Legendary designer and Bowie collaborator Kansai Yamamoto has died

The Japanese trailblazer was 76

Legendary Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto has passed away after a short battle with leukemia. “He left this world peacefully, surrounded by loved ones,” his daughter Mirai announced on Instagram. He was 76.

Blazing a trail for those that would follow in his footsteps, Yamamoto founded his namesake label in 1971 and quickly became known for his avant-garde approach to fashion. That same year, Yamamoto became the first Japanese designer to show in London, where his work caught the eye of David Bowie. The rest, as they say, is history, with Yamamoto costuming Bowie in some of his most recognisable looks, as part of his Ziggy Stardust Aladdin Sane tour of 1972 (see: that shining black and white geometric jumpsuit). 

Although Yamamoto is renowned for his forward-thinking, gender-blurring clothing, in 2016, the designer opened up to The Hollywood Reporter about how this wasn’t always the case. “When David (Bowie) wore my women’s clothes, people were very surprised,” he explained. “My clothes were designed to be worn by women. When I think of it, it was a bizarre thing for him to do.” 

He also claimed that without Bowie, his signature jumpsuits “Would still be sleeping at the corner of my little room in Tokyo I had at the time” – a sentiment we highly doubt tbh, since he also counted the likes of Stevie Wonder and Elton John among his fans. 

Yamamoto didn’t just create clothes for those putting on a show, however. After taking a break from fashion, by the early 90s he began throwing his own ‘Super Show’ extravaganzas which fused music, dance, acrobatics, and traditional Japanese performances and featured killer costumes (obvs) in countries including Vietnam, Russia, and India.

More recently, Yamamoto joined forces with Louis Vuitton on a collaborative collection of Kabuki-inspired pieces as part of the label’s 2018 Cruise show. 

Revisit Yamamoto’s 2013 show at the V&A in the gallery above.