Dialogue: A Sense of Freshness | Daisuke Yokoyama of Sasquatchfabrix.
INTERVIEW: Zen Tsujimoto | PHOTOGRAPHY: Chad Imes | Repeat Pattern
As a follower of contemporary Japanese menswear, one can acknowledge the ‘80s as an avant-garde movement, with fashion houses such as Commes Des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake; and the ‘90s as an urban Urahara movement, evoking names such as Undercover, A Bathing Ape, and Neighborhood.
However, in recent years, an emerging group of younger designers have started to pave a new course for the urban landscape in Tokyo. Sasquatchfabrix. — a small team inconspicuously operating in the quiet district of Hiroo — can be regarded as being at the forefront of this very movement. Well-versed and humble in the history of Japan, founder and designer Daisuke Yokoyama is unabashed and openly expressive when it comes to sharing his thoughts on the current state of fashion. On a sweltering Tokyo Summer day, we visited the Hiroo atelier to uncover the core values of Sasquatchfabrix. and explore why he chose to operate on his own path.
Have you always lived in Tokyo? Where did you spend your childhood?
I spent my childhood in Niigata prefecture and moved to Tokyo when I was around twenty-two years old. Before moving to Tokyo, I studied architecture at the Nagaoka Institute of Design in Niigata. Niigata is regarded as a prefecture on the outskirts, so my childhood wasn’t exactly like how it is today. There was no internet and not much access to information — people in the countryside like Niigata had an exaggerated perception of metropolitan cities like Tokyo or New York. When I was still living in Niigata, I would often come out to Tokyo to buy clothes or go to music events. We didn’t have much money, but every now and again we would drive out to Tokyo, each way taking around five hours. I didn’t even have a driver’s license at the time, but I often drove without one. All my friends had licenses so they taught me, and by the time I went to take my driver’s license test, the examiner couldn’t believe how good I was. I said it was my first time [laughs].
Sasquatchfabrix. is now in it’s thirteenth year, having started in 2003. Do you feel the brand has changed or evolved during this time? Are you conscious of any significant changes internally or to your immediate surroundings?
At the beginning, I was doing Sasquatchfabrix. with [Katsuki] Araki, and in those early days, we were just creating on impulse. This was until about five years ago, when the earthquake happened. When Araki left Tokyo for Fukuoka, I didn’t think there was much point in changing the name and doing it under my own name, so we continued to operate under the name of Sasquatchfabrix. Although we kept the name, the brand has significantly undergone a transformation compared to how things were in the beginning.
Until now, Tokyo has seen a mixed culture of brands since the ‘90s, with most influences deriving from the US and Europe. The Japanese took inspiration from the West and put forth their interpretation into a so-called “Tokyo style.” A lot of designers in Tokyo are still doing this, and now we have Japanese labels like sacai and Facetasm doing runway shows in Paris. The reality is that the rate of this is only increasing, and at the end of the day, the roots inevitably come from the West. It becomes this borderless mixture of everything, so I personally thought there wouldn’t be much meaning for me to do things the same way. As a Japanese designer, I wondered what could be different going forward and thought it would be interesting to conversely focus on traditional aspects we already have within this island country. Of course, I am aware that I was able to do this because of my identity — being Japanese — to adapt certain elements of traditional Japanese culture for the present day.
After the war, a reforming of civilization took place in Japan, and a divide between wa-fuku (Japanese clothing) and you-fuku (Western clothing) was quite distinct. During the Taisho period and the Meiji period, there was still a reasonable co-existence of wa-fuku and you-fuku; however, after Japan lost the war, Japanese people would subsequently shift to you-fuku. Since then, I think there’s been a long blank space of time where we haven’t seen much change since the ‘80s and ‘90s. In order to go forward, I thought to go back instead and take inspiration from traditional Japanese culture. Around five years ago, when we decided to focus on wa (Japanese culture), everyone around us thought we had gone a bit crazy. At the time, this was still quite taboo for Japanese people. In the beginning, we weren’t very good. We hadn’t been properly taught how to do anything, and our interpretation of wa was probably too obvious and direct. However, after a while of doing this, we noticed fashion had started to accept a growing inclination towards traditional Japanese culture. More recently, I think there has been a slight shift in Japanese people wanting to get back in touch with their identity and instilling that into their daily lifestyles. The easiest way to facilitate this is often something you would wear or use as a tool.
