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so-en magazine ∙ may 1969

so-en magazine ∙ may 1969

yohji yamamoto

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a special feature on yohji yamamoto following his win of the 25th biannual soen award in the first half of 1969. the contents of this spread are a nice recap of his early years covered in the first 10 articles of the nikkei asia serial that can be read in full at our blog. an in-depth feature of his student works, along with rare imagery, can also be viewed here.


published by bunka publishing bureau
softcover ∙ 23 x 28.5 cm ∙ 2 pp

- Departure as a designer! The case of Yamamoto Yohji -

On the snowy day of February 27th, the graduation show of the Bunka fashion department was held. Underneath the stage, which was as white as the falling snow, the head of the production committee, Mr. Yamamoto, was watching the progress of the show.

Yohji Yamamoto, 25 years old. Born in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. Family members consist of a mother who owns a dressmaking shop in Kabukicho and a wife who he recently married in January.

- In elementary school, I was good at home economics and drawing -

During home economics class in 5th grade, the pants he sewed won first prize at an exhibition. This may have been the starting point for Yohji Yamamoto as a designer. In the 6th grade, he was transferred from a public school to private education at Gyosei. Everything was different there. “During the first art class, the teacher scolded me for having a dirty palette. After that during the same class, we went outside to sketch. Then suddenly the teacher became kinder. It was then that I realized I was good at drawing.”

One day in his first year of highschool, Yohji suddenly said “I want to learn fashion illustration”. His mother enrolled him in the Saturday classes at “Setsu Mode Seminar” (Setsu Nagasawa’s illustration academy). “It was around then that Yohji began to enjoy this path”, she says. He cannot remember how he felt at that time. “For three years in highschool, I devoted myself to studying for entrance exams.”

During the seven years he studied at Gyosei, he unconsciously grew to realize that he didn’t want to be the same as his friends. Everyone around him was wealthy, and his family was poor. “I always wanted to start a business, so I thought carefully about my choice of studies. I thought about Hitotsubashi University. I also liked Keio. Ever since I was little I have loved the feel of the kanji character Keio”. When the date of the Geidai (Tokyo University of the Arts) exam and Keio exam fell on the same day, he ultimately chose Keio after all. He wanted to do business in the future.

“In the summer of my fourth year at university, I sold my old Austin vehicle, worked part time, and with help from my mother went on a trip to Europe with my friend. By the time we returned, everyone had already secured jobs at companies. I didn’t want to be an office worker, so I decided to run a store. After enrolling in the instructor program at Bunka, I later transferred to the design program. I was thinking of taking over the shop one day, and I thought that if I didn’t know how to make clothes, I wouldn’t be able to do anything. Since my mother was a graduate, I was familiar with Bunka Fashion College since I was in kindergarten. The first year of the instructor program was very difficult. I had to start from the very basics such as learning how to hold a needle. After entering the design program I started to have alot of fun, and I feel sad when I think that I’ll be graduating in a few days…”

- Winner of the Soen and Endo Awards -

On February 3rd, just before graduation, the 25th Soen Award Ceremony was held. Mr. Yamamoto received both the Soen and Endo awards, taking a big step towards becoming a designer. “I’m just happy. I want to tell my mother, my wife, and the seamstresses at the shop”. He spent his prize money on trips to Kyoto for those who directly aided him financially, and an allowance for those who did not.

“I already have a job as an assistant at Bunka’s design department, but I would also like to study under Professor Kawashima from New York’s FIT. I want to learn about production management, and in the future I would like to start a business with a r
eady-to-wear company." Although it may not be possible to start a company right now, his mother says, “I think we can start something with our store as the foundation”. Mr. Yamamoto is certainly blessed in that sense. Dresses other than those that won the Soen Award also sell out immediately at his mother’s shop, to the extent that they are urged, “when are new items arriving?”. When he received the award, his mother said, “His hard work for a long time paid off, but I think it came too early. Besides, it seems unfair for other people to receive two awards at once. But on the day of the award, I was really worried, so I secretly went to see Yohji.”

It must have been no ordinary effort for a mother to raise her son to this extent on her own after her husband’s death in the Philippines at the end of the war. When Yohji was four years old, she entrusted him to relatives in Mito for a year, and during that time she studied as hard as she could at Bunka Fashion College’s cutting and advanced cutting departments. “After that, I sewed other people’s things, and every single thing I faced was a good learning experience.”

“Before my husband left for the war, he left alot of money for Yohji’s education, but the monetary value deflated completely after the war, and all of it ended up going towards the funeral expenses.” Great is the underlying strength of a mother’s will. With the love and care of his mother, Yohji Yamamoto is now working to become an extraordinary designer.

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