His career as fashion designer began to blossom in 1971, and he was the first Japanese designer to hold a show in London. He is also known for designing the stage costumes of David Bowie. From the 90s, he began to work as an events producer. His name is Kansai Yamamoto.
Last year, Yamamoto held the “Fashion in Motion: Kansai Yamamoto” show at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London. It had been 42 years since his last fashion show. The designer also opened a pop-up event at Isetan Shinjuku on Jan 2. I interviewed the designer who is taking his career into a new direction.
- Could you please tell me about your show in London?
The show was a success, which reminds me of my show in London 42 years ago. The main difference though is the advance in computer and Internet technology. In the past, newspapers and television were the main coverage but now, with the Internet, I feel that the sensation I felt after the show was completely different. In that aspect, a lot has changed from 40 years ago.
- At David Bowie’s retrospective exhibit held at the V&A, the number of visitors hit a record high. The highlight of the exhibit was the stage costumes you designed for Bowie. I feel that your recent designs and your past creations have come together with the recent line of events. How do you perceive this?
Through the “David Bowie is” exhibit, I saw for the first time what other designers created as costumes for Bowie. This is when I felt that my costumes were most compatible with the musician and that Bowie could be the most powerful wearing my designs.
Here is the reason why. When I designed the costumes, Bowie had moved from London to New York to try to become a world renowned musician. I was also at a point in my career when I was seeking to sell my name in countries outside of Japan. Basically, our intentions overlapped. The second thing to note is that Bowie is Western and I am Oriental. Our values and aesthetics were completely different which made the encounter so special.
- I could feel your energy being transmitted to the crowd during your show in London.
There is a reason behind why I chose to hold my first big show in London. From back then I was considered eccentric and whenever I would ride the train in Japan, I could feel people staring at me. But when I was in London, people (mainly women) working in stores would come out and compliment my clothes. The singer Haruo Minami used to say, “Customers are gods.” Inside I was thinking, “Japanese customers are not gods. London customers are gods.” (laugh).
In preparation for the “David Bowie is” exhibit, I traveled to London several times. Even then, I got positive appraisals about my clothes when walking the streets. I felt that I was still popular in London and that people respected me. This aspect has not changed from 40 years ago. In London, people value the “individual.” They praise originality. Japan has also evolved to accept individuality, but I feel that it is still centered on acting as a group as opposed to as an individual.
- Your show in London was themed after Kabuki. Could you please elaborate?
I appeared on stage as if to be the conductor of an orchestra or the commander of a battle. I give the models timely cues based on the air of the audience. When the audience is engrossed in a show, their heads don’t budge. This was the case for my show. As soon as the show was over, the audience seemed to be liberated.
- We were attracted by your opening voice after the first quick costume change.
At that moment I was crying. I don’t know why. You might think it is nonsense for the commander of the show to shed tears. But everything was so perfect, and I couldn’t help it. To present a perfect show, I arranged to use Kuroko (stagehands dressed in black) on stage. It’s a shame that somebody completely cut out the Kuroko’s part from the official footage though (laugh).
There were so many restrictions for this show including the frequency and time interval of appearances, trumpet performance by Toshinori Kondo, and the volume control so as to not damage any of the paintings by Raffaello displayed at the V&A.
I have always been doing what I wanted in a place that I wanted to be. This was the first time that I was bound by so many restrictions. What I learned from this is that, when someone tells you to do as you please, you can persistently present all your ideas. But when there are restrictions, you need to narrow it down to the essentials. As long as you know what you want to present, the audience will receive the message. Even if you do not have enough time or enough freedom.
To be continued into 2/2.
Kansai Yamamoto Interview 1/2: A Perfect Show Comprised of the Essentials
Published： Jan 3, 2014, 9:30PM JST
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