The Fabulous Designer Yohji Yamamoto

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Yohji Yamamoto is known for the avant-garde spirit of his clothing, . His signature oversized silhouettes in black often feature drapery in varying textures.

Born in Tokyo, Yamamoto graduated from Keio University with a degree in law in 1966. His mother was a dressmaker who had a shop in in Kabukicho (an amusement and entertainment district in Tokyo’s Shinjuku). After graduating, he realised a law career was not for him. “I didn’t want to join the ordinary society,” he told BoF. “So I told my mother after graduation…I want to help you.” Yamamoto’s mother agreed to let him work at her shop, saying he could learn from the sewing assistants. At her request, he also enrolled at Bunka Fashion College, now famous for training designers including Kenzo Takada, Junya Watanabe and Yamamoto himself.

After graduating from Bunka, he received a prize to go to Paris for a year, but it was back in Japan that Yamamoto began to discover his true voice as a designer. He set up a small ready-to-wear company that slowly acquired buyers in all the major cities in Japan. The success turned his thoughts back to Paris, and at the beginning of the 1980s Yamamoto returned to the French capital to open his first shop.

Since then, Yamamoto has developed a dedicated global following. His two main lines Yohji Yamamoto and Y’s are stocked in high-end department stores worldwide and, in 2007, clocked sales above $100 million, according to the company. Yamamoto’s other lines include Pour Homme, Costume d’Homme and Regulation Yohji Yamamoto.

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Yamamoto has also collaborated with a number of brands, including Adidas (Y-3), Hermès, Mikimoto and Mandarina Duck; and with artists such as Tina Turner, Sir Elton John, Placebo, Takeshi Kitano, Pina Bausch and Heiner Müller.

Poor decisions by finance managers pushed the brand into debts of more than $65 million in 2009, which angered Yamamoto and led to a company restructuring. The private equity firm Integral Corp restructured Yohji Yamamoto Inc. and by November 2010 the company was out of debt.

Yamamoto has been recognized for his contributions to fashion with awards including the Chevalier of Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon, the Ordre national du Mérite, the Royal Designer for Industry and the Master of Design award by Fashion Group International.

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