The picture of Miyazaki-san that I keep in my wallet. (Photo courtesy of Yohji Yamamoto)

The birth of Y's: Yohji Yamamoto (12)

Down with 'absurd' femininity - establishing a ready-to-wear label

After returning from my "humiliation" in Paris, I began helping my mother at her dressmaking shop in Kabukicho. It was haute couture work, where the design, material, color and so on were decided based on the customer's request and each garment was tailor made.

The store was good at holding on to customers and business went better than expected.

It may have been natural, thinking about it: a young, handsome male designer, an elite graduate of Keio University and winner of the Soen Award, just recently returned from Paris, takes in-person orders, draws designs, takes measurements and stitches women's clothing by hand.

We were also fortunate to be located in the biggest shopping district in Japan. Customers would come back again and again. We hired five or six live-in seamstresses, but we were still short-staffed. Our financial situation was much better and I often went out drinking to relax.

We were in Kabukicho, so there was no shortage of places to drink. Takayuki Kurihara, the first male employee to join our store, and I would go out to the cabarets and have a great time, boldly shouting things like, "Bring the best bar hostess here!"

Kurihara is still working in our workshop as one of our oldest patternmakers.

During this time, there was a textile wholesaler in Horidome called Yoshinotoh that helped me greatly, materially and mentally. Kichiro Motai and Masao Miyazaki, the company president and an executive, respectively, always stood behind me. They sent me 30,000 yen a month when I was in Paris on condition that I send them regular reports. It would have been difficult to live abroad without that income.

After I returned to Japan, they continued to help me, having me work two or three days a week as a design adviser. They paid me a pretty good salary just for drawing designs. They even paid me bonuses.

"I can't accept a bonus. It's just too much."

"No, we've already spent it, so please take it."

I was very grateful for their extraordinary kindness.

I am particularly grateful to Miyazaki, who was a great benefactor. He taught me the rigors of business, and had the warmth of a father. I still keep his photo in my wallet and carry it with me.

As I helped my mother in her shop, I began to feel I had a serious dilemma. Many of the customers would order sexy clothes that emphasized their femininity. They would tighten the waist and try to make the swell of the bust and hips stand out as much as possible.

"Can we tighten it another centimeter? Or even 5 mm?"

I understood their desire to look appealing to men, but if you tighten the already tight fitting parts, it will become hard to move and the clothing will be uncomfortable.

I hated the time I spent kneeling in front of customers, hemming them up. Because of our location, many of our customers were bar hostesses, prostitutes, or mistresses. If one includes housewives, it was all men that were paying our fees. In other words, I was making women's clothing so they would be doted on and favored by men.

Corsets, high heels... No matter how much I tried, I could not bring myself to like clothing that bound up women's bodies so they could flirt with men. I grew up watching my mother from behind as she would work, so I held strong misgivings about Japan's "male-friendly society", and I thought it absurd.

"I want women to wear more masculine clothes. Let's make dignified clothes that working women will want to buy for themselves with their own money."

This is how I created Y's, a ready-to-wear clothing maker, in April 1972. Two years had already passed since I began working at my mother's shop in Kabukicho.

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