Creating the image of Yohji …

[slideshow_deploy id=’29666′]

Glass speaks to Marc Ascoli, who, by inviting young and often little-known photographers of the time such as Koto Bolofo, Nick Knight, Max Vadukul and Paolo Roversi, to shoot for Yohji Yamamoto, revolutionised the idea of advertising campaigns and created masterpieces in the process

How did you meet Yohji?
I first met Yohji because he was looking for a PR and I had an office at that time that was run in my apartment, taking care of really young, sharp designers. I was very happy he contacted me because at that time I was really attracted by Japanese Fashion. I had been to his show and in the same year I saw Comme Des Garçons and it was their first show in Paris.

And when he contacted me I had a good feeling about the project, and I had real excitement to meet him and do something with him. When I first met him I found him to be very open, and very new in his attitude towards design, and the way he was approaching it – it was totally different to what I had been around. Fashion at the time was very Parisian.

Gaultier was very important at this sort of time as was (Thierry) Mugler, (Claude) Montana, it was also the early start of Azzedine Alaia, so can you imagine Yohji Yamamoto in front of that? The fashion of Yohji and Rei Kawakubo was a big, big thing. It was immediately received like a punch in the face for people. Because it was completely outside of the rules of the fashion of the time. The level of modernity was very high, in the sense that they didn’t talk the same kind of language. They arrived with a new language. Yohji was very couture in a way, in a modern way.

What was your first impression of him as a person?
He was very smiley actually (laughs). Smiley and he immediately creates a complicity. He was not austere and very bold, like a master, not at all. He was very friendly and after twenty minutes of conversation he said, ‘I would like to invite you to Japan’. That’s the way I knew he wanted to work with me. I was so happy – I thought, ‘Oh I have the job!’ Initially I thought they needed someone just to help with PR but actually on talking to the team it became clear that they needed someone to work on an image. Yohji loved to do clothes – the best moment for him was to do fittings, to drape, it was a magical moment, he worked with black material, he was doing things, creating volume. He’s a very Japanese couturier.

And he loved image but he loved to be surprised by other people. At this time you must understand fashion was not an industry, everything was open, especially with Japanese people who were at the beginning of new trends, they were very open to new ideas. And the key of that, especially with Yohji was also the way that he would cast for his shows and campaigns, Yohji didn’t want the girls that all the other houses were using, he wanted individuality. We took a lot of girls from the new agencies at the time.

We cast a lot of young and individual girls. It was such an exciting time – it is not like that in fashion any more but, alors, I’m really happy to have in my life ten years working with Yohji. I was really young and it was an incredible experience especially going twice a year to Tokyo – it was so refreshing, wow, the luxury!

Was Yohji popular in Japan at that time?
Yes! At this time it was just after Issey Miyake. Miyake, Rei (Kawakubo) and Yohji, they were the new things to have and they already had several lines and were very powerful in their country. What we saw in Paris was just the tip of the iceberg compared to what was happening in Japan – there it was enormous.

And also what I loved about Yohji was that his mother was very ‘inside’ the company, she was there doing the soup for everybody during the fashion show in Paris, and for me it was really incredible because it was like ‘Japan in Paris’ to see all the preparation – in Japan there is so much respect for each other – it was like a ballet seeing all these Japanese women and men around Yohji bringing the clothes, all black and then ‘boom’ one red, it was so strong. And it was very easy, with this level of inspiration, to discover young photographers because he was so open, and he would say to me, ‘I am dressing the people who don’t exist’.

Can you imagine? When I found, for example, at the beginning, Koto Bolofo and then working with Nick Knight and later David Simms and Craig McDean it was easy for me because it was so open, and especially Max Vadukul – which was my first project, but Yohji was completely excited. I went to New York with this young photographer, 23 years old, and we used to go straight on the plane – it was in the early ’80s, it was very expensive, but I was so super excited – shooting on the street and developing the pictures, it was very different.

It’s not like now when you email the pictures to the president of the company. (laughs) I think this was important with Yohji, with the level of freedom he offered me at the time. And the level of intelligence you had in the world of fashion at the time and there was no such thing as a power trip.

What did you enjoy most about working with Yohji?
What I remember is the level of charm and also, honestly, you never talk about work with him. When we were in Tokyo we would go for dinner – we’d talk about life, movies, music, personal stuff. Of course eventually we’d talk about the next campaign, the next show. He put you in an atmosphere – that’s the key of his success – when you are with Yohji, he gives you 100 per cent and you work and you do it. He doesn’t describe exactly what he wants, he hates to do that. That’s a very modern approach actually. He’s not very specific.

Which maybe isn’t very helpful sometimes?
Sometimes he was not always happy with a campaign so he would cancel it. But it’s like roulette, (laughs) we can’t win all the time.

From the Glass Archive – Issue Five – Dreams

About The Author

Related Posts