“Human energy is limitless”, was the motto of the late Japanese Fashion Designer Kansai Yamamoto.
Kansai Yamamoto, the dynamic fashion designer, died at the age of 76 in the Tokyo hospital. The cause of death has been myeloid leukemia. Yamamoto was known for his flamboyant style that was all about his love for color and unfettered imagination. He even explored the idea of genderless fashion that caught the eye. He has designed stage wear for David Bowie, Elton John, Lady Gaga, etc. Known for introducing Japanese designs in the western industry, Yamamoto has had a long and considerable journey in the fashion industry.
His signature style of having aesthetic shapes with clashing bold prints and textures were his forte. Eye-popping colors and vivid color combinations attracted the attention of the industry towards him. His debut collection was across the Harper and Queen magazine. His early works and distinctive style lead him to a long association with the decade’s most important showmen, including Stevie Wonder and Elton John. David Bowie and Kansai Yamamoto have had a longstanding creative friendship for over decades.
“Color is like the oxygen we are both breathing in the same space,” Kansai said of his work with David Bowie.
He was born on February 8, 1944, in Yokohama, Japan. Yamamoto never had a happy childhood. His parents got divorced when he was only seven and later was sent to a children’s home from time to time. He and his two younger brothers aged 3 and 5, later traveled from Yokohama to Tokyo and then to the southwestern province of Kochi. His father was a tailor who taught him to sew clothes.
He studied civil engineering till 1962 and later left to pursue English at the Nippon University. A self-taught fashion designer, he founded his own business, Yamamoto Kansai Company at 28.
Kansai’s interest was always centric towards traditional Japanese clothing and craftsmanship. He believed in keeping them distinctive and flourishing. Yamamoto gained global prominence due to his unique style of looking at designs and his craft. He was an avid fan of color and flamboyance. It stood out in contrast with the idea of wabi-sabi and some of the Buddhist ideologies of modesty and humble materials. His style was inspired by the working class of Japan, ghost stories, and kabuki theatre.
From there, he produced many shows from the year 1993. The shows were an eccentric experience with vivid colors and imaginations, they won him many hearts.
His association with David Bowie has been a long one, over decades. He met Mr. Bowie in 1973, they soon realized their amiable love for radical appearances and pushing boundaries in design. And later, began their long journey of fashion and flamboyance. The genderless clothing became famous by Bowie’s stage appearances; he many times wore Kansai’s women wear. From 1973, he worked on creating showpieces for Mr. Bowie’s stage personas and tours, including the “Aladdin Sane” tour. Bowie’s pieces were skin-tight jumpsuits with silken brocade and jackets with vivid platform shoes. His clothes were inspired by Japanese culture like a kimono silhouette with samurai warlord’s aesthetics. The iconic striped Tokyo Pop jumpsuit was one of the most famous collaborations with Mr. Bowie for his “Aladdin Sane” tour.
“I approached Bowie’s clothes as if I was designing for a female, no zipper in front” Kansai said at the Brooklyn Museum talk.
“I found David’s aesthetic and interest in transcending gender boundaries shockingly beautiful,” Kansai told the website The Cut (2018).
The designs were displayed at the V&A’s 2013 David Bowie exhibition. This jumpsuit had a plastic press stud on the edges that enabled it to be torn away on the stage for a theatrical and fast costume reveal.
He and Bowie had remained close friends until the singer died in 2016. They even decided to have two 35-foot air balloons, which would be a part of the spectacle for the “super shows” including Mr.Bowie.
“To have Bowie sit atop those air balloons, and have him sing his songs, was my dream,” he said in 2018.
In 1977, he opened his Kansai Boutique in Paris. Later, he won the Tokyo Fashion Editors award. In 1992, he became an events producer with his shows being wild and filled with acrobatics.
In 2017, he was asked by Louis Vuitton to create looks for their 2019 resort collection show that was held in Kyoto, Japan. He created a range of themed handbags, shimmery dresses with a distinctive style of grimacing Yakko warriors on the prints.
In 2019, he founded the Nippon Genki Project, which was a festival to lift the Japanese people’s spirits after the 2011 Tsunami. He mentored many would-be fashion designers.
Even during his last days, he designed himself a set of cheerful pajamas to wear while in the hospital, his energy was truly inspiring.
“As he fought his illness, he remained always positive, never lost his passion towards creation, and was strongly determined to recover and come back with fully-charged energy to see you again,” his studio Kansai Yamamoto Inc said in a statement.
Kansai Yamamoto is survived by his daughter and other family members. She has quoted that, her father, “had left this world peacefully, surrounded by loved ones.”
Despite his illness, Kansai Yamamoto had continued working as long as he was able. His demise has left the fashion industry in mourning as the designers still remember his energetic vibe filled with creativity that touched many lives.
“People always want originality,” he said.
“That’s the future.”