The world may have lost him in July of this year at age 76, but Kansai Yamamoto’s legacy in fashion will without a doubt continue to live on. His vivid imagery and presentation trickled down not just to his fashion pieces but also his entire runway shows, delivering a visually addicting vibe drunk in colour, which earned him the title 'The Kaleidoscope King'.
As the designer responsible for some of David Bowie’s most iconic looks — including the extravagance and maximalism of the music icon’s alter egos Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane — it’s no wonder why other avant-garde designers like Anna Sui and Jeremy Scott view him as an inspiration.
While his name might not resonate as much as the likes of Japanese designers Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto or Nigo in today’s scene, his influence undoubtedly paved the way for the recognition of J-fashion in the Western arena (despite his humble perception of this feat). After all, he is the first Japanese fashion designer to showcase work in London Fashion Week in 1971.
But aside from his known collaborations and his inarguable contribution to the industry, what is it about Kansai’s vision on fashion that sets him apart from other figures in the field?
The anti-thesis of Japanese minimalism
“In Japan, the word basara means to dress freely, with a stylish extravagance,” said Kansai Yamamoto in his Victoria & Albert Fashion In Motion showcase in London in 2013. “Basara is the opposite of the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic, which is underplayed and modest; it is colourful and flamboyant and it lies at the heart of my design.”
It's no wonder why his other clients — musical legends Elton John and Stevie Wonder, as well as current pop music personalities like Rita Ora and Lady Gaga — are also known for their very loud and colourful personas. From exaggerated silhouettes to asymmetric patterns and even down to beauty looks that never fail to inspire awe, Kansai's artistry and collaborations were void of simple black-and-white.
After a long hiatus from fashion to pursue stage and events production and direction, Kansai described his return to the industry in 2013 to WWD as a culmination of his 20 years as a fashion designer and 20 years “focused on entertainment”. The showcase, aptly called Fashion In Motion, was held in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. It was dubbed a “super-show” that combined fashion with “music, dance, and large scale entertainment.”
Kansai shared more of his musings about his craft on a Dazed Digital 2013 interview, saying: “After my shows, people feel happy and that is my dream. I try to create something that conveys more than just clothes. If I fell in love with someone, over time I wouldn't remember what they were wearing — you also need to focus on the importance of the mind.”