Japanese Designer Kansai Yamamoto Dies at 76

Japanese Designer Kansai Yamamoto Dies at 76

Japanese Designer Kansai Yamamoto Dies at 76

The prolific designer created some of David Bowie's most memorable looks.

The prolific designer created some of David Bowie's most memorable looks.

Text: Michaela Zee

Kansai Yamamoto, the ebullient Japanese designer known for his memorable collaborations with David Bowie, died last week on July 21, 2020. He was 76. 

Yamamoto’s death was officially announced via Instagram on Monday by his daughter, Mirai, who stated that he “left this world peacefully, surrounded by loved ones.”

“In my eyes, my father was not only the eclectic and energetic soul that the world knew him as, but someone who was also thoughtful, kind-hearted and affectionate,” Mirai wrote. 

Kansai Yamamoto (right) and Sayoko Yamaguchi (left) in Tokyo in November 1982. (Kyodo News via Getty Images)

According to a statement issued by Yamamoto’s company, the designer died last Tuesday following his battle with acute myeloid leukemia. 

“As he fought his illness, he remained always positive, never lost his passion toward creation, and was strongly determined to recover and come back with fully charged energy to see you again,” the statement read. 

Born in Yokohama in 1944, Yamamoto studied civil engineering before making a personal commitment to the realm of fashion. In 1971, he became the first Japanese designer to hold a show in London, which led him to receive widespread recognition and critical acclaim for his avant-garde designs. 

Kansai Yamamoto, Fall 1984 ready-to-wear. (Daniel Simon / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Following his debut, Yamamoto went on to befriend many well-renowned musicians, including Elton John and Stevie Wonder. His exaggerated, gender-bending creations also intrigued the late singer David Bowie, who wore Yamamoto’s designs for his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust.  

The pair collaborated with each other on numerous costume designs for Bowie, especially during his Aladdin Sane tour. Yamamoto’s vivid color palettes and flamboyant silhouettes emphasized Bowie’s Glam rock aesthetic, and his designs became some of Bowie’s most iconic onstage outfits. 

David Bowie and Kansai Yamamoto in Kansai's studio is April 1973. (Masayoshi Sukita / Morrison Hotel Gallery)

“Some sort of chemical reaction took place: My clothes became part of David, his songs and his music,” Yamamoto said in a 2016 interview. “They became part of the message he delivered to the world.” 

Besides his more fluid, avant-garde approach to fashion, Yamamoto also incorporated Japanese motifs into his work. He often explored traditional Japanese craftsmanship within his designs, and even embraced “Basara" — a concept that challenges traditional ideals. 

“Design is self-realization,” Yamamoto told Kuniko Miyanga, author of The Creative Crackly Edge: Emerging Individualism in Japan. 

Hiroshi Yoda

Yamamoto's costumes for David Bowie are still on display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. His exuberance will always remain a part of his designs and legacy. 

“‘Human energy is limitless’ was his motto he would never let go, and he bravely kept challenging no matter how hard the situation,” his company stated.

Credits: Photo: Alejandro Garcia / EPA / Shutterstock

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