Delving Into a Definitive New Book on Yohji Yamamoto

Today saw the release of a major monograph on Yohji Yamamoto (Yamamoto & Yohji, Rizzoli, $115). It’s a road well-traveled, as there are already a number of books on the Japanese fashion designer, from the collectible Talking to Myself to rather forgettable greatest-hits fluff from other publishers.

The new volume contains 600 photographs and contributions from friends, including the French actress Charlotte Rampling and the German filmmaker Wim Wenders. It is a hefty, cloth-bound tome totaling 448 pages printed on thick matte paper, as it should be since anything glossy (read vulgar) does not belong in Yamamoto’s world.

The book provides a comprehensive view of Yamamoto’s work, organized into four chapters: Philosophy, which gives insight into the designer’s ethos; Biography & Brands, showcasing Yamamoto’s prolific career; A Different Way of Communication, a history of Yamamoto’s runway shows; and Crossing Fields, about Yamamoto’s work off the catwalk, including his collaborations with Dr. Martens and Hermès.

Yamamoto & Yohji was created by two longtime Yamamoto collaborators. Coralie Gauthier (who for years served as Yamamoto’s PR, a term that does nothing to describe her importance) built most of the content while Paul Boudens, the Belgian graphic designer and mastermind behind A Magazine, designed it. The pair, given carte blanche by Yamamoto himself, worked closely for a year on the project. “I felt that it was time to create an anthology of his creative collaborations in theater, dance, music, graphic design, architecture, and so on,” Gauthier explained. “[Other] books are mainly about the man and his philosophy, less about his collaborations and productions.”

Boudens, who has previously worked with Yamamoto on show invitations, itself a form of art, and an issue of A Magazine entirely guest-edited by Yamamoto, was a fitting candidate. “We studied the previous books thoroughly and saw what worked or didn’t.” he said. “I like to think we respected Yohji’s oeuvre, while still bringing our own style. We share the same aesthetic anyway, a search for timelessness, attention to detail, and tactility.” Boudens surely took special interest in a section devoted to Yamamoto’s invitations, for instance the fall 2013 women’s collection, which arrived in the form of black yarn that had to be unspooled in order to see the show’s address engraved on the wooden base beneath.

The book begins with images that should be familiar to anyone who’s followed Yamamoto’s career, as well as visual material rarely seen before. These are interspersed with quotes from Yamamoto, which at times sound more like proverbs. “I always sing the same song, only with new arrangements” is one example, meant to describe his philosophy of subtle changes to a collection season after season, not grand reinventions.

And, of course, there are thoughts on black, his signature color. “Black is the most profound and under-appreciated color. It’s a second skin for me. When I was very young, I made black T-shirts. At the time, Japan was having an economic boom. Social success had become an obsession, and the whole country was vibrating under a shower of colors. My black was a sign of protest, the opportunity to be a shadow in a boring system that I was rejecting.”

The question of clothing as a marker of identity permeates Yamamoto’s work. You are what you wear. “My message was very simple: let’s be outside of this,” the designer explained, regarding the ethos of his menswear. “Let’s be far from our suits and ties. Let’s be far from businessmen. Let’s be vagabonds.”

A veritable parade of photographers, art directors, graphic designers constitute Yamamoto’s collaborators. Devotees will know most of them: Paolo Roversi, Nick Knight, Max Vadukul, Craig McDean, M/M Paris, and Marc Ascoli, among many others. This is followed by the last section, which goes through the extracurricular parts of Yamamoto’s venerable career, including several museum exhibits, most notably in Florence and at the Design Museum of Holon in Tel-Aviv.

Finally, the book gives a tour of Yamamoto’s boutiques around the world. This is important because it was the Japanese who revolutionized retail in the 1980s and 90s. The way many boutiques look today, with their gallery-like white spaces, owe a debt to Yamamoto and other Japanese designers. Sadly, some of these boutiques, especially the one on Grand Street in New York (strangely, there is no mention of it in the book) and the one in Antwerp, have been shuttered.

The day the Yamamoto boutique in SoHo closed was a day of mourning for many. It was also a sign of the times — the rise of streetwear, the de-emphasis on quality, and the disregard for process in favor of branding. Hopefully, this book will serve as a reminder of the rich history that one of the most talented fashion designers has bequeathed to us.

Eugene Rabkin is the editor of StyleZeitgeist magazine

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