Yohji Yamamoto Marks 40 Years In The Roiling Fashion Business

The forefather of the contemporary avant-garde is the subject of a site-specific solo show at Design Museum Holon.

On July 5th, legendary Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto unveiled his latest menswear line in Paris sporting a startling look: a black eye (which turned out to be fake), and a jacket with a hand-stitched slogan: “For Sale.”


The subtext was obvious. Since filing for bankruptcy protection in 2009, Yamamoto has been at the mercy of a private equity firm responsible for restructuring his 40-year-old company Y. Unfortunately, Yamamoto’s story is an incredibly common one, as the Japanese fashion industry struggles through an ongoing decline in sales. Despite the tumult, critical acclaim for the avant-garde designer has only intensified.

Only a week before he showed up looking like he lost a fight in Paris, Yamamoto was on hand to open a site-specific exhibition of his work at Design Museum Holon, in Israel. The show, which runs until October, marks two occasions: the 60th anniversary of Japanese-Israeli relations, and the 40th anniversary of Y.

Though New York, Paris and Florence museums have all hosted the traveling Yamamoto exhibitions over the past five years, Holon’s treatment of the show is by far the most experimental. The two-year-old Museum, designed by Ron Arad, is more of a surrealist stage than a conventional exhibition space. “Bringing together two creators like Ron Arad and Yohji Yamamoto wasn’t self-evident,” explains chief curator Galit Gaon. But Yamamoto’s billowing, unexpected silhouettes seem right at home amidst Arad’s shadowy gallery spaces. “The major thing that artists have to interact with is the architecture of the building,” Gaon told Interview recently.

The show leads visitors through gardens, galleries, and lab spaces. In one gallery, visitors will find 38 mannequins on a motorized track, dressed in vibrant shades that will surprise the average black-and-only-black Yamamoto fan. The room is meant to evoke the hectic pace of city life. In another gallery, visitors are invited to touch the fabrics and materials–which range from silk to neoprene–the hang from the models. In the Museum’s lab space, twenty male silhouettes are arranged around a single white gown designed by Pina Bausch, the late choreographer immortalized by Wim Wenders in his film, Pina, last year.

The nod to Bausch (and indirectly, Wenders) makes sense. Yamamoto was close with both artists, and all three grew up in countries torn apart by World War II. Wenders’ immortalized that tension in shadowy films like Himmel Uber Berlin, while Bausch did so with explosive, provocative dance. “I was born in a very bad moment in Japan,” the designer told the New York Times in 2011. “There was no food to feed babies, so my generation of people are very small. So naturally I am angry about my size, so I design big sizes.” In Israel, amidst the heavy, surrealist curves of Arad’s museum, his work has found an unlikely, but powerful, context.

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.