Yohji Yamamoto talks to Filep Motwary, Vogue Greece, October 2023

Mr. Yamamoto, what was your perspective of fashion before you got involved in it?

If I can say, a little bit twisted message, or my personal sincerity. When I graduated from Keio University, I wanted to be nothing else. Because in Keio University, I had 8 to 12 friends from very rich families. And every time I was invited to their houses, they were living in gorgeous houses. They even had tennis court in. Can you believe that? So when I was arriving, third year university student, it was a moment the students started to think which company they will choose and preparing for the test. But friends of mine, they are 80% of all my friend. They are not pushed to try the difficult test to enter famous company because they had their family businesses. They were waiting. So from that moment, I became not angry, but a little bit far from them mentally, far from my classmates. I went on a cheap trip for three, four months from Russia to Europe. At that moment, I was traveling alone. And in that meaning, in the condition, I was standing in a very isolated position. At the same time, I started to become a little bit angry about the society. Society, as you know, is not always fair. But at the same time, when I visited Morocco, Tunisia, I met so many people who were not rich, and maybe in French or English, I don’t remember, I could communicate with humble people. And I felt, oh, I found my partners in the other side of the world. And I started from that feeling.
So I really hated fashion because in that moment, fashion was aiming how to be gorgeous, how to show I’m rich, I’m going, you know. And naturally, I had to stand on the other side of this philosophy, this sense of beauty. So after helping my mother’s atelier I started doing ready to wear. Because my mother told me, after I started helping her shop, three years or four years, she told me “Yohji, you can manage the create your own atelier.” So I could manage and I created my own company.

How is the fitting for Yohji Yamamoto POUR HOMME 2024 S/S collection?

At the first fitting for this season, I asked the atelier to make this new sleeve. Because they have enough experience for making men’s outfit. But this time I told them not to make the man’s usual cutting. So they struggled, I told them I am not coming back to the old tailored man’s sleeves. So finally they accepted and it is really going well! I think the collection is light, beautiful and even girls can wear it.

What keeps you going after more than 50 years on the fashion? business?

Factories are decreasing every year in the Fashion Industry. Even thread making, fabric making, and sewing companies that have high technique and are disappearing… They are living treasures, but disappearing… we are losing the know-how and craftsmanship of very good sewing and fabric companies in Japan and you have to answer me. Do you think fashion industry when we talk about fashion industry, do we have a good basic fabric maker, thread maker, sewing maker maybe in Italy, maybe in Japan? So I feel natural I can’t stop this job because if we stop, we’re going to lose the fashion industry. It sounds too arrogant maybe…We have to speak about this point strongly.


What is astonishing about you is that from your start in Paris in 1981 until today, you have established a signature that is truly your own. So the 80s was a time of great excess and your creative vision was far from that. So this is what you explained. How do you remember yourself in those days?

I was born in Kabuki-cho with only my mother and I have no memory about my father. But after graduating from the university, I started helping my mother’s shop. So, number one, Kabuki-cho is in the center of Tokyo in bad meaning and I was thinking myself, I hated Japan because Japanese Governor and army, they sent my father to the front at the end of the Second World War. The last words my father told my mother “I was gifted by the army, the summer outfit.” At that moment, Japanese army is losing, losing, losing, losing. So finally, the uniform was made in the cheapest fabric. But at that moment Japanese army they didn’t treat well human beings they treated them like toys. Unfortunately, he was that unlucky age to be sent to fight. My father was sent to the south. At that moment Japanese army didn’t have big boats. They used fishing boats and they put the wooden pole looks like big gun and painted in dark green. Can you believe it? And after he left, maybe two years later, a little yellow paper was delivered to my mother saying “Mr.Yamamoto died in very hard fight in Manila district in Philippines.” It’s a lie. The boys didn’t arrive to Manilla. I read so many war rapports when I was in junior high and a high school, the one guy who came back from the war luckily he told to my mother in Manila harbour so many Japanese ships were sinking, there is no chance to get in there. We were surrounded by so many lies of Japanese army and government. So naturally I started calling me I’m a Tokyo-guy, not Japanese. But when I presented my first fashion show in Paris, they called me “le japonais”. At that moment, I did not think I am a Japanese. I don’t think so. I’m Tokyo-boy. But “le japonais” continued long time. As you know, “le japonais” means Yamamoto because we did something “anti”. We made broken outfits. It became very famous and so many journalists hated it. But some of the journalists, some of fashion specialists they liked us. Finally, naturally it became a kind of war.

