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The founder of sacai, Chitose Abe, is a master at reading the ripples of global culture. Season after season, with a chameleon-like approach, the Japanese designer blurs the boundaries of style. Abe’s collections are filled with intuitive pieces that appeal to a range of wearers, expanding upon clothing archetypes and statement pieces alike. Everyday garments are elevated by clever proportions, contrasting materials, and artisanal details. Over the years, she has played with military garb, illusionistic fabric panels, and even portraits of changemakers like Sade and Albert Einstein printed on T-shirts. Following a design methodology rooted in hybridization, sacai straddles the worlds of femininity and masculinity with sophisticated dress and streetwear.
For Nike’s Spring 2019 collection, Abe teamed up with the brand to present two new styles of shoes—the Blazer Mid, and a hybrid of Nike’s LDV and Waffle Racer models called the LDWaffle. A year later, after much success, the duo released another new style of the VaporWaffle model for Nike’s Fall 2020 line. That same season for sacai’s Fall/Winter 2020 men’s collection, Abe welcomed back tattoo artist and previous collaborator Dr. Woo to design a bandana design for an array of pieces. Concurrently for her women’s collection, she joined forces with Girard Studio, which is run by the family of the late American architect and designer Alexander Girard, to rework sacai’s logo with his typographic touch. And most recently, she was announced as the first guest designer to create the next Jean Paul Gaultier’s couture collection, after the French designer announced his departure from fashion design earlier this year.
Whitewall spoke with Abe about sacai’s evolutionary creative heartbeat and how its latest collection celebrates those who defy expectations.
WHITEWALL: How did you approach your Fall/Winter 2020 collection, with details inspired by Alexander Girard?
CHITOSE ABE: For the sacai Fall/Winter 2020 collection I was thinking about silhouettes beyond the visual three-dimensional form but instead how the silhouettes would change with movement. I have always admired the work of Alexander Girard, and for this collaboration, I was inspired by the regimented and linear nature of Girard’s typographic work, which Ireworked to include the sacai logo. The pattern was then printed on different types of fabrics such as satin and chiffon and cut into squares that were then constructed to create fluid and curvilinear shapes by applying sacai’s unique sartorial techniques, changing the static typographic design into something that flows with movement.
WW: Your women’s Spring/Summer 2021 show was presented in Japan at the Enoura Observatory—a space that the artist Hiroshi Sugimoto created as his Odawara Art Foundation. How did you decide on this location?
CA: When I decided to present my collection in Japan this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I knew I wanted to show at the Enoura Observatory. Hiroshi Sugimoto took 20 years to realize this space for his art foundation, which only opened three years ago, and it is truly special with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop. Sugimoto said that he wanted this observatory to last thousands of years just like many ancient monuments in Japan have. It started raining just as the show was starting, but somehow the rain created the perfect mood for my collection in this space. I wish I could have invited more guests to experience the show in person.
WW: The men’s Spring/Summer 2021 show, alongside the women’s Resort 2021 collection, featured a collaboration with Hank Willis Thomas. Why did you want to work with this artist? What pieces did you create together?
CA: I was first introduced to Hank Willis Thomas’s work over a year agowhen I received a book of his work from a friend. Since then I have been following his work and felt that the words “Love Over Rules,” originating from Thomas’s work, perfectly evoked the idea of peace, love, and unity that I associate the sacai collection with. Inspired by those who have broken the rules and pushed boundaries to defy society’s expectations regardless of their race, culture, or sexuality, this men’s Spring/Summer 2021 and women’s Resort 2021 collections show that “Love Over Rules.” In addition to the “Love Over Rules” words, which are used within the collection, there are also pieces that are inspired by Thomas’s graphic patchwork patterns.
WW: Your flagship store in Tokyo opened in September 2011. Why did you want to work with architect Sou Fujimoto for this space?
CA: I chose to work with the architect Sou Fujimoto as he is known for integrating contrary elements such as nature and artifact, the idea of outside and inside, the new and the old in his work, which I was drawn to as it is similar to how I design the sacai collection. With sacai, I often create items that are juxtaposing traditional or classical ideas into one garment and incorporating fabrics and materials that may have opposing characteristics.
WW: How did sacai’s ongoing collaborations with Nike begin?
CA: I have always really liked Nike products and already wore their sneakers in my daily wardrobe. The conversation came about when I was talking to a friend of mine who works at Nike and that organically developed into the collaboration, which began in Spring 2015.
The Nike x sacai LDWaffle incorporates the sacai “hybrid” splicing technique by mixing two different types of Nike sneakers, and the end result is a sneaker which features two soles, two tongues, two pairs of shoelaces, and two “Swoosh” logos.
WW: In October 2020, a pair of those shoes featuring hand-drawn details by KAWS also went up for auction on Artsy with all proceeds benefitting to Free Arts NYC. Why did you want to be a part of this initiative?
CA: I first became involved with Free Arts NYC in 2018 when they were honoring the artist Lawrence Weiner, whom sacai had just collaborated with for the men’s Spring/Summer 2018 and women’s Resort 2018 collection. It was a real honor for me to not only collaborate with Lawrence but to have this opportunity to support Free Arts NYC. I think art should be accessible to all, because creativity is an important form of self-expression and the work Free Arts NYC is doing to provide arts mentoring for underserved youth is inspiring.
WW: You’ve collaborated with an array of friends, artists, and brands. Is collaboration essential to sacai? What do you feel the brand gains from collaborative design?
CA: I wouldn’t define collaborations as essential, but they bring a certain energy. For me there needs to be a genuine connection with any collaboration I take part in. And it is always important to me that there is a balance between the two brands and a genuine interest on both sides.
WW: You are the first guest designer of the upcoming couture collection for Jean Paul Gaultier. What can we expect?
CA: I don’t have anything to share at this time other than that I am very excited and honored.
WW: What is your relationship to art?
CA: Art and music are always important elements in the sacai collection— not just as inspirations to my design process, but I love the way art and music can connect with people and be shared to bring about a unique experience.
WW: Does inspiration flow from any one source on a daily basis?
CA: My inspiration always comes from my daily life in Tokyo, through my experiences and feelings, and being a mother may be something that naturally influences my designs.