• William Hu

Yohji Yamamoto: Pushing the Boundaries of Androgynous Design

Widely regarded as one of the greatest designers of the late twentieth century, Yohji Yamamoto is known for his avant-garde, androgynous outlook on fashion. With his signature draped cuts and oversized silhouettes, he utilizes fashion as armor in everyday life.

Born October 3, 1943 in Tokyo, Japan, Yamamoto planned to pursue law. Having graduated with a law degree from the renowned Keio University, he changed plans to help with his widowed mother's tailor shop. In an interview with the Business of Fashion, Yamamoto explained how he, "didn’t want to join the ordinary society so [he] told [his] mother after graduation [he] wants to help.” Straying away from a legal career, he learned tailoring alongside his mother’s dressmaking assistants. Dedicated to the craft, he studied fashion design at Bunka Fashion College, eventually earning his degree in 1969, but it would not be until 1977 his professional career would start. He created his label “Y’s” for the first time in Tokyo and collaborated with fellow Japanese master Rei Kawakubo. The two disrupted the industry with their unconventional designs, often leaving works unfinished and deconstructed. In a 1983 interview with The New York Times, he explains that “when [he] started designing, [he] wanted to make men’s clothes for women… It meant something to me — the idea of a coat guarding and hiding a woman’s body. I wanted to protect the woman’s body from something — maybe from men’s eyes or a cold wind.” Seeking to remove the traditional feminine frills from the industry, he typically sticks to all black outfits. While many may view all black outfits as gothic or unappealing, Yamamoto offers a more symbolic interpretation to those who listen as “modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy — but mysterious. But above all, black says this: ‘I don’t bother you — don’t bother me.’”

His label’s aesthetic captures the ambiguities of gender, highlights the symbolic beauty of black, and emphasizes deconstructed aesthetics. Early on, he expressed an opposition to overtly sexualized women. Unconventionally, he used women in his male runway shows to challenge conventional norms. Many high-fashion essentials in women's shows, such as high heels, rising hemlines, plunging necklines, and sheer fabrics, were absent in his collections. Explained by blogger Patricia Mears, “the dark-colored suit and the white shirt have a combined ability to convey both sexuality and power through conformity. This blend of erotic appeal and strength was a perfect template for Yamamoto to express his postwar version of male and female sexuality.” Today, he maintains his roots and continues these avant-garde aesthetics. In his recent Fall-Winter 2021 collection, he utilized his designs to make a statement about the current world, filled with unfortunate events. Some pieces displayed bold statements such as “Engages in Animal Rights Movement” and “What do you want me to do?” The androgynous designer has recently created many collaborations, from luxury car brand Lamborghini to emerging artist Suzume Uchida. Yamamoto continues to push the boundaries of androgyny and shape our understanding of society, using fashion as a vehicle for change and aesthetic.

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