At different points in Keisuke Yoshida’s childhood he fantasized about being an astronaut and a kendo player. As most children tend to do, he probably chose those jobs based on the outfits involved, but still, there’s something very telling about these two contrasting dreams.
While the spaceman forges new paths through the dark unknown, the kendo player learns to cultivate mind and body through rigorous, structured training in a sport irrevocably tied to nation and culture.
Although in the end Yoshida chose fashion design as his career path, this sense of duality is still very much reflected in his work, from the chameleonic nature of his designs, to his general approach to fashion, to of course his country: the land of extremes. He jokingly describes his eponymous label KEISUKEYOSHIDA as “the twistedness of a Japan where you’re not sure whether things are great or terrible, combined with a frenetic energy where I myself don’t even know where my brand is going at any given point in time.”
“He jokingly describes his eponymous label KEISUKEYOSHIDA as ‘the twistedness of a Japan where you’re not sure whether things are great or terrible'”
Since its launch in 2015, the label has been one of the most talked about shows at Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo. While so many Japanese designers stick to restrained color palettes and silhouettes, Yoshida gives us youthful colors and daring shapes. In this sense, he stands out from the crowd in Japan and, perhaps not intentionally, speaks to the global maximalism trend we’ve seen at recent fashion weeks in New York, Milan, London and Copenhagen. For the modern Japanese woman who’s bored of blending in with her urban surroundings, KEISUKEYOSHIDA is the young local brand sparkling neon bright amidst a sea of neutrals.
Earlier this year he dressed international pop star Wednesday Campanella (right) for a shoot at TeamLab Planets, shot by rising photographer Yulia Shur. The lights, the tailoring, the larger-than-life shoulders … Everything about the collaboration felt iconic.
“I got into fashion when I was around 14,” he tells TW. “I wasn’t really good at studying or sports and I was pretty down on my appearance, so fashion was kind of there for me then, when I was trying to figure out how to impress the other kids at my school. Although I never succeeded at that in the end.”
At 23 years old Yoshida graduated from the literature department of Rikkyo University, one of the Tokyo “top six”, and went on to enroll at fashion design and business school Esmod Japon, as well as famed avant-garde fashion school Coconogacco. With its focus on abstract, multidisciplinary approaches to fashion education, Coconogacco caused a stir locally and abroad not only for its unconventional ideology, but also for producing some of the most exciting and heavily award-nominated graduates in recent years, including Yoshida, Akiko Aoki, Yuko Koike, and Soshi Otsuki. But really it was at Esmod that the designer put together his first real collection as KEISUKEYOSHIDA.
“When I started working on it I never thought it would become my debut. But at some point in the process, I came around to the idea that I should put this collection out into the world. [It] laid bare all of my life experiences up to that point so I felt it deserved it,” he says. “My friends at Coconogacco debuted at the first Tokyo New Age around that time so I think that gave me a push in