Interview by Filep Motwary
Following eight years of working for Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanabe, Japanese fashion designer Chitose Abe created her label Sacai in 1999. Her powerfully pragmatic aesthetic has turned Sacai into one of the most interesting brands presenting collections in Paris, with an international fan base that is growing day by day. Its relatable and coherent style mixes sporty and urban silhouettes to create incredibly desirable pieces. Filep Motwary spoke to the quietly committed designer in Tokyo right after her menswear presentation in Paris.
FILEP MOTWARY: While the Sacai menswear line is still fresh, could you walk me through the very beginning when you launched it compared to now? What were the defining moments that reflect the brand’s signature?
CHITOSE ABE: At the beginning, I was trying to find the best way for how Sacai should be for menswear. It took about three seasons for me to realize I should create only what I feel, and follow my instincts exactly like I did with the womenswear collection. This would be the only way for Sacai to stay faithful to what it stands for as well as for this approach to be our strongest point as a brand.
FM: There is something undeniably masculine about your designs. How would you define the Sacai style?
CA: Sacai is based on universal and classic items while we are proposing a new style by adding combinations of materials or items, patterns, classic and elegant elements.
FM: The a/w16-17 collection was filled with layers, jackets folding into sweaters, sweatshirts, blown-up bandana prints and collegiate stripes in butter-soft sheepskin… What inspires you when working on menswear and how linked is your work with the question of consumerism?
CA: What we presented was mostly about what I feel through my daily life in Tokyo with a little discomfort that became the inspiration. The Sacai spirit and design is embodied through my daily life in this big city. I do not design things that should fit the market.
FM: For most people, buying high fashion is an investment. Should it be this way and to what extent do you feel responsible towards the customer?
CA: I do not feel responsible, however I would say that it’s important to keep on creating the collection based on what customers desire and actually wear.
FM: Sacai is already 18 years old, and you had your first women’s catwalk show in 2011 which almost instantly gained critical acclaim. How has success changed the brand?
CA: It became possible to introduce our show to more people in a speedy way, in just like 10 minutes. This was a big change for Sacai. Along with that, a lot of people are now aware of the brand and it is true that we are receiving project proposals—much more than we did before. The environment has changed dramatically. However, my team and I have not changed and we continue to do what we are good at.
FM: What are your views on women and womenswear, generally and specifically?
CA: There is no specific female image. Sacai has always been based on the idea of designing from personal day-to-day experiences. This doesn’t mean everyday clothes—it means that my team and I are living in Japan and are affected by what we come across, see and feel everyday. Therefore the designs are born from our Tokyo life; if my daily life changes, the design will also follow.
FM: Is there a methodology or philosophical framework within which you work?
CA: It always needs to have originality in the design, the business and everything related to the brand.
FM: What are the main technical concerns in your collections? And what about your editing process? What is your strong point?
CA: It is a hybrid. While based on universal classics, we try to create new values, designs and forms by combining a variety of factors as well as extreme opposites. Rather than having just a simple hybrid, we always try for our designs to have another meaning within. It is what we believe to be the strongest aspect of Sacai. For the creative process, the development of the fabrics and the design image, they all start at the same time. Then we discuss everything in an abstract way and lastly we finalize the forms. One of the most important elements for Sacai is the material we work with; the design image is only the base. Before an idea takes its final shape, I have long discussions with my pattern makers even during the placements and settings of the toile.
FM: How difficult is it to create collections that speak to both the individuality of the brand and to current trends?
CA: It is never an easy process. We always continue to offer something fresh along with new values. I think this is my job and duty as a designer.
FM: In the 90s, fashion went global as a result of the expanding worldwide web and there was a proliferation of modern, functional clothes that were transcultural. How would you describe today’s scene?
CA: I think that it is a great environment we live in, as you can feel the world is closer. You can easily gain information and various different items. However, because we are in such a state, globally, I feel that it’s important to actually touch and feel, see, experience—not only in fashion but also in any other aspect of life itself.
FM: How difficult it is to achieve functional results, embrace practicality and maintain luxury?
CA: We always believe there should be a reality in our designs; I never felt any difficulty in particular. The balance of luxury combined with reality is the originality of Sacai.
FM: Why do we always try to reinvent the silhouette?
CA: To create new sets of values. This is what fashion should be, I guess.
FM: Is there still room for invention in fashion?
CA: I believe so.
FM: Is there a bad version and a good version of what you do? How passionate are you about the things you believe in?
CA: I only make the things that I am fully satisfied with. Sometimes I’m thinking about work on my day off, even while I fall asleep. I feel that there is nothing more fun than when I am designing in the studio. And this is not an exaggerated statement. My hobby is my work.