Yohji Yamamoto, the designer who invented Sartorial Sportswear.
Fashion had become boring. [...] At that time New York businessmen had started wearing sneakers along with their suits. It was strange but also incredibly fascinating, a hybrid." Yohji Yamamoto.
Together with Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake, he rewrote the lexicon of Haute Couture.
What atmospheres and suggestions must Tokyo must have offered in the 1970s to have exploded with the three talents who changed the structure of fashion, inviting the world to think about new possible silhouettes, architectures applied to clothes, illusory structures that transform into volumes and materials?
We are talking about the three designers made in Tokyo: Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake.
In this editorial we will focus on Yohji Yamamoto, the tailor who invented signature streetwear and reworked a new, cosmopolitan, urban elegance.
Yamamoto entered the fashion world in 1970, after earning a law degree and completing his studies at the famous Bunkafukuso Gakuin, Tokyo‘s leading design institute.
His career focused mainly on women’s clothing design, despite his incredible manual and craftsmanship skills; in 1977 he presented his first collection under the label Y’s, a name he would retain as the fashion house’s second line; together with Kawakubo, he designed the first women’s ready-to-wear line, and a few years later the two began experimenting with new shapes, volumes, and proportions, paving the way for deconstructed fashion.
In 1984, Yohji launched his men’s line, following the same rules pioneered for the new women’s aesthetic: natural fabrics, such as wool and cotton, shaped and manipulated into pure sculptural forms, displaying incredible pattern-making and tailoring techniques.
The invention of Sartorial Sportswear.
After drawing enough inspiration from the streets and streetstyle of Tokyo, Yohji Yamamoto begins to take an interest in American yuppies, young Wall Street shareholders, gritty businessmen and career women in Milan, Paris and London.
He observes their elegant style, mixed with casual and sporty style, to cope with the stressful and long working days, the length and breadth of the world’s economic capitals.
The importance of the color black, the genderless style before it becomes a global trend (several times he chose female models for men’s fashion shows), and the mixture of erotic charm and austerity, make his brand appreciated even in the industrialized West: men and businesswomen wear Yamamoto’s white shirts in combination with black suits, as they express a certain economic power, sophistication and conformity.
Yamamoto becomes a Status Symbol.
“Fashion had become boring. […] At that time New York businessmen had started wearing sneakers along with their suits. It was strange but also incredibly fascinating, a hybrid.“
In his approach, he is exceptionally sensitive to contemporary trends, perfectly intercepting what people want to wear in order to feel fully comfortable, while still applying the “strict” and rigorous codes of his style language.
“Whether a season’s fashion is interesting or not does not depend on the designers who created it, but on those who see and buy it.”
He experimented, between the 1990s and the 2000s, with a new narrative of intellectual-minimal elegance, involving a miscellany of millimeter-accurate tailored garments – made from the highest quality fabrics – applied to silhouettes harking back to the world of sports: essential pieces to be worn casually, whether with a pinstripe suit or a pair of sneakers.
The birth of Y-3
In 2000, Yohji Yamamoto contacted Nike proposing a collaboration, the response was lapidary: “Thank you Mr. Yamamoto, but we will not make high fashion, we are only interested in sportswear.”
Sometime later, the Japanese designer contacted his other favorite brand: adidas.
Unlike Nike, the brand with the three stripes immediately accepted, at a time when this kind of collaboration would have come as a shock to the industry and the brand’s most loyal fanbase.
It begins, with the 2003 collection, the first collaboration in history between a high-fashion designer and a sportswear brand: Y-3.
Y-3 is almost a stunner for the fashion and sportswear world: a revolutionary collaboration, balancing two aesthetic codes light years apart that, despite initial skepticism, wins everyone over. Collections must always act as a counterbalance between the parties, avoiding any one prevailing over the other: if there are too many stripes, the designer’s touch is hidden; conversely, if it takes over, adidas’s image may suffer.
The result of this balancing act are oversized cut pieces, essential hoodies harking back to Japanese aesthetics, mix-and-match dresses between sports and haute couture, blazers with generous scatterings of the Y-3 logo and the three stripes
By mid-2000, Y-3 is already topping the market, opening its first store in NY’s West Village to be followed by others around the world.
As Vogue wrote about the Y-3 AW2017 collection:
“Of course, the refined Y-3 formula, now used by adidas and other sports brands, is amazing: crossing the world-renowned brand with a brand that is only felt among the fashionable public.
As a result, we have a brand that stands out because it has one foot in the world of high fashion and the other in sportswear that is accessible and familiar to everyone.”
The label will anticipate future adidas collaborations with Raf Simons and Rick Owens as much as the one between Jun Takahashi and Nike.