To coincide with the retrospective exhibition of Yohji Yamamoto’s work at the V&A, SHOWstudio.com showcases a unique discussion between three collaborators who helped shape the visual identity of Yamamoto in the 1980s. In this 50-minute film shot in the V&A’s Norfolk House Music room, art director Marc Ascoli, fashion photographer Nick Knight and graphic designer and art director Peter Saville are in conversation with London College of Fashion curator Magdalene Keaney.
Nick Knight: I think that to see the work that we did in context, you have to look at the fashion magazines of 1986 and see what was going on in those fashion magazines. It was about a million miles away from what we did.
Peter Saville: Unfortunately, it is the beginning of where it all goes horribly wrong. I mean the coherence and the cohesion between what Yohji was doing on the other side of the world and then Marc’s position in Paris and then the part of the UK culture that Nick came from and then the part that I came from is beginning of what you would call convergence, what we do now call convergence. But it was, in a way, a quite positive and utopian convergence at that time.
Marc Ascoli: That’s true.
PS: Nick introduced me into the system, that bit came next … you do that bit … Nick, just finish that bit.
NK: So I’ll do my version of the history. I completed a hundred portraits through a woman who ran a model agency, a very good model agency, called Z Models. She used to find all the most interesting models – not the mainstream models … all the best models. She also looked around for different talent. Marc knew her, he asked her who was interesting in London at the moment and she introduced my work to Marc. Then Marc and I got on and he liked my work and I went across to Paris and Marc said OK, so do the photographs, I’ll art direct them, but who can create the – who can do the graphic design?
PS: Who said that? You said that?
NK: Marc said that. So I said well, there’s somebody who I’ve worked with over the past couple of years on and off, and I introduced Marc to Peter.
PS: So there was a convergence of mood between the three of us. All three on exactly the same wave length and it comes out in those first two catalogues.
NK: I knew a small amount about Yohji Yamamoto. He represented the beginnings of something very exciting but slightly away on the horizon. The world of fashion that I knew at the time – I was interested in the world of people like Lee Barry, Taboo, Michael Clark – very extreme. You’re talking about people who were taking almost performance art into fashion. So that was the sort of world that I was looking at and was attracted by. When Yohji Yamamoto first came along it really was a distant star, something exciting and appealing on the horizon. So in 1985 when Marc first came to see me, it was really a long way off, it hadn’t really quite got to London. It wasn’t really part of the fashion vernacular, it wasn’t what was going on, it wasn’t part of mainstream fashion. The reason I fell in love with it and the reason I ended up believing in it so firmly is it represented a very interesting vision of women. Previously in fashion women had been represented overtly sexually, especially in fashion imagery. You have got to think about what went on in the 1970s, with people like Wangenheim, Bourdin … It was an overtly sexual way of behaving and that was represented in photographers who chose fashion photography to talk about their sexual orientation or their sexual desires. And that was the mainstream. And I always felt really uncomfortable with that. When Yohji arrived, here was somebody proposing fashion which wasn’t about women articulating their sexuality as a primary way of behaving and that was what attracted me to it. I thought this is actually to do with seeing women as intellectual beings and not seeing them as sexual beings. It was enormously different to what was going on at the time and I thought it was enormously interesting.
Magdalene Keaney: So kind of starting to really hone in on the production of the catalogues and your work together. Again, we’ve talked around this a little bit. Can you describe the tension, if there was one or alternatively the joy of the kind of functionality of what a look book or a fashion seasonal catalogue is as a document.
NK: I have to stop you there, Magda. There’s a big difference between a look book …
MK: OK, the functionality of the catalogue, so either the tension or the joy, the other end of it between the kind of function …
PS: No joy – do you remember any joy?
MK: Between the functionality of the catalogue as a document or a commercial product, which it is in some way … or it operates in a commercial way.
PS: I mean it’s a work, a collective work of it’s own … this is a new way, not really done before. They were innovations in themselves.
NK: As I understood it, there was something that Yohji Yamamoto had created with Marc to se
The kimono – they need several steps to dye once and again, again, again. Then go to the embroidery phase and maybe come back again to finish then send it back again. This is the kimono process for clothing. We had to reduce, to go a simple way. You put on the back side, only for the part he is working on now.
Q: What is the ink made from?
It’s not made from plants, but it’s a chemical product. And, of course, he mixes the colours to make the special colour for the kimono.
Q: How long has he been doing this for?
Q: So how old was he when he started doing this?
He was 18.
Q: OK. And why did he decide to do this?
It was natural because his father was doing also that.
Q: And his father, did he follow his grandfather?
No, his father started, so he’s second generation.
Q: Has it changed since his father was doing it?
No, they are keeping the same way, but of course it depends on era … periods, if changing a motif, they are changing, so he adapts …
Q: Does he worry that this something that is dying out or does he see it … does it have a future?
Nobody is taking his business after this moment – nobody. He works ten hours (a day) at least, sometimes more to finish the kimono, because it takes four days.
Q: Working ten hour days?
Yes. As we see, he starts with a red colour to complete the kimono. He finishes one motif to go to another motif. He tries to put the red colour on all parts of the kimono to not have a difference of colour for one kimono.
Q: So it’s all free hand?
Yes. Completely. That motif, the small parts, already he puts a glue … on the space to not have colour – he does not want to put colour on that part.
Q: You can’t correct a mistake …
He has to be quick to dry, to put another colour on. The company is very strict with the colour balance – so each time it’s done, he has to remake again. This is a very big piece for the women who will have … a very big ceremony – this is a kimono for that. It’s going to be very gorgeous and something very important for the life of women.
Fashion is, by necessity, an obsession for Fausto Puglisi, who designs his own label. Here he waxes lyrical about the wonder of Italian craftsmanship – something he sees as intrinsically connected to Italian society. But it is all underpinned by the opening statement: “To be proud to be Italian means to go out and discover new things”. An attitude that took Puglisi to Berlin’s S&M scene and then back to Tuscany’s leatherworkers.