Kansai Yamamoto, fashion designer, dies age 76

CNN  — 

Acclaimed Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto, known for his avant-garde collections and career-defining collaboration with David Bowie, has died aged 76.

Confirming his death via Instagram on Monday, Yamamoto’s daughter Mirai said her father “left this world peacefully, surrounded by loved ones.”

‘“In my eyes, my father was not only the eclectic and energetic soul that the world knew him as, but someone who was also thoughtful, kind-hearted and affectionate,” she wrote.

According to a statement published by the designer’s eponymous company, Yamamoto died last Tuesday following a battle with acute myeloid leukemia. His funeral has already taken place, though a “public farewell” may be held at a later date.

Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto (right) and model Sayoko Yamaguchi (left) in Tokyo in November 1982.
Supermodel Iman walks a New York runway for Yamamoto in 1981.

“As he fought his illness, he remained always positive, never lost his passion towards creation,” the company’s statement read.

Born in 1944, Yamamoto studied civil engineering before turning his attention to fashion. By the early 1970s he had become the first Japanese designer to hold a show in London, an opportunity that earned him international acclaim for his theatrical creations.

It was during this time that he established friendships with some of the decade’s most important musicians, including Elton John and Stevie Wonder. His growing profile in London also brought him to the attention of late singer David Bowie, with whom he formed a longstanding creative partnership.

Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter in 2016, Yamamoto said that Bowie’s interest in his work began when the singer found some of his womenswear designs on sale in London.

“Luckily David had a very slim body and they fit him very well – no fittings,” the designer recalled.

Bowie collaboration

Yamamoto went on to produce various stage outfits for Bowie, from androgynous jumpsuits and bodysuits, to cloaks and wide-bottomed pants. He designed costumes for the singer’s 1973 “Aladdin Sane” tour, which accompanied the iconic album of the same name, helping to bring Bowie’s various stage personas, including Ziggy Stardust, to life.

“Some sort of chemical reaction took place: My clothes became part of David, his songs and his music,” Yamamoto was quoted as saying in the 2016 interview. “They became part of the message he delivered to the world.”

David Bowie performing as Ziggy Stardust, in his "woodland creatures" costume designed by Kansai Yamamoto, at the Hammersmith Odeon, 1973.
A costume created by  Yamamoto for David Bowie is displayed during the press preview of the "David Bowie is" exhibition at Warehouse Terrada on January 5, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan.

While known for his dramatic designs, he also explored traditional Japanese clothing and craftsmanship. After his 1970s and 1980s heyday, he continued to offer contemporary new takes on the kimono, and throughout his career, embraced the Japanese concept of “basara,” creating incredibly bold, daring designs that upended any suggestion of minimalism. He was enlisted by Louis Vuitton to create a number of looks for the brand’s 2018 resort collection, which featured kabuki-inspired motifs against glitter and sequins.

Yamamoto produced high-profile events in locations around the world, from Moscow’s Red Square to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, where he held a series of live fashion shows in 2013. The online streaming event he was working on at the time for his death, “Nippon Genki Project 2020 Super Energy,” will go ahead as scheduled on July 31, his company said.

“We deeply regret that Kansai cannot join us on the day,” its statement read, “but we would like to deliver his passion and dream in the best way possible.”

CNN’s Yoko Wakatsuki and Junko Ogura contributed to this report.