A section of the brand motto — “Always presenting a sense of freshness” — could be seen as a reference to the Shinto ideology of always offering something fresh, presenting the natural elements in it’s optimum condition to God. Do you practice Shinto or Buddhist ideologies yourself?
Japanese roots come from Shinto, so like anyone else, I have an appreciation for all the natural elements. I don’t think I’m too different from any normal Japanese person; no one is really forced to pray in their daily existence. However, I do find it funny when everyone suddenly takes off their suits and into their traditional garb for events and festivals. It’s such a quick contrast.
To explain the motto, “always presenting a sense of freshness;” when I was doing the brand with Araki, we thought if you didn’t have a sense of freshness when making things, then there was probably no point doing it. In other words, things we perceive to be standard now may have once been considered as avant-garde. For example, when sneakers first arrived, like the All Stars, everyone was wearing leather shoes and regarded sneakers as something almost ridiculous. Society regarded them as avant-garde; however, when everyone started to wear them, it gradually became something standard. Things eventually reach a level of being standard, but may be seen as avant-garde in the beginning. If we create things with a sense of freshness, then I think this brings kachikan, a true sense of value to what you make.
“More recently, I think there has been a slight shift in Japanese people wanting to get back in touch with their identity and instilling that into their daily lifestyles. The easiest way to facilitate this is often something you would wear or use as a tool.”
The Nine Peace Symbol can be seen throughout your work. Can you share with us the concept behind this? What is the significance of the 9?
The ninth law of the Japanese constitution essentially means peace, to not go to war. To symbolize this, I simply combined the number nine and the peace symbol. When there were talks of changing the constitution, I initially wasn’t completely against this because I believe that all important matters deserve meeting face-to-face and having a conversation. However, when they suddenly started to talk about changing the ninth law — the foremost core part of the constitution — I felt that was unnecessary. If it were the case where they talked about also changing other laws to make things better, then it would be a completely different story. It was this incident that lead to the making of the Nine Peace Symbol. I put the logo on the Sasquatchfabrix. homepage for free download and coined the term “copyleft” (The reverse of copyright). One of the reasons I did this is because most of the signs that people use in protests usually don’t look so great. So I encouraged people to download the Nine Peace Symbol for free. What I really don’t like is when something bad happens, the first thing people tend to do is make t-shirts for charity. I thought this step was unnecessary too. It would be a different story if they gave them out for free though.
In recent years, the brand has substantially expanded internationally. The brand can now be found in the UK, the United States, Canada and South Korea. The brand has also been quite active outside of Japan with Sasquatchfabrix. being involved with the Punk in Translation exhibition at The Horse Hospital in London (Documentation of Japanese Punks). How did you feel this was received? Are there any other international destinations where you would like to do something with Sasquatchfabrix.?
That was actually a separate project from the brand, where I did the art direction for the Punk In Translation exhibition. It was an event to showcase Japanese punk culture in London. The outbreak of punk culture from London was so strong that it even made it’s way to the Far East; however, the reality is that now you rarely see any punks in London anymore. It’s funny considering there are so many punks in Japan, this tiny country in the Far East. The Japanese punk scene now is so strong, to the extent that the scene is held in high regard by punk culture from other countries. Brands like blackmeans, who are well versed in the culture, wanted to exhibit this, so I was asked to oversee the direction and put together the exhibition. Every now and again, I like doing these kinds of personal projects that are separate from the brand.
