EXPLORING THE YAMAMOTO CULT.
Byline: Lawrence Chua, April 1988
Very frankly, I think I’m always designing clothes for women who don’t exist,” admits Yohji Yamamoto, whose first freestanding U.S. boutique officially opened on Friday.
Flocks of women, however, have been coming to the store here since its actual opening three weeks ago. According to estimates of Yohji Yamamoto Inc., sales for those initial three weeks have surpassed original projections. The firm expects sales for the first year to exceed $1.5 million.
Just as his women’s designs seem to always be on the fringe of fashion, Yamamoto’s store is on the fringe of SoHo at 103 Grand Street. The store, with about 3,000 square feet, looks more rustic English than concrete Japanese.
In spite of the pretense that so often accompanies his name and styles, Yamamoto describes himself as a dressmaker and a tailor, rather than a designer. In addition to his new store, Yamamoto owns freestanding boutiques in London, Paris and Tokyo.
Although Yamamoto has said his ideal customer is an older woman, the cult that buys his clothes with a near-religious fervor is decidedly young. “From childhood, young people today can easily understand that to lead a life is very hard work, so they want to be old quickly and finish it as soon as possible,” he speculates.
The Yamamoto cult shares an affinity with his contemporary and companion Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garcons collection. When asked whether the new store will compete with the new Kawakubo boutique, he smiles and says, “It’s a nice competition.”
Explaining why he opened the shop, Yamamoto said, “I wanted to show the total collection, not just what’s selected by retailers. Otherwise, there is room for misunderstanding.”
Overcoming misunderstanding is a Yamamoto priority. The designer came to U.S. notoriety in the early Eighties, alongside the amorphous shapes and avant-garde looks of Comme des Garcons and Mitsuhiro Matsuda.
Yamamoto has gone through a bumpy course since then, evolving out of the gray and baggy looks that once characterized the words “Japanese fashion” and moving into a more tailored period. Yamamoto confesses that he’s still struggling to define the Yamamoto woman.
“It changes constantly,” he says, turning eventually to his interpreter to finish the thought. “It’s almost as if you’re married to a woman. One day she is the ideal woman and the next day you hate her.”
“If everybody started wearing my type of clothing,” he admits, “I would be dispirited. I would just lose myself.”
— Yohji Yamamoto, March 1996