Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garçons, and I shared the same values in clothes making. (Photo: Josei Seven, August 18 1977)

Rei Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garçons: Yohji Yamamoto (14)

My philosophy of clothes making: Searching for genuine materials

At this point, I began delving further into my philosophy of how clothes should be made. I was particular about the texture of the materials, and I traveled around Japan looking for fabrics - Mikawa cotton from Gamagori, Aichi Prefecture; indigo dyes from Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture; knit fabrics from Sagae, Yamagata Prefecture; Omi hemp from Higashiomi, Shiga Prefecture.

Searching about, I found many wonderful fabrics that were carefully woven by craftsmen using traditional techniques. I sharpened my senses: I would look at the colors, smell the odors and feel the texture on my skin.

My interest in materials is never-ending. "What would wool be like if I dried it in the sun?"

Considering the large production volumes and costs, modern fabrics are typically processed by machine and dried using a gas burner. However, I believed that would spoil their natural warmth and softness, so I decided to try to recreate the techniques used in older times.

I would put fabrics in rivers and let them soak to wash away the dyes. I would place sticks in harvested paddy fields and allow them to dry in the open air, exposed to natural light, wind and water. It is interesting to see the texture in the finished product. It is as if the creator's soul is a part of the material.

There was no end to my pursuit of genuine materials. But no matter how much time and effort it took, there were always craftspeople and managers who were interested in my ideas and willing to stick with me to the end. I liked the relationship between the creator and buyer in which their sensibilities resonate and stimulate each other.

During this period, I became acquainted with Rei Kawakubo, an up-and-coming fashion designer. She was the founder of the Comme des Garçons label. A year older than me, she graduated from Keio University with a degree in philosophy and worked in the advertising department of Asahi Kasei before striking out on her own. She was also an accomplished businessperson.

It is strange, but from the moment I first saw the clothes of Comme des Garçons, I felt they had a common aesthetic and philosophy with Y's. On the sales floor, the tasteful clothes as if they had been carefully stored in a wicker drawer were lined up randomly.

Kawakubo's sensibility was close to my own in terms of use of color and materials. Or rather, I thought hers might be stronger and clearer than my own.

As a result, Y's and Comme des Garçons were grouped together in the "avant-garde" genre and often opened stores next to each other. From the perspective of a distributor choosing brands, this would probably have a greater impact on the store's sales strategy.

Bell Commons, Seibu Department Store, Parco... One after another, the two brands opened shops in popular department stores in the center of big cities.

I first met Kawakubo while we were simultaneously opening shops at Shibuya Seibu. While I was decorating the interior with Goichi Hayashi, Kawakubo was working on her own opening preparations in the next booth. We started making small talk for one reason or another.

That was how it all began.

Since then, we have become kindred spirits in a friendly rivalry, sharing the same values in clothes making and as fashion designers. She has had a great impact on my life and my work in the fashion world.

There was one person who encouraged me to meet Kawakubo, Kazuko Koike. Koike is a famous creative director who participated in the launch of Muji with Ikko Tanaka and others under Seiji Tsutsumi, who was the leader of Saison Group. We were able to open shops at Seibu Department Store and Parco, thanks to Koike's support.

My mother, who had raised me while running a dressmaking shop after the war, seemed to sympathize with Kawakubo's lifestyle and personality as a businessperson who took a bold approach to the challenge of making unique clothing.

My mother made it a point each year to buy a talisman from Kawasaki Daishi Temple, which is said to bring commercial prosperity and guard against bad luck, and send it to Kawakubo.

Back to blog