I went to Thailand recently and I found the contemporary fashion scene in Thailand to be amazing. Until now, there has been this image for foreigners to visit because everything was cheap, and people would party in masses at beaches. However, I’m more fascinated by the current energy of the local Thai people. There were so many different interesting scenes happening and people wearing all kinds of different clothes, from Ivy League, street, skaters, punks — Bangkok seems to be a very happening place. It might sound strange to say, but I’m actually more interested in developing countries, rather than already developed countries, particularly by their processes and changes. In comparison, places like Europe seem somewhat already in their stages of completion. In that somewhat completed state, I guess there might be little movements in street culture or a different kind of essence bringing about change, little by little. Quite frankly, I’m finding Tokyo not to be the most inspiring recently. I feel like Tokyo is already reaching a state of being developed.
“If we create things with a sense of freshness, then I think this brings kachikan, a true sense of value to what we make”
2016 has been particularly busy for you, with this year seeing the release of the Sasquatchfabrix. and Supreme collaboration. How did the collaboration come about? Were you formally a fan of skate culture during your youth? Conceptually, what were you hoping to achieve by this? Was it quite a challenging process?
Of course, Supreme is a brand that I was well aware with, but I had absolutely no understanding of who the people behind Supreme were like. However, we were suddenly asked whether we were interested in collaborating, to which I said, “Is there anyone who wouldn’t?” [Laughs] Simply put, James (Jebbia) asked us to do it for youth culture. He’s continued to be received by youth culture without compromising his style, and of course, I’ve been through youth culture myself. Since I had never had any former acquaintance with Supreme, I was consequently very surprised that the inquiry came to us. Just prior to that, I had recently collaborated with Chiyonofuji Mitsugu (late Japanese champion sumo wrestler, 58th yokozuna of Sumo) from the Kokonoe Stable, so I was sure that Supreme was going to ask if I could introduce them to sumo culture. However, it was completely different and they asked if I could make something new with them, even though I’d never met them before. Their design team came from New York and proposed their ideas to us, and it took about a year of communicating back and forth to complete the project from there. Inevitably, the clothes they make are targeted at their own customers and sold through their own stores, so we catered accordingly to this and even made certain items that we normally wouldn’t have. I also wanted to make the visuals to go with the collection, so I asked them if it was all right to make the visuals from our side. They said they liked our visuals and to go ahead and see what I could come up with. I focused a lot of energy into that. I think Supreme was looking to mix contemporary youth culture with Orientalism and chose to bridge that gap by approaching us.
Conversely, it was a good way to communicate what it is we do and express certain elements of Japanese culture to a global audience through the strength of Supreme. I think it’s an opportunity that would rarely happen, even if you wished for it. I thought it would be interesting to see young, non-Japanese people wearing Japanese traditional looking clothes, and that more interestingly, Japanese people would again be influenced by seeing this, essentially changing what they once perceived as outdated to be cool again. Now and again I will see young people wearing pieces from the collaboration. When I was in Paris, I saw a lot of local youth skating in the Republique wearing the collaboration, so I left a few copies of the visual catalogue in the area as a gift for anyone to take away. There weren’t that many copies of the book made to begin with, so I thought it would probably be quite difficult for these kids to get.
The brand pulls reference from a diverse range of cultural facets (Orientalism, Japanese traditional work-wear, music, graffiti, skate culture and the avant-garde). More recently, what have you been most stimulated by culturally? Are there any other mediums of art or culture you have felt inspired by? Can you share with us the creative processs?
In terms of creative process, we will absentmindedly follow a theme, and it won’t usually be pinned down to just one word. Our collection “Korosuna; Oriental is a counterculture” was inspired by Japanese author Daisetsu Suzuki, who spread his work to the States in the 1970s. His book explains the East and the West from our perspective, with a focus that usually favours the West and renders the East almost like a counterculture. To us, it almost sounds like the East or the Orient is there to oppose the West. This is not about which one is more dominant but more in the sense that one counters the other, and without both, there cannot be balance in society. In that sense, we are not concerned about spreading an Oriental style; it’s more so to do with instilling a sense of balance through a medium of clothing.
