato, Drew Barrymore, Miranda Kerr.
Follow Modern Archive on Instagram
Browse the Blog
Modern Archive is an online space for textile lovers. We're especially obsessed with everything to do with Japanese Kimonos, Ai-zome and Shibori - We write about things that we like in our kimono magazine and occasionally host pop-up events. Find us on Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook. Send us an email to hellomodernarchive@gmail (or blow us a kiss).