Sacai Garden blooms in Colette
She’s the most influential designer to come out of Asia this century; the woman who almost single-handedly revived Japanese fashion and this month’s star designer in Colette and Dover Street Market, but to listen to style superstar Chitose Abe, all she does is get her inspiration from the uniquely jumbled-up world of downtown Tokyo.
“Tokyo is not like Paris or London. Everything is mixed up, even the classes. Which is why you have luxury Louis Vuitton store right beside a cheap sushi restaurant. No wonder my clothes are hybrid!” smiles Abe over a cup of Sacai coffee – named Toriba and roasted by a Japanese barista - inside Colette.
It’s one of several hundred items which began retailing on Tuesday in Colette, a project called Jardin Sacai, which ranges from plastic sandals with Mexican wrestler mask motifs, courtesy of a link-up with Zucca; to cuddly [email protected] Japanese bear dolls, to hybrid jewellery made with current Paris favourite Charlotte Chesnais.
The night before in London, Abe unveiled her latest link-up with The North Face in iconic Dover Street Market, with a dinner co-hosted by Marc Newson.
“Of course, I road-tested them. When it gets as cold as it does in New York, or Tokyo, I love wearing The North Face. And, you know, we have sold out everything online already,” she beams. Her designs are not cheap, but not too painful at the cash register either: a khaki North Face bomber starts at £570 in London, while a pink nylon Sacai x Fragment splash jacket costs €510 in Paris.
While in Paris, she presented three other significant fashion link-ups – partnerships with Converse, Levi’s and Lacoste. Just like the charming multi-plissé tennis dresses in baby blue and French royal (priced at €845) worn by Colette’s founder Sarah Andelman. For those of you who have been off fashion planet – Andelman and her mum Colette are closing the legendary store at the end of the year – and its August assortment is curated by Lucien Pagès, the gentlemanly PR man of, among others, Sacai.
Sacai also took over the windows of Colette, the same store where she launched her book Sacai A to Z three years ago. She’s a huge fan of Paris, where she came in 2005 with a suitcase to show her clothes.
“My three favourite things in Paris? Colette! Place de la Concorde and Nodaïwa restaurant, since it serves great Japanese eel. And it’s such a pity to lose Colette,” she nods.
It’s hard to underestimate Abe’s influence this past few years – her assemblage techniques of mixing, biker jackets with raw sheepskin; green flight jackets cut like opera coats and finished with floral embroidery; or cable knits combined with military trenches have powered a huge movement in fashion. Ideas she gets just by walking around the streets and clubs of central Tokyo districts like Aoyama. “I still love to go clubbing… And visit bars… many,” giggles Abe, a pretty brunette with a ready smile and mocking eyes.
Asked about her favourite designers, she looks pained. “I like very much Rei Kawakubo, and the way with Comme des Garcons she mixes creativity and commerce,” says Abe, who worked for the Japanese great as a patternmaker in her youth before founding Sacai in 1998, the year her daughter Tohko was born. Though she pointedly refused to name any Western designer she admired – looking down at the floor when asked.
Though Tokyo born and bred, Abe did spend one year in London; “living not so far from Oxford Circus, listening to Oasis.” And a British influence is clear in her designs, like the very cool tartan wool and mesh skirt trimmed with gros grain – a signature Sacai touch – that she wore when we met.
A notorious workaholic, Abe heads back to Japan after just three days in Europe. She starts her average day at 10AM, but often works until 11PM. And, she supervises everything, overseeing her small but growing chain of stores; almost a dozen flagships ranging from Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong and Beijing. Today, she can boast some 250 doors though was tight-lipped about her annual sales. Estimates suggest it’s over $35 million.
She used to drive to work, though “a little accident” led her to give that up. One of the few mistakes this miniature force of nature has ever made.
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