This intimate portrait of Yohji Yamamoto was shot by Wim Wenders in 1989 under commission from the Pompidou Centre who sought a film about fashion and its place in contemporary society. 23 years later it still remains contemporary and relevant, which affirms the quality both of Yamamoto’s designs and Wender’s status as an auteur.
Notebook on cities and clothes is shot on mixture of film and tape, which was visionary at the time. This is explored and explained within the narration. Sometimes the medium is chosen for practical reasons, such as situations where the noise of the tape is disruptive, and sometimes for reasons of style – gloriously illuminated Tokyo appeared to lend itself to being captured electronically. At times the moving images on the video recorder are juxtaposed with another set-up and filmed, creating a film within a film. Something quite wild in the late 80s, but now entirely familiar to the YouTube generation. Wim Wenders ponders if there will be an electronic craft of note in the future leading to obsolescence of the original.
The over-riding theme throughout is identity. Yohji Yamamoto defines this as the accord between the image we have created of ourselves and ourselves, which I found a gloriously simple statement, and goes on to say that identity and fashion are contradictory, his interest being in the world, not the world of fashion. When designing he is interested in people, how they think, do, and live, then designs the clothes in the light of these observations. There is concern that style could become a prison “a hall of mirrors you can only accept and imitate yourself. An author is someone who has something to say, can voice it and has the presence to become the guardian of the place, not the prisoner.” He is clearly in control.
A huge influence on both men is the photographer August Sander who photographed people of all professions and classes a century or so ago. These beautiful, strong, characterful people clad in historic workclothes put both this film and Yamamoto’s designs into context. He is concerned with form and texture, believing that colour is not needed. Sander’s work was in black and white.
When speaking of cities, they are their own islands, separated with their inhabitants from the countries that surround them. This lack of nationality is again apparent in the clothes, although there is an east/ west bias to the collections shown.
The section that touched me most was talking about finding the essence of the thing in the process of fabricating it. Many designers (most notably Prada) design by concept and working with cloth, not drawing. My best work is certainly led by fabric, fit, and identity of its wearer. By working mainly in cotton, Yohji’s creates clothes that improve with age and are partly designed by time. What could be more sustainable than that? It is the emphasis on simplicity, personality and inhabiting the present that make this film a great touchstone in our busy, disconnected world.