Designer Chitose Abe of Sacai

 

Mixed materials and three-dimensional interpretations of classic silhouettes are the primary characteristics that define Chitose Abe’s design. The Japanese-bred women’s and men’s fashion designer has been a hit on the runway ever since she launched her own label, Sacai, back in 1999. And these days she has the likes of Karl Lagerfeld tipping his hat to her. Abe pays attention to every detail, from the front, side and back of her outfits. Take her recent spring collection for example – what looks like a pair of shorts coming down the runway is actually a flowing skirt when viewed from the back. And what looks like a knitted sweater dress from the front actually opens up into a horizontally tiered dress. Whimsical, clever, thoughtful and endearing. That’s Chitose Abe.

It’s difficult combining so many disparate elements into a design without it looking messy or over the top, but Abe certainly has an eye for melding – possibly because she’s trained with the great technical craftsmen like Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanabe. Things are on the up for the seasoned designer and now she’s trying to make her presence better known in our fair city with a pop-up space in Joyce for her latest collection, which also offers customisable pieces. We sit down with the petite designer – who’s wearing a vertical striped biker jacket with a peplum waist paired with a spliced carwash skirt (all her own designs, of course) – over coffee to talk about her inspirations and her goals.

What’s your inspiration behind Sacai’s spring/summer 2013 collection?
As usual, I’m trying to create new shapes and silhouettes. I don’t necessarily have a specific inspiration. I’m just looking to make something new. I like travelling and listening to music, but my most direct inspiration is from my daily surroundings. I live in Tokyo and the environment changes rapidly, so there’s always something new.

So you’d say you’re a Japan-inspired designer?
Of course, because I’m based in Tokyo. If I was living in HK maybe my designs would change a bit.  

How different are the mood boards for your menswear and womenswear collections? Do you have differing concepts?
I don’t separate my mens and womenswear collections. But when I design for my womenswear collection I like to make it more dramatic and something that I really want for myself. When it comes to menswear designs, I’m more subjective. 
 
How would you describe your  particular design aesthetics?
I like taking something very classic and giving it a contrast in my designs. From the front it seems normal, but from the back you get all these different details. It’s something you rarely see. 
 
How do you describe yourself as a designer? 
To be honest, I don’t understand myself much. I rarely analyse myself.
 
What do you want for your brand in the coming years? What keeps you motivated and innovative? 
I’m not only a designer at Sacai but also the owner of the company. Running the company keeps me motivated. Also, when I receive positive feedback on my designs, that keeps me going. 

What do you think of HK’s fashion scene? 
It’s my second time in HK and I like it a lot because it’s different to Japan. Key pieces sell quite quickly here, which is different. 

Do you have any advice for upcoming designers? 
The most important thing is to believe in yourself. Secondly, don’t give yourself excuses. Some people say they have no money and no back-up but I control and organise every detail of my job and I’m still alive and still working. Thirdly, don’t limit yourself.

Which designers do you respect right now?
I will respect Comme des Garçons forever because I learned a lot about creativity and business from them.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing your company in the near future?
In the next year, there’ll be lots of movement in the company. Not too long ago, we started a flagship store in Aoyama, Tokyo, but
now I want to expand and go worldwide. 

When you’re shopping for yourself what do you usually look for? 
I don’t pay attention to designer labels or anything like that when I consider a purchase. When I’m shopping, I’m just looking for something unexpected. 
 
What is your design philosophy?
Balance. I care about balance very much. My private life, my business, my passion – it’s always about balance. The business has to be well-designed. Not only the fashion, though. Everything has to be well-designed. Interview by Arthur Tam
 
Sacai pop-up Joyce Boutique,
209-210 Lee Gardens One,
Causeway Bay; 2907 2228

 

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