NEW YORK — Booked your flight to Paris for the couture yet? You might just want to change your departure date. Because Yohji Yamamoto has decided to show his spring ready-to-wear collection on July 7, the eve of haute couture.

This story first appeared in the June 3, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The show, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the Grand Foyer of the Opera Garnier, will be followed by a launch party for Yamamoto’s book, “Talking to Myself,” at the home of Azzedine Alaia.

According to Yamamoto, the move is permanent; he will show his fall collection in Paris in January. “This has been my dream for a long time,” he said by phone from Tokyo. “For a long time, I have wanted to show my things in front of comfortable numbers of people. The situation became very difficult, year by year. So many chairs have to be prepared, and we have so many headaches about it. Naturally, it became a big show.”

Yamamoto likes the idea of a setting intimate enough for people to “smell the fabrics,” and will arrange the space to accommodate an audience of 300 to 350. On a practical matter, he looks forward to a prompt start: “The show always starts one hour late, but it’s not our fault. I’m always ready.” Another reason, he explained, “is that from the beginning, I was thinking that I’m not a standard fashion designer,” calling himself “lazy” about trends.

Which apparently gets to the heart of the matter: Yamamoto admitted to a fish-out-water feeling when he evaluates where he fits into the traditional ready-to-wear picture. “It’s very clear. I rarely meet people wearing my clothes in the street,” he said. [They] became a specialized, selective thing,” while the work of other designers is more broadly accepted. “Like Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford. When I pass by their shops, something is shining. Something is right for the time.Sometimes I feel that I’m out of it, I mean I’m old. And sometimes I feel that something is missing,” said the Tokyo-born designer, who turns 60 next year.

Yamamoto said that genuine design competition has decreased as the ready-to-wear collections have become more and more frenetic and marketing-driven: “I felt that I was losing real competitors.” He defined that group as “designers who [develop] their own real creation, not like using a fashion show as an advertisement. Some designers are very powerful and good, but when I look simply at the clothing, I find that now designers are struggling to find real new ways of cutting and new creation.”

While Yamamoto has mulled such a move for some time, it was Yves Saint Laurent’s retirement retrospective last January that prodded him to finally do it. “I felt something very strongly,” he said, trying to articulate the fusion of tradition and edge that he recognized in the show. “I was surprised. In this contemporary age, I find that there is no difference between haute couture and ready-to-wear.”

While the fashion schedule often seems sacrosanct, recent years have seen plenty of shifts, usually surrounded by ample discussion and drama. In 1998, the start of haute couture was pushed back two weeks to July 18 to avoid overlap with the World Cup in Paris. Similarly, the upcoming couture dates were slotted to avoid the Fourth of July holiday in the U.S. And just last month, after major negotiation, an agreement was reached between 7th on Sixth and the British Fashion Council for a one-time swapping of dates, so that the spring ready-to-wear collections here would not conflict with the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. As reported, the BFC agreed to lead off the spring 2003 collections Sept. 12-17, followed by the New York shows Sept. 18 -23.

The last time a major designer made a unilateral decision to buck the system and show when he wanted to, it caused a mini-revolution in the international fashion schedule. That was back in 1998, when Helmut Lang shocked everyone by announcing that he would show his collection in New York before the start of the European collections. If more than a few designers follow Yamamoto’s lead now, it could transform the traditional haute couture season from a relatively genteel and stress-free week for retailers and press into a mini rtw season with much of the accompanying madness. Several seasons ago, no one followed Alaia when he showed a small collection during couture, and Yamamoto does not expect a Lang-like copycat shift this time around. “Let me say that I am not so powerful to change the total calendar.” said Yamamoto.

Yamamoto’s intricately cut, often high-concept clothes are about as close to couture as ready-to-wear gets. In recent seasons, he has largely worked a street and athletic motif, inspired in part by his deal with Adidas. But his current direction was preceded by a period filled with high chic that approached haute, with references to Vionnet, Chanel and Irving Penn among others, as well as a spectacular collection for spring ’98 worked entirely around a bridal theme. Yet Yamamoto remains dedicated to-ready-to-wear.

“I naturally create while cutting and pattern-making, and am always struggling to find new silhouettes or new forms,” he said. “But I’m not aiming at haute couture. It’s simply creation…I would like to prove that clothes are clothes and creation is creation.” Still, he intends to develop a small made-to-order business.

Yamamoto expects the date of his show to cause some problems because far fewer store executives and editors attend the couture than ready-to-wear. “I’m a bit worried about retailers,” he acknowledged, and said he will push about 20 key retailers to attend.

While he wants a break from the raucous nature of the ready-to-wear season, the designer sees that type of frenzy as essential to fashion. “This kind of week should be exciting,” Yamamoto said. “Lots of people come from all over the world. It’s time for that. Sometimes I enjoy it. But for my real work, I would like to have a break. I would like to have distance.” Yet not too much distance. In October, Yamamoto may do a presentation for his Y’s collection, which does significant business in Asia but has very little distribution in Europe and the U.S.

He noted that shifting his ready-to-wear collection to a July-January schedule is ultimately a selfish move that will allow him to focus more closely on the clothes. “Before, I had to think about the situation or marketing, but now, by changing into couture timing, I can very much focus on my own interests. It might not be the street or an athletic situation,” he said. “I’ll be free.””

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