What is the role of the body in what you do? has the approach to the body change through the years for you?

After graduating from the university, I went to Bunka Fashion School and one strange thing happened. On the first day of the school, I was sitting on a long table on the left side of the classroom, listening to the teacher’s explanation about how to study. Then one girl asked me “Can I sit here?” “Yes” I answered – and she became my wife. We got married because we became close. Because when I started making patterns, very basic technique, especially this kind of embroidery, I couldn’t do it. So I asked her to help me. So naturally we became close. I thought at that time when I become close to a girl, I thought, I had to marry her. I was a stupid dreamer. Pure, badly pure. I was not prepared for that. I think I’m not answering the question.

Your vision of body. And if this vision of body changed also through the years?

First time after getting married, first time I saw and looked, watched women’s body. My first wife, because she was charming and she had very beautiful body.
When I graduated from Bunka Fashion School they gave me the most honorable price. This price sent me to Paris. And I went to Paris when I was 24 or 25 years old. And I was staying in very small, tiny second floor room. I had no sink nor toilet. For the toilet I had to come down and pay. One or two francs. I don’t remember. I was staying about a year there. And I had a surprise…. My wife was pregnant and my son was born when I was in Paris. I’m telling a secret.

It’s nice to hear some secrets from you.

The owner of the apartment, she was smiling and laughing because I looked so young. For them, I looked very young. So my son came out to the world when I was in Paris, because after that, when we started the small couture company the family became three.

About the body and woman, you say that for you, a woman body is like being in the desert and it’s beautiful.

I am a researcher of the body. Every time I’m introduced to a new model, I found every girl, every model, they have different body like face – the shoulder, the length of the waist are different.

Your work incorporates so many aspects from haute couture, you have reformed the body in so many occasions, either through volume, by constructing crinolines, irregular shapes and florist draping, incomplete silhouette, embellished dress, hand weaved surface and so on. However, you place yourself within the context of ready to wear. Why?

Very first moment when I started Paris collection, even in Tokyo, the “Couture Salons” were disappearing in Japan. And in Paris there were already so many Haute Couture designers but people said that in the world, the Couture customers were only 300 persons, and that’s right. So naturally I decided to start as a ready-to-wear company. But I started and learned all at the Couture salon of my mother. This is why I have Couture and Ready-to-wear all in my mind and work – all mixed.

What about the latest Yohji Yamamoto A/W 2023-24 collections you’ve presented in March 2023? What was the starting point of the creation?

I told my atelier that I want to come back to the first moment I started the collection in Paris. Broken outfit, dirty outfit, so we should make dirty outfit. Don’t make red carpet beauty. So when I wanted to make very simple outfit for the very final four looks with models walking barefoot if you remember, my team was like “oh, no”. And my grandson, came to the rehearsal moment before the show and the real show. And after looking at my real show, he sent me an email writing that it was so beautiful. “Fucking gorgeous show, grandpa.” My grandson could understand. I was surprised.

Does fashion critic matter to you? Are you curious to hear how others observe what you create even after so many years of doing it? I’m interested to know the reasons these observations might interest you?

Please let me speak very frankly. Outfit cannot, really cannot be explained by words. It’s impossible. Did you feel something? This feeling is very important. Don’t try to translate this feeling into words. I don’t like it. So I don’t explain my collection but they want me to explain every time why did I create this collection? So I have to tell stories..

What is the biggest risk you take when designing a collection?

Biggest risk? It is when I have no imagination, no impact, no excitement. When I face those situations, I ask to the sky. Sky means, you know, maybe asking to my father or I don’t know somebody gave me idea and emotion. It falls and I catch it. This is a very nice moment. So look at my studio… my mess.. my chaos…this mess …how many times I looked at old magazines when I don’t have any imagination. I don’t catch new emotion. New emotion comes when I drive and stop in front of the crossing when the traffic light became red so I have to stop and the people pass in front of me…women, girls passing in front of me… they give me some idea not all but some point I feel “Oh” I can simply say “Oh”. And I’m always thankful to my creating team – pattern makers, they can realize my ideas into real outfit. This is magic.


Yohji Yamamoto is a Japanese fashion designer based in Tokyo and Paris. Considered a master tailor alongside those such as Madeleine Vionnet, he is known for his avant-garde tailoring featuring Japanese design aesthetics.