In conversation with Yumi Katsura
A journey through the timeless style of Yumi Katsura. Between Okusai inspirations and centuries-old sartorial techniques
Yumi Katsura is not a brand. Since 1964, she has been the sartorial representation of Japanese know-how, of a culture that is full of contrasts. Millennial, yet, extremely modern. Where intense colors and delicate scents intertwine. The 1970s marked an important moment for Madame Katsura. While visiting one of her stores in Tokyo, Pierre Balmain was fascinated by her way of designing wedding dresses. Having trained at the École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, Yumi Katsura revealed a very unique style in the production of her creations. A perfect mix of oriental and western designs and techniques that have made her one of the most esteemed designers in the international high fashion scene. The day after her spring-summer haute couture fashion show, Yumi Katsura invited us to her Parisian atelier in rue Cambon, where she was the first to ask us a question, and explained that it is customary for her to ask what dress was thought to be the “Coup de Coeur”, the one that struck us the most, and we discovered with pleasure that ours was also one of her favorites (see photo).
Your clothes are considered modern works of art. How do you reach that perfect balance between modernity and tradition?
“It is all the result of an immense work towards pursuing my goal, which is precisely that of being able to combine ancient Japanese tradition with modernity. I start from three fundamental points: the choice of fabrics, the choice of color, and the composition of the material. Working on these three basic elements with concentration and attention, you reach the perfect fusion between ancient Japanese tradition and a contemporary style.”
The kimono is the foundation of your creations, and it best represents the culture of your country: apparently simple but very complex. Where do you get your inspiration from?
“Yes, it is truly very complex, and this complexity lies in the model, in the right choice of colors, in proportions. The kimono apparently seems linear because the shape follows a certain fluidity. However, it is actually a sort of painting, a creation that is molded on the body, depending on how you want to wear it. Even the fabrics that are chosen, for example, are different and create a work of art that transforms, that is three-dimensional. Unlike Western models with a fixed structure, which draws a precise silhouette, that of the kimono is a living line. Just open your arms, and it turns into something different.”
What artists inspired you for your couture creations? Do you have an artist of reference?
“Among the Japanese, first of all, there is Okusai, while among Westerners: Monet, Van Gogh, and Rodin – artists who they themselves were inspired by Japan because of the liveliness of their colors, the plasticity, the brilliant combination of Western and Eastern art. Witnesses of an era in which the French let themselves be charmed by Japanese culture.”
The dress in the picture, for example, depicts a painting by Okusai, “Mount Fuji with Cherry Trees in Bloom”, hand painted and created with the *Shibori technique. (tn *Shibori is a Japanese dyeing technique that consists in folding and tying fabric before dyeing it. The Shibori derives from the Japanese word “shiboru”, which means to twist while tightening.)
Can you give us a definition of Fashion and Art? Is fashion an interpretation of art or is it art itself ?
“Fashion is not art. It is an interpretation of art. The artist is entirely free to create, according to his sensitivity, what he desires. Instead, the designer must design wearable clothes that are suitable for everyday life. Fashion must be designed for people, just like expert architects design a beautiful home but, at the same time, it is comfortable and liveable. The commercial side is also important. The kimono, for example, is a garment that is also successful on a commercial level, as well as being aesthetically acclaimed.”
Who is Yumi Katsura’s most loyal buyer?
“My clothes are loved a bit everywhere, but more so in Japan, USA, and China, and are found in very exclusive stores. Generally, those who choose a dress by Yumi Katsura do not wear it every day. Therefore, it is wearable but not common. They are like theatrical pieces and worn for a special occasion because the techniques used are special, created with care and dedication. The NISHIJIN ORI fabric was used (from Nishijn, it is a traditional fabric produced in the Nishijin district, in Kyoto). Ori is a weaving technique. (Orimono: interwoven mix of textiles). Ancient weaving procedures, such as Ori and Yuzen – which is a traditional Japanese technique for coloring silk – are all traditions of extreme mastery, which have become increasingly rarefied, used by artisans who are slowly disappearing. It is certainly not short- term work. I prefer spending more time and preserving the ancient technique, so as to create a kimono that always has a traditional soul, but with a modern, contemporary, and practical twist.” With these very important words, we conclude our interview. We understand that yours is a real mission, one that was once a conquest and that is, today, the preservation of that craftsmanship which gives life to today’s creations, wearable in the present by romantically modern, neo-renaissance sophisticated women. This is how Madame Katsura likes to define the women who select her and her dresses.