When Japan lost the war, this left the Japanese people hating anything to do with war, even decades later. So nowadays, when there is talk of new agreements and nations potentially going to war again, there is always going to be a certain number of people rebelling this. The first people in Japan to get together and protest this was a small group of peace activists called Beheiren that campaigned against the Vietnam War. Within that group were artists like Taro Okamoto. They even bought a page in the Washington Post (April 3rd, 1967) featuring his Korosuna piece (Do Not Kill), as an anti-war advertisement. I’ve been inspired by all kinds of different people, who’ve done different things in different eras. Overall, I think the priority for me is to bring together certain elements of an indigenous nature and apply it to the present day with the right balance. You have to be careful not to overdo this, or conversely, undershoot this, and in the end, there is a need to communicate this to people in a comfortable and non-offensive way. This has definitely changed over time. We’ve all had to grow up and can’t do things the same way when we were younger and had a lot more energy.
“The reason why I liked clothing in the first place was in the context of urban landscape. I believe clothing is the easiest way to change the landscape of a city.”
You also formally studied architecture. Do you believe this has contributed to any skill sets or a design awareness that might contribute to the creative process for Sasquatchfabrix.?
Yes it has. My major was in spatial design, so I was interested in things like the relationship of something and how it would affect its surroundings, and what would happen a hundred years later. I studied spatial design and urban planning and think this has been very useful to me for Sasquatchfabrix. The reason why I liked clothing in the first place was in the context of urban landscape. I believe clothing is the easiest way to change the landscape of a city. The way you see a city can really change by what you see people wearing. Tokyo, more specifically Harajuku, during the ’90s was a really interesting place when there were guys doing things like Nowhere (Jun Takahashi and NIGO’s first shop). The energy of a group of young people really changed the landscape of the city. It even caused a rise in the price of commodities, so it’s all very fascinating in terms of urban planning. It came from the completely opposite end of the spectrum.
At the time, a lot of energy went into small consumer goods and was able to have a huge influence on the surrounding local people. Instead of a small percentage of powerful people at the top planning and developing the layout of the city, Harajuku was more developed by people much further down the pyramid; it was a complete role-reversal. To think that was essentially done by printed T-shirts is really interesting. The ‘80s — with brands like Commes des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto — was also on a similar page in terms of counterculture. I really believe a city can change from a minority of people with a lot of energy. Even Kenzo Tange’s generation with Tocho (Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building) and the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, that was a metabolic period when things swelled up and essentially influenced a movement of architectural modernism in Japan. I find that culturally fascinating.
Can you share with us what you are currently working on? Are there any specific textiles or fabrics you are particularly involved with at the moment?
I’m always looking for new textiles, but more specifically, at the moment I’m quite interested in the origins of neighbouring countries in Asia such as Taiwan. It’s from these places that I’d like to gain a deeper understanding of their culture and do the same things as I’m doing now, bringing things from the past and connecting them with now. But it’s very difficult [laughs]. I really want to spend a lot of time doing this, but to do it well though. In particular, I’m quite interested in traditional Taiwanese and Korean culture, but also Italian culture, not to limit things to Asia.
Have you thought about maybe showing at Pitti or these types of tradeshows?
Maybe not Pitti. Instead of the showroom system, I much prefer more of a comfortable environment of presenting the clothes, perhaps showing in an old house for example. This is quite typical of Tokyo brands, in the sense that they rarely show together at one location and prefer to do things individually on a smaller scale — to take care of communication more directly. I’m well aware that things work very differently in Europe and places like New York and that you’d have to use a showroom or else no one would notice you. But then again, I do really like that there’s a sense of a real feeling, a real relationship with the people you do business with, and I’d like to think we’ll start seeing more of this in the future. Sure, big department stores are nice, but I think it would be more interesting to do things on a high quality level across all levels. If too many people start getting involved, then things start to become more difficult and often end up taking up more time to do the things you really want. I often wonder why, when Japanese brands suddenly go overseas, they try to appear bigger than they really are.
