Sacai Designer Chitose Abe Talks Her Not-So-Overnight Success

There are very few fashion insider "secrets" these days. Isabel Marant, COS, and Maje are all brands that flew far under the radar for many years before being exposed by the internet as the next Greatest Brand in the World. And that's probably a good thing: the more democratic and open fashion becomes, the better dressed we all will be. The next label poised to receive that sort of sensational attention is Sacai, the Japanese brand designed by Chitose Abe.
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There are very few fashion insider "secrets" these days. Isabel Marant, COS, and Maje are all brands that flew far under the radar for many years before being exposed by the internet as the next Greatest Brand in the World. And that's probably a good thing: the more democratic and open fashion becomes, the better dressed we all will be. The next label poised to receive that sort of sensational attention is Sacai, the Japanese brand designed by Chitose Abe.
Sacai designer Chitose Abe at her Barneys New York trunk show. Photo: BFA

Sacai designer Chitose Abe at her Barneys New York trunk show. Photo: BFA

There are very few fashion insider "secrets" these days. Isabel Marant, COS, and Maje are all brands that flew far under the radar for many years before being exposed by the internet as the next Greatest Brand in the World. And that's probably a good thing: the more democratic and open fashion becomes, the better dressed we all will be.

The next label poised to receive that sort of sensational attention is Sacai, the Japanese brand designed by Chitose Abe, who spent eight years working for Comme des Garçons and Junya Watanabe before launching her own company in 1999. Almost five years ago, Abe significantly raised her global fashion industry profile by choosing to show her collection at Paris Fashion Week. Presently, she has modern influencers (Susie Lau in particular) and industry stalwarts (Anna Wintour, Karl Lagerfeld, Susie Menkes) alike singing her praises. In celebration of her newfound fame, Abe visited Barneys' Madison Avenue flagship on Wednesday to host her first-ever trunk show with the department store.

What I find so interesting about Abe is her ability to take simple silhouettes—a trench coat, a lace skirt, an anorak—and transform them into something...different. I had the opportunity to speak with the designer yesterday about what drives her designs.

Fashionista: What's your design philosophy? That's kind of a hard question. I like things that are classic and traditional, but juxtaposed with something new and fresh.

Can you tell me a little about your design process? It starts with the fabrics. They're made from scratch.

Would you say your work is subversive? Your trench-coat dress, for instance: there's something almost cheeky about it. There's certainly a deeper meaning to my clothes, but I'm not sure I would call them subversive. I don't want to be too conceptual. I want the pieces to be wearable. It's very important to me.

How has showing in Paris and increased recognition in the US affected your business? Greatly. Before, the collection was mostly bought by those in the know. Now, a wider range of people are shopping for Sacai.

You spent many years working under Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanabe. What was the most important thing that you learned from them? There are two things: The drive to create newness, and the ability to maintain a balance between creativity and business. Business isn't just about increasing sales. There needs to be creativity in how you structure your business as well.

Can you explain what you mean by that? Well, for instance, most businesses rush to open a standalone store—it's an important way to make money. I waited over a decade to open my first boutique until I was completely satisfied with the location, the space, everything. The philosophy is to do things right, not fast.