Renowned Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto dead at 76

Internationally renowned Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto is known for his avant-garde collections and career-defining collaboration with the late rock icon David Bowie, died last week of leukemia aged 76, his office and family announced on Monday.

Confirming his death via Instagram on Monday, Yamamoto’s daughter, actress Mirai Yamamoto said her father “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,” she wrote.

In February, Yamamoto announced he had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He died last Tuesday. His office said a funeral was held with family and close relatives attending. Born in 1944 in Yokohama, near Tokyo, Yamamoto studied civil engineering before discovering his passion for fashion. He debuted in 1971, becoming the first Japanese fashion designer to hold a show in London after receiving Japan’s Soen Award, which recognizes up-and-coming fashion designers, in 1967.

Yamamoto was known for creating bold avant-garde pieces that defied gender norms and blending traditional Japanese motifs with bold designs and colours. His collection in London, inspired by Kabuki and Japanese aesthetics, made him famous worldwide and brought him long-lasting friendships with internationally famous musicians, including Elton John, Stevie Wonder and David Bowie.

Yamamoto designed the costumes and bold outfits that Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust alter ego wore in his 1972-73 Aladdin Insane tour. “I found David’s aesthetic and interest in transcending gender boundaries shockingly beautiful,” he told the website The Cut in 2018. Yamamoto also showed in the New York, Paris and Tokyo fashion weeks from 1974 to 1992, according to the website of his company, Kansai Yamamoto Inc. He also demonstrated his talent in civil engineering by designing venues and organizing social events for the 2008 G-8 summit in Toyako in northern Japan and he won awards for his interior and exterior design of the Keisie Skyliner train connecting Tokyo and Narita International Airport. “As he fought his illness, he remained always positive, never lost his passion towards creation, and was strongly determined to recover and come back with fully-charged energy to see you again,” his company said in a statement. “‘Human energy is limitless was his motto he would never let go, and he bravely kept challenging no matter hard the situation”. A “public farewell” may be held at a later date taking into account the COVID-19 situation.

Maria Peftouloglou