Tracing Kansai Yamamoto's influence on Louis Vuitton
The shopping page in House and Leisure's August 2017 issue is inspired by Louis Vuitton's 2018 Cruise Collection which, in turn, is inspired by Japanʼs evolution from tradition to modernity. With a rich tonal palette, the range merges the natural and the urban while playing tribute to legendary fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto.
Born in Yokohama, Japan, in 1944, Yamamoto is one of the founding fathers of Japanese contemporary fashion. In 1971 he ignited a fashion revolution by becoming the first Japanese designer to showcase his work on a London runway. Inspired by the Momoyama period of Japanese art, along with traditional kabuki theatre costume and classic manga illustrations, Yamamoto's colourful work features print and mask motifs – all of which can be seen in Louis Vuitton's 2018 Cruise Collection.
Undoubtedly, the designer's biggest claim to fame was his partnership with David Bowie on the artist's Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane tours. After seeing Yamamoto's avant-garde kimonos, Bowie latched onto him, and wore an array of his androgynous and futuristic designs throughout his career.
When talking about his partnership with Bowie, Yamamoto says, 'My designs have been influenced by Kabuki theatre, as was [Bowie's] show. There's a movement used in kabuki called "hikinuki", where one costume is dramatically stripped off, revealing a different outfit underneath.' This was what Bowie did – going from an all-black costume to a technicolour marvel in an instant – when Yamamoto first saw his live performance.
In the '90s, the designer began staging what he called 'Super Shows', which were essentially over-the-top fashion shows. The first one was held in Moscow's Red Square and, since then, others have been held in India, Vietnam, Berlin and, of course, Japan. This flair for showmanship is something that he and Nicolas Ghesquière, creative director of Louis Vuitton, have in common.
Except for his 2013 show during the East New Britain Mask Festival in Papua New Guinea and designing the high-speed Skyliner express train that connects Narita airport to central Tokyo, Yamamoto has stayed relatively under the radar for the past decade. Thanks to Ghesquière and the new Louis Vuitton collection, the innovative Japanese designer is back in the spotlight – and he deserves to stay there.