The BoF Podcast | Inside Yohji Yamamoto’s Fashion Philosophy

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After graduating from Keio University with a law degree, Yohji Yamamoto realised he wasn’t interested in the law.

“I didn’t want to join the ordinary society,” he says. “So I told my mother after graduation … ‘I want to help you.’”

She agreed to let him work at her dressmaking shop in Kabukicho, an entertainment district in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward, and learn from the sewing assistants if he enrolled at Bunka Fashion College, now famous for training designers such as Kenzo Takada, Junya Watanabe and Yamamoto himself.

After graduating, Yamamoto went on to set up a small ready-to-wear company that slowly acquired buyers in all of Japan’s major cities. This success eventually led him to Paris, where his signature tailoring and draping in oversized silhouettes created an aesthetic earthquake at Paris Fashion Week in 1981.

Since then, Yamamoto has developed a cult following of loyalists who swear by his avant-garde designs. “I’m not working in the mainstream,” he says. “I’m working in the side stream.”

This week on The BoF Podcast, we revisit Imran Amed’s rare interview with the legendary Japanese designer about his storied career — and the mindset designers need to succeed.

  • Yamamoto says the fashion industry’s increasingly fast pace has come at the expense of true creativity. “For me the fashion business became a money business,” he said. “I felt I’ve been losing my competitors year by year.”
  • Yamamoto believes that modern technology can be a distraction. “When I speak with young designers, I [tell] them shut your computer,” he said. “If you really want to see real things, real beauty, you have to go there by walking.”
  • Yamamoto believes it’s a designer’s job to completely immerse themselves in design. “If you want to create something, keep resisting the mediocracy of ordinary things. It’s a life’s work. Are you ready to sacrifice yourself to create something?”

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