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Since launching the Sacai label in 1999, Chitose Abe has built a name for herself as fashion’s avant-garde darling. Her spliced-together designs, lauded by the likes of Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld, are a favorite among celebrities, with Pharrell Williams wearing Sacai at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, as well as in the video for his song “Marilyn Monroe.”
Abe crafted her first men’s offering, Sacai Gem, in 2006. That line can still be found at Dover Street Market in London, Tokyo, and New York. Starting with her Spring 2009 collection, she has added a more wide-reaching men’s brand, now stocked by 110 stores worldwide. She sat down with M in her Tokyo office to talk about what it’s like being a woman designing men’s clothing. —Kelly Wetherille
This story first appeared in the June 2, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
M: Where did you grow up, and when did you first become interested in fashion?
CHITOSE ABE: In Gifu Prefecture. It’s a very rural place in the mountains. I liked clothes from a young age, but when I was in about fifth grade, there was a fashion designer who came on TV. Until then, I didn’t know fashion designers even existed.
M: When did you realize you had a talent for design?
C.A.: I’ve never thought that, even up until now.
M: Have you always wanted to create clothes for men as well as women?
C.A.: No. Basically, I started by making clothes for myself to wear, so I never had men’s clothes in mind.
M: So when did you start thinking of making men’s clothing?
C.A.: In 2006, I was asked if I wanted to try making men’s clothes specially for 10 Corso Como in Aoyama. So I made a men’s line just for 10 Corso Como–Comme des Garçons for two years, and then everyone started asking me why I didn’t do men’s as a part of my main brand. And then I thought, Maybe I’ll try it.
M: You’ve said you design things that you yourself would like to wear. How do you design men’s clothes?
C.A.: It’s actually very difficult. Since I’m a woman and not a man, I do it by listening to the opinions of my male staff. But one important point is that there are many male designers who design for men, so it’s no use competing with them. I aim to express things that only Sacai—and myself, as a female designer—can do.
M: Has the philosophy behind Sacai’s men’s line changed?
C.A.: There was a time when I was always searching for the best way to do things from season to season. But no matter what, I don’t have the kind of intuition that a male designer might have, so I thought: In that case, if I make something that only I can make, it will end up being something new that doesn’t exist in the world. So that was one big change, when I settled on that way of thinking.
M: Do you think of a particular type of man when you design?
C.A.: I’ve never really thought of things like, “How old is he?” or “What type of job is he doing?” Even without clothes, our lives will still go on, but by wearing my clothes, I want people’s moods that day to be lifted a bit. I think I just want them to feel happy. It’s not a big thing; I don’t have an important job like a doctor or anything, but I always think of what I can do for people when they wear my clothes.
M: When you started your men’s line, did your husband [designer Junichi Abe, of Kolor] give you advice?
C.A.: No, we never do that. I don’t give him advice on designing for women, and the only way I even know what kind of clothes he’s making is when I sometimes see them in magazines or when I’m folding the laundry, and then I might think, Ah! This is what he does.