The man who dressed David Bowie: Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto dies aged 76

The influential designer was behind some of the British musician's most recognisable on-stage looks

Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto has died aged 76.

His daughter confirmed that he passed away on July 21, although the news was not made public at the time. His official website said the Yokohama-born designer was suffering from leukemia.

While his name may not be familiar to those outside the industry, he was a powerful force and pioneer within fashion.

Kansai (as he preferred to be called to avoid confusion with fellow designer Yohji Yamamoto) first showed at London Fashion Week in 1971.

Featuring what would become his trademark of outrageous colour, bold sculptural shapes and clashing patterning, Harpers & Queen magazine described it at the time as "the show of the year ... a spectacular coup de theatre".

In 1973, Kansai met the singer David Bowie, who was already a fan and wore the designer's collections on stage. The pair hit it off, discovering a shared love of the unconventional.

Bowie asked Kansai to create stage costumes for his 1973 Aladdin Sane tour. In the resulting looks, Kansai leaned heavily on Japanese culture, fusing Samurai armour and traditional calligraphy with the modern, creating catsuits with flared hems, huge colourful cloaks and silhouettes echoing the elongated lines of the kimono.

So integral to Bowie’s stage shows was Kansai that in a 2013 exhibition at London's Victoria & Albert Museum, David Bowie Is, many looks on show had been created by the designer.

A self-taught designer, Kansai founded his own label at the age of 28 and enjoyed success during the 1970s and 80s, when he also created stage looks for musicians Elton John and Stevie Wonder.

Building on the Japanese notion of basara – the love of flamboyance and bright, bold colour – he began to stage what he dubbed "supershows", with runways filled with riotous theatrical looks.

Shunning the traditional fashion circuit, he showed instead in places such as Moscow's Red Square.

When Louis Vuitton womenswear designer Nicolas Ghesquiere took the label's cruise show to Kyoto, Japan, in 2018, he invited Kansai to create some looks for the runway. The result was a series of sparkling dresses emblazoned with faces lifted from Japanese theatre.

In 2019, Kansai collaborated with American designer Anna Sui for a collection entitled Anna Sui x Kansai Yamamoto. Brimming with colour and patterns, it also used Japanese motifs, such as the kimono.

Updated: July 29, 2020 09:18 AM


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