Learning from Sacai

Japanese brand Sacai, founded 17 years ago, is today hailed for its distinctive design ideology in contemporary fashion


A March 2015 photo of designer Chitose Abe during the NikeLab x Sacai Launch in London. Photo: Getty Images
A March 2015 photo of designer Chitose Abe during the NikeLab x Sacai Launch in London. Photo: Getty Images

If brands are the ultimate navigation device to find your way through the increasingly exploding fashion culture, here is a pointer. At London fashion week last year, Antony Miles, editorial director of the fashion publication 10 Magazine, made a comment about a jacket. A seemingly ordinary remark, its significance lay in a certain nuance. “Everyone looks completely different in it; everyone looks fabulous,” he said. He was talking about a piece from Sacai, a little known Japanese brand. The jacket’s design had an adaptive quality, you didn’t have to worry if other people had the same piece; it looked different on everyone. Sacai was also named last year by fashion publication Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) as one of the six “powerhouse brands of tomorrow”.

That “tomorrow” has began to dawn on Sacai in 2016, which, oddly enough, was founded 17 years back by Chitose Abe, a former Comme des Garcons pattern cutter but remained eclipsed for a long time. Today it is hailed for its distinctive design ideology in contemporary fashion. It uniquely mixes polarities—rough and soft, seductive and intelligent. Not only was Abe on the Business of Fashion’s (BoF) 2016 list of 500 people shaping global fashion but earlier this week, Vanity Fair referred to Sacai in a story on how “unconventional fashion voice are building empires without celebrities”.

Sacai released an exclusive capsule at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York last week. The store’s fashion director Roopal Patel was quoted by Vanity Fair saying that Abe’s clothes were “not about celebrity dressing but women referring the clothing to other women.” She was alluding to the brand attracting a sisterhood. The designer herself shrugged away the mainstreaming argument (celebrities or major fashion trends) by saying “I don’t follow trends”. It is another story that her brand has collaborated with Nike twice echoing the globally popular athleisure trend, thus garnering a wider audience.

The Sacai story is relevant for India for multiple reasons. One, Indian designers, particularly those who want to create luxury from small ideas that have the potential to become big, need to detach themselves from celebrities. Two, creating clothes that can look different on different people is a design idea that could fuel huge sales. A huge chunk of Indian fashion looks the same even when it is created by different designers. Sacai might offer inspiration how to skirt that trap.

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