‘‘Let me tell you a story I’ve never told before.’’
By Angelo Flaccavento
Photographs by Juergen Teller
What happens when Rick Owens interviews ‘the master’ Yohji Yamamoto…
A punk at heart, Yohji Yamamoto remains provocative and soulful, macho and poetic – and notoriously a man of few, considered words. For System, he agreed to sit down to talk with Rick Owens, another master of the monochromatic, deft pattern-cutter and designer of utmost coherence. Owens’ brutalist fantasy of decay might appear to sit miles from Yohji’s suave poetry of black, but perhaps not. Let’s just let Yohji and Rick do the talking.
Rick Owens: I’m sorry I’m late, we were at the Balenciaga show. I rarely go to shows, but I was just in the mood. And it’s not always about the clothes, it’s also about the politics and the ceremony and the pageantry. The clothes are only fve percent of the whole theatre. I have a pretty quiet life, but every once in a while, I feel like being part of that theatre. I feel like this is our generational aesthetic arena, and I want to be a participant. You sometimes go to shows, right, Yohji?
Yohji Yamamoto: Not recently. The last time I went to a fashion show, I was invited by Marc Jacobs. About 15 years ago. Takashi Murakami was sitting next to me, he had designed some of it…
Rick: Oh yes, the Louis Vuitton collection they did together. Did you like it?
Yohji: I like Marc, he is a great friend, a young friend. But I didn’t enjoy that show.
Rick: I can generally find something to enjoy in every show; I just appreciate being somewhere special, in a nice big space. Anyway, I’m so happy to be doing this with you.
Angelo Flaccavento: Both of you trained as pattern-cutters, working with scissors and fabric, not just on clothing as an idea or a drawing. That seems like an interesting place to start.
Rick: It does. Yohji, where did you learn to make patterns?
Yohji: Patterns? Well, let me start by telling you about my strongest memory from when I graduated from university…
Rick:…which university did you go to?
Yohji: I went to a famous university in Tokyo, I passed the exam to get in there, and once there I had around 10 or 12 very close friends. They were the sons of owners of big companies or of famous shops. I mean, rich families. I however was poor, and I had lost my father, too.
Rick: How old were you when you lost your father?
Yohji: I was a baby. So, my mother made up her mind not to marry again. She also made up her mind to work hard and bring me up. She was working as a seamstress, just in the local neighbourhood. So, when I was studying for university exams and preparing to enter the world of business, I felt like it was already unfair, because I was living just with my mother, and we were so poor. Not sad, just poor.
Rick: Did you realize you were poor?
Yohji: I remember one time I was invited to a friend’s Christmas party; they had a really gorgeous house with a tennis court in the garden, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh, this is not my world.’ Anyway, after my graduation, I asked my mother, ‘Can I help you, mother, with your dressmaking work?’ She didn’t speak to me for two weeks after that, because she had spent money on this expensive education for me, for the past three and a half years, and she was so shocked by my decision to want to do sewing. Finally, she gave up and told me, ‘Yohji, if you really want to help
me, you’ll have to go to dressmaking school, and at the very least you’ll need to learn about cutting. Really learn.’ So I really learned.
‘My father’s funeral, when I was four years old, was the moment I started to get angry with society; wanting to become an outsider or get into crime.’