Limi, my daughter, has held on to this raincoat, which came as a gift from her grandmother, Fumi. (Photo by Akira Kobayashi)

'The lost decade', all work and no family time: Yohji Yamamoto (13)

Y's brand catches fire thanks to water-repellent Swiss-made fabric

From haute couture to prêt-à-porter - I was up to date with the latest trends in mode from staying in Paris. However, prêt-à-porter, which is based on mass production and consumption, involves risk.

Materials must be purchased before we know whether the garments will sell, and products are produced at significant cost and effort. Upfront investment is absolutely essential. Losses are generated if products go unsold, and depending on the situation the company's cash flow could dry up.

It is quite a gamble.

Half of the capital for Y's, my ready-to-wear clothing brand, was raised from sales at my mother's shop, and the rest came from Yoshinotoh, a textile wholesaler. We needed a dedicated sales team. For that, I scouted Goichi Hayashi, a close friend from my Gyosei days who had graduated from Keio University. He was working for Scandinavian Airlines at the time.

For the company name, I thought it would be cool to keep it simple and feature the designer name as little as possible. I decided to just add an "apostrophe s," as in "so-and-so's shop," to "Y," the first letter of Yamamoto.

And like this, my ready-to-wear company was founded in 1972, but it was difficult to get things moving.

Eschewing ostentatious printed fabrics from the start, I used a dull-colored gabardine (a twill-weave fabric) to create a large, masculine coat. But the orders just would not come in. Only a few buyers came to the event we held to drum up orders. I continued to use the profits from my mother's shop to cover the deficits at Y's.

Hayashi had a strong sense of responsibility, and he worked so hard that I almost felt bad for him. He would pack the clothes into a small van and sell them at specialty shops and department stores throughout the country. But they just did not sell like we had expected. His health gradually began to fail, and eventually he had to be hospitalized.

Just then, we finally caught a break. I happened to have access to some water-repellent Swiss-made fabric, with which I held an exhibition of raincoats in different colors. The response was much better than I had anticipated, and for the first time we received a large number of orders.

I think it was putting a single concept in the forefront of a novel design that did the trick. We also received some clear feedback from the exhibition.

"Your time will come."

I remember a female buyer at a local specialty store whispering this to me. The exhibition turned into an opportunity to build the company's popularity, and its struggling business performance began to turn around.

The first time I appeared in the media was in May 1977, when I held a fashion show at Bell Commons in the Aoyama district of Tokyo. Using a variety of materials, including recycled blankets, we showed off our colorless, wrinkled, blocky clothes, which drew attention as "women's clothing with a new sense of style that eliminates femininity."

Japanese fashion magazines like An An and Ryuko Tsushin ran special features on my show, and the topic became even more widely discussed. With the increase in sales, we moved out of the shop in Kabukicho and took up residence in Minami Aoyama and then to Nishi Azabu.

Since that time, I have been helped by photographer Kazumi Kurigami. He shot our first promotion poster free of charge. I will never forget the kindness he showed me.

I call the first 10 years after Y's establishment the "lost decade." I was so focused on my work that I had no idea what was going on in the world.

I do not think I was a good father, either.

My daughter, Limi, was born in 1974. However, the distance between my wife and me grew, and my wife spent more and more time in her parents' home in Kitakyushu with our children. The Y's business had grown steadily, but that came at the cost of sacrificing my relations with my precious family.

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