Tales of the unexpected: The Japanese label that's all surprises

Text by Naomi Bikis

Photography by Nik Hartley

Styling by Sara Gilmour

Good fashion should walk the tightrope between sparking desire and curiosity, making you long to wear it even as you marvel at its construction. Sacai, a label built on confounding expectations, has this balancing act down. For a long time, only the most ardent of fashion editors knew much about Sacai, founded in 1996 by the Japanese designer Chitose Abe. Since her decision to show in Paris four years ago, though, Abe’s every move has won accolades.

With Sacai, nothing is as it first appears. Take an AW13 dress – from the front, a feminine red velvet number; from behind, a masculine trench – or a windowpane-wool suit that turns out, on closer inspection, to be interspersed with puffa-jacket detailing. “At first sight, the pieces seem to be simple and modern,” says Abe of her curious mixtures. “Adding other details and materials creates different forms and volumes. If you look from a different angle, the silhouettes change dramatically.” Yet Abe executes this trickery in such a way that her collections never become overbearing or unwearable. “Fashion is not art,” she insists. “That’s why I think there should always be a realistic side to my work.”

Before launching her own label, Abe honed this approach to design under the tutelage of the old masters of Japanese fashion, Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanabe at Comme des Garçons. Then, she explains: “While bringing up my child, I started Sacai with only five jersey items. I was organising showrooms at my place, and journalists and buyers appreciated my collection and started wearing my clothes. My brand started to grow through word of mouth.”

Abe no longer has to rely on industry whisperings: fashion’s authorities are loudly proclaiming their support. Even Karl Lagerfeld has become a fervent champion, recently calling Sacai “the most interesting current brand”. Apt praise indeed. §

  • Tales of the Unexpected: the Japanese Label That's All Surprises