Japanese Fashion Designers

Celebrating their influence and legacy.


Fashion in America as we know it today is an amalgamation of styles and influences from cultures all around the world. One country that has produced some of the most influential fashion designers in history is Japan. Some of the most famous fashion houses have taken heavy influence from Japanese fashion and designers including Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and many more. The impact Japanese designers have had on the fashion world stretches far and wide, but here are some of the designers that are critical to know when beginning to explore the subject.
Issey Miyake
Issey Miyake was born in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1938. Some of his inspirations included designers such as Isamu Naguchi and Madeleine Vionnet, and sculptors like Constantin Brâncuși and Alberto Giacometti. He created designs for many settings: ready-to-wear, costumes for dancers, uniforms for the 1992 summer Olympics, and high fashion. A key element included in many of his designs was pleating, which he was credited for reinventing using a new method of heating the fabric. He created a line titled Pleats Please that displayed this technique for the first time. Miyake utilized traditional Japanese fabrics and designs and reimagined them into many never before seen styles.
Yohji Yamamoto
Yohji Yamamoto, a fashion designer based out of Tokyo and Paris, was born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1943. He first debuted his designs in 1977, and has won many awards for his work and is considered a master tailor and designer. Yamamoto melds avant-garde concepts with Japanese aesthetics and has been known for using menswear styles for his womenswear designs. He uses the color black in almost all of his designs. He often utilized elements of distressing, which he saw as beautiful when others at the time thought it looked dirty or messy. Yamamoto believed strongly in embracing imperfection which was a key theme throughout his work.
Rei Kawakubo
Rei Kawakubo is a Japanese fashion designer, born in 1942 in Tokyo, Japan, whose work is based out of Paris and Tokyo. In 1969, she started to make clothes under the name COMME des GARÇONS, and in 1971 made it an official label. By 1981 the label had their debut runway show at Paris fashion week. Her designs are often recognizable by the unconventional shape materials and texture, often disregarding things like symmetry. The brand quickly became a staple of Japanese fashion as American celebrities and artists started wearing the brand. Jean-Michel Basquiat even walked in one of their runway shows. In addition to creating COMME des GARÇONS she created Dover Street Market, a boutique store carrying brands such as COMME des GARÇONS, Gucci, Rick Owens and even the became the only retailer in the world allowed to carry Supreme.
Kansai Yamamoto
Kansai Yamamoto was a fashion designer born in 1944 in Yokohama, Japan. Yamamoto’s work had a very unique, avant-garde aesthetic that uses maximalism in a very captivating way. He established his company Yamamoto Kansai Company in 1972, and debuted his first collection the same year in London and the United States. WIth this collection Yamamoto became the first Japanese designer to have a show in London. Despite his many other achievements, what most attributed to Yamaoto’s fame was how in 1972, he designed the stage costumes for musician David Bowie on his Ziggy Stardust Tour. In 2018, Yamamoto worked in collaboration with Louis Vuitton creating classic Japanese art and Kabuki-inspired patterns that were used in Vuitton’s 2018 Resort Collection.
Junya Watanabe
Junya Watanabe was born in Fukushima, Japan in 1961. He attended Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo, and after graduating in 1984 became an apprentice under COMME des GARÇONS as a pattern maker. By 1991 he had his own line under COMME des GARÇONS and was the protege of Rei Kawakubo. His style is easily recognisable by things like deconstructed tailoring, unique patterns, patchwork and use of technical and non-traditional fabrics. Since then he has put his unique twist on collaborations with Converse, Levi’s, Carhartt, Nike, The North Face, Palace and more.