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Yohji Yamamoto – History and brand evolution

During the 1980’s a new generation of Japanese designers surprised the fashion world with their designs and Yohji Yamamoto was one of them. Since then he continues to amaze the world with immaculately constructed garments. Yohji Yamamoto is mostly associated with the use of black and avant-garde style. But how did his career start and develop? What inspired him? You will discover it in this article, enjoy!

Early years of Yohji Yamamoto

Yohji Yamamoto was born in 1943, in Tokyo. From a young age he understood that he wanted something more – anything but a traditional lifestyle. As Yohji Yamamoto’s father passed away during the Second World War, he was raised by his mother, who was a dressmaker. Yohji Yamamoto attended and graduated in law from Keio University, Tokyo. His artistic spirit still dragged him into fashion, so instead of opting for “traditional lifestyle”, he asked his mother if he could help her at work. 

She initially didn’t want her son to pursue a career in fashion, but finally decided that Yohji can learn from sewing assistants and focus on cutting fabric. Additionally he enrolled at Bunka fashion university in Tokyo and graduated in 1969. He was a very prominent student, which helped him to secure a prize to go to Paris for one year. Unfortunately it wasn’t a successful stay and Yohji Yamamoto was confronted with the reality of the Ready-to-wear era, meanwhile he only studied haute couture. 

Yohji Yamamoto - Fall 2019
Yohji Yamamoto – Fall 2019;
Source: jeffybruce.blogspot

After coming back to Japan he was again working with his mother – taking measurements, cutting fabric and doing fittings. Yohji Yamamoto started to gradually realise that he doesn’t like the way customers of his mother dress. The rejection of highly feminine clothing that revealed the body was the driving factor, to establish his first label, Y’s, in Tokyo in 1972. 

His style was controversial at this time. At the beginning Yohji Yamamoto opened his store with the intention to provide for women to wear men’s clothes. He wanted to dress an independent and strong woman. Instead of revealing body he wanted to conceal it, to guard women in a way. 

Yohji Yamamoto’s collections in Paris

In 1981 after years of experience Yohji Yamamoto decided to come back to Paris and open a small shop. It was at the time, when Rei Kawakubo (founder of Comme des Garcons) also presented her collection. As their style was very similar and both come from Japan, everyone described them a new wave from Japan. 

The first collection of Yohji Yamamoto in Paris consisted of asymmetrically cut garments mostly in black, with unfinished seams. For ordinary people and most of the press this style was unacceptable, but buyers, always hungry for new, saw an opportunity in this ideal of beauty. With resources he was able to gather, Yohji Yamamoto could develop his eponymous brand and in 1984 presented his first menswear collection in Paris. This collection shocked everyone, as the fashion of the 1980’s was all about bold colors instead of blacks and greys.

For Autumn/Winter 1986-87 Yohji Yamamoto referenced 1880’s bustle style. There was a lot of long coats, but the one in black with bright red tulle at the back blurred conventions between Western and Japanese clothing. 

Yohji Yamamoto - 1986 black coat with red tulle
Yohji Yamamoto – 1986 black coat with red tulle;
Source :
Yohji Yamamoto - 1997
Yohji Yamamoto – 1997;

Yohji Yamamoto also referenced Chanel in the 1997 Spring/Summer collection. The silhouette of suits is similar to Chanel with a touch of Yohji in the form of unsewn hem and hanging out yarn.

Style and evolution of Yohji Yamamoto 

Avant-garde aesthetic was present, redefined and mastered in his future collections. As the years progressed and the style of Yohji Yamamoto evolved, he started to explore new ways to express his vision. In 1992 he added red to his colour palette, long restricted to black and white. Since then he started to slowly differentiate his style from Rei Kawakubo, by reinterpreting historical parisian houses in a modern flair.  I’m personally amazed by his use of embroidery and prints, especially on jackets and coats. 

For me the most beautiful thing about Yohji Yamamoto’s style is that it is timeless. You can take a piece from a runway from the 80’s, 90’s or 2000’s and probably you will not be able to distinguish when they were made. His clothes were relevant when they were designed, still are and will be in the future. This ties to the philosophy of Yohji Yamamoto’s work, the fact that he doesn’t want to follow trends and blend in the crowd.

What is Yohji Yamamoto famous for?

Yohji Yamamoto is famous for being one the first designers, who promoted avant garde fashion. The use of black fabrics and colour is notorious for Mr.Yamamoto. The choice of this colour was perfectly explained by Yohji Yamamoto :

“Black is 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 style is also a combination of asymmetrical cuts, loose and oversized silhouettes that create dimension and flow as you move. In addition to that he was one of the first designers to present unfinished seams. 

In a way Yohji Yamamoto is a pioneer, to bridge the gap between sportswear brands and designers. I’m talking about his Y-3 line, which has its roots in 2000-01. This collaboration was a way for him to come back to his roots – fashion inspired by streets.

Campaign for Y-3 2022 Spring/Summer;
Campaign for Y-3 2022 Spring/Summer;

The influence of Yohji Yamamoto’s work

Both with Rei Kawakubo he introduced a new style on European streets, making innovative and asymmetrical fashion desirable. They paved the way for other artists in this genre, influencing their artistic senses to this day. The work of Yohji Yamamoto also helped to bring attention to Japan, as one of the fashion centres. The country will also become notorious for Japanese denim in the 90’s.

As a response, Yohji Yamamoto gathered fans both in Japan and around the world. During the mid 80’s so called Crow Tribe (karasu-zoku) was a term to name followers of his avant-garde style (mainly women). As a result, fashion magazines in Japan also changed their stylistic, to target this clientele. 

Sub Labels of Yohji Yamamoto 

Today Yohji Yamamoto’s eponymous brand offers a variety of styles. The high-end, luxury status of the brand is still prominent, but more affordable pieces can be found in defusion lines. One of them is the original line Y’s focuses now on high quality “everyday” ready-to-wear clothing, putting emphasis on cuts and silhouettes.

In a higher price range stays the eponymous brand Yohji Yamamoto, with vanguard and unusual elements. The philosophy of anthesis of fashion and breaking taboos is reflected in asymmetrical cuts, loose shapes and attention to details. All these elements unequivocally justify the price and satisfy clients who want to express their uniqueness. 

Althous Y-3 is a collaborative effort with Adidas, I still think we can place it here. After all, thanks to this line many younger fashion enthusiasts discovered Yohji Yamamoto. 

Other brands under the name of Yohji Yamamoto are listed below

  • Yohji Yamamoto POUR HOMME
  • Yohji Yamamoto MAISON
  • discord Yohji Yamamoto
  • Ground Y
  • LIMI feu
  • Y’s BANG ON!
  • Yohji Yamamoto by RIEFE

If you are interested in the history of other designers, check my posts about Vivienne Westwood brand evolution and the history of Balenciaga. 


“Fashion Since 1900”  by Amy de la Haye and Valerie D. Mendes 

“Fashion history” – The Collection of The Kyoto Costume Institute 

“Ametora” – W.David Marx

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