In an industry obsessed with youth and glamour, Yohji Yamamoto’s epic history of military styles sets him apart and is instantly recognizable as his brand. Not many designers make collections about the weariness of war and growing older, but that seems to be what Yamamoto did for his Fall 2019 men’s collection. This is a collection about the journey of life, and the kind of inner strength, defiance, and beauty that is only revealed through experience, wear, and time.
At first glance, the collection just looks like a bunch of lovely coats, long, deconstructed, and military inspired. However, beautiful as they are on their own, the coats in this collection are the medium for a story told through a series of exquisite details that require a closer look. The collection unfolded in a storyline progression. The first models entered with gaunt, yet glinting eyes, knocking shoulders as they passed each other on the catwalk. They wore rugged officer coats woven with a pattern similar to camouflage, with dried mud stains, and fabrics that appeared bleached and wrinkled from the sun. Upon closer inspection, though hard to decipher they appear to depict almost photographic imagery. Spidery embroidery dangled with loose threads portraying lions, scorpions, snakes and a rams skull. All threatening animals symbolic of power, aggression and danger. Oddly there was a sloth in the mix, embroidered full size across the back of a coat – maybe a bit of a joke, maybe just commentary on the tension between ambition and limitation in human nature. Probably a bit of both.
Midway through, the collection takes a turn towards more serious, polished and darkly saturated. silhouettes. The embroidery morphs into thick Japanese characters with smaller text printed in large blocks. Military airplane marked with stars and Y’s (of course) trail over the shoulders and trickle down from coat tails. The collection begins to feels older and more mature. Fastenings briefly take the shape of bundled cords tied together, with some left undone. Then rows of marbled white buttons take center stage, marching up the front of a coat before veering off on their own independent ornamental path, and becoming more and more chaotic. Suddenly the buttons burst into trickling golden threads, embossed with spiders, bats, and scorpions, all placed in a decorative and unusual array. Splashes of gold accented black leather gloves and boots complete some of the looks, each one more regal than the last. And then abruptly, the collection goes completely dark. Monstrously large black buttons the size of pocket watches dangle black chains swinging like pendulums with tiny charms in the shape of keys, horse heads, and coffins. The message reads loudly – our time is limited, death is imminent. In one final gesture, the enormous buttons turn back to brilliant gold. Still dangling pendulum charms, we see that there are coffins, but there are also wings.
Yamamoto, now in his mid 70’s, has been known to say that there is a lot of anger hidden behind his work, but that he also creates out of a desire to offer people something helpful and protective. As the collection builds, we feel the emotional impact of despair and bitterness in his militaristic garments seen on rugged, war weary models, but also transcendence and the process of growth. Yamamoto’s mother was a war widow, and after completing law school he opted to help her with her dress shop rather than continue with his initially chosen career. He is surely no stranger to disappointment and hardship, which have shaped his incredible body of work. This collection is a reflective and philosophical statement from Yamamoto letting us know that we don’t have to pretend the world is a fantasy, but we also don’t have to be broken by reality. In his eyes the challenges that grind at us and age us can also push us to grow into stronger and more complex people, and that experience, even more than youth and glamour, is ultimately be the greatest source of beauty.