Kansai Yamamoto obituary

Fashion designer who created memorable stage costumes for stars including David Bowie, Elton John and Lady Gaga

The Japan that Kansai Yamamoto showed the world in 1971 came as a shock: not subtle, tasteful, crafted of natural materials and worn by time. It was the Japan of souvenir shops outside popular shrines, stocked with tat in synthetic lamé; of firemen’s demon tattoos; and of woodblock prints of purple-clad ghosts. Yamamoto learned in time that these continued the five-century-old Japanese style of basara – meaning “way too much” and “wild rebel” – but when he was growing up in the 1950s they simply reflected a working-class taste, rougher than the country’s sober traditional aesthetics and westernised postwar aspirations.

The first major customer of Yamamoto, who has died aged 76, was luckily a westerner who got the appeal of basara and even knew quite a lot about Japanese kabuki theatre: David Bowie. Yamamoto busted out of Japan in 1971 to show an extraordinary collection at London fashion week of theatrical garments, gaudy graphic makeup somewhere between kabuki and Amazonian tribal, and comic-book presentation. London enjoyed his pop-art oriental exotic style, and his women’s clothes were stocked in the boutique Boston 151 on the King’s Road, Chelsea.

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