For fashion and Yohji Yamamoto, it wasn’t love at first sight, at least as far as the industry was concerned. When a young Yamamoto graduated from Tokyo’s Keio University with a degree in law, and later, a degree in fashion design from Bunka Fashion College in 1969, he found himself in an uncomfortable position - after months spent traveling across Europe, presenting his fashion sketches to magazines and editors, he wasn't able to sell a single one. Disappointed, he returned to his hometown of Tokyo to work for his mother's dressmaking shop. With dreams of his own ready-to-wear line, Yamamoto continued designing. Eventually he produced a collection of raincoats that was snatched up by a Japanese buyer. In 1972 he launched the Yohji Yamamoto label.
In 1981, Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons – his girlfriend at the time – debuted a joint ready-to-wear collection in Paris. Their strange looks were unlike anything the fashion industries in Paris and Tokyo had ever seen: models walked the runway cloaked in voluminous, billowing silhouettes, tattered and draped. The industry was speechless, but not for long. The collection was soon condemned. Headlines sneeringly dubbed it “Hiroshima chic,” and struck down the designers as “the Japanese Offensive.” But Yamamoto fought to have his designs understood, refusing to adapt to the trends of the time or change his progressive aesthetic, and the industry’s elite gradually accepted and finally fell in love with the designer’s radical avant-garde sensibility.
Despite his struggle to break into the industry, Yamamoto has grown to become one of the most respected designers of his time. Today, he assumes complete creative control of not only his mainline collection and diffusion line Y's, but also his collaborative brands with Hermes, Mikimoto, and his adidas-produced sportswear line, Y-3. Yamamoto’s work continues to revolve around texture and textile, in much the same way as his now-iconic debut collection. “Fabric is everything,” the designer once famously said, referring to the way his textiles inspire him: embroidery, draping, gathering, and Shibori dye treatments have all become Yamamoto’s signatures. He is celebrated for his unusual silhouettes (more often than not cut in black, his favorite color), his masterful tailoring and craftsmanship, and fearless aesthetic. His pioneering role in the industry continues to develop: the latest interactive campaign for Y-3, directed by photographer Pierre Debusschere, allows viewers to create their own editorial by mixing audio-visual effects with different looks from the line’s Spring 13 collection.
Yamamoto has been the subject of retrospectives and documentaries like 2011's exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum which paid tribute to his accomplishments in fashion, or last year's short film Yohji Yamamoto: This is My Dream - the trailer for which can be viewed at right - which followed the designer as he created his Spring 10 collection for Y-3. Later this month Berlin’s MADE gallery will be hosting a video installation entitled 5 Cuts: A Visual Dialogue, a work focused on his creative vision outside of dressmaking and design. Exhibited by Yamamoto himself, 5 Cuts runs from April 27th to May 5th 2013.