How do you feel where the current state of fashion is? And where do you see Sasquatchfabrix amongst this?
I honestly think we are just doing things on our own accord. In terms of the domestic market, magazines and the like, I get the impression that they don’t quite understand what we’re doing. Whatever it is we’re doing, I think is just very under the radar [laughs]. In the end, fashion houses like Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, Commes Des Garcons, Dries Van Noten; for the most part, I honestly don’t think much has changed much from there. There hasn’t really been a new generation hero, and it’s often very hard for anyone new to succeed. Even if there is some new talent, they usually end up being a designer who previously worked for another fashion house. It feels somewhat like people have been clinging onto that movement. For example, a label like J.W. Anderson, even if they do an extravagant show, I wonder what kind of impact this leaves people in three years time. For me, I don’t want to go down the same pathway a designer is expected to, because that’s just what everyone else is doing.
I think the current system is missing a fresh opportunity to form a new way of doing things, form a new community of people, and for it to be able to sustain itself from there. I do think there has been an increase of people that have been pushing a new type of menswear in a stylish and considerate way, and with it, a relative increase in menswear stores around the world that nurture this. I think that if this continues to cycle, we will probably start to see a new wave of menswear designers to emerge. In Japan, the top is already in a state of saturation, the level of production we see is good at making things, and customers are now well aware of the finer details when it comes to clothing. From what I’ve seen, I haven’t really seen any new movement from a younger generation, and if there isn’t a new emergence of young designers who can bring new ideals and a different sense of values, things aren’t going to get interesting
Is there anything else you feel particularly inspired by or draw inspiration from? Has this further influenced your design or business? Is there a plan to be a more internationally recognized brand?
Yes, if we end up only doing things within Japan, we consequently end up being controlled by the Japanese market in terms of taste. There’s also the business side of things too. If the Japanese market dictates a certain direction, then everyone tends to head towards a very limited direction. However, if we stray too far off course, there can be also times when we are doing our own thing too much, and it ends up not going very well at all. If we have a sense of other countries, and understand what would work well in certain countries, then we don’t have to just solely focus on Japan. If we can stay true to what we want to do, and stick to our own identity, then we will be able to do the things we want. If we just operate on a domestic basis, then nothing can go further from there. In order to maintain and support ourselves, I think it’s necessary to go outside, and meet people with different outlooks and gain new perspectives. I try to travel at least once every two months in between the seasons.
“I think the current system is missing a fresh opportunity to form a new way of doing things, form a new community of people, and for it to be able to sustain itself from there.”
Your atelier and showroom is based in Hiroo. Why did you choose this area?
This is probably because the area doesn’t really have anyone from the same industry [laughs]. The space is quite nice, and we wanted to be a little bit secluded from industry people. I prefer to be a little separated from the noise, I like that distance. In a good way, I am not influenced at all by this part of town, as opposed to being exposed to a fashion area on a daily basis. I don’t get that many strange looks around this area, but where I live in Oimachi, when I drop off my kid to kindergarten, I will often get a few funny looks as the area is quite plain and simple. That’s my real daily life [laughs].
What is next for Sasquatchfabrix.? Where do you see yourself in the next 2~3 years. Stand alone shop etc?
I want to continue doing things that I find interesting. I’ve recently thought I’d like to do something in Paris, not necessarily a show, it could be an installation, but it would have to be something very different that no one has seen until now. I have to see how things go, but if I were to do something there, I would need a greater understanding of the local culture area, and know exactly what kind of person I want to get my message across. I go twice a year, so I’m still in the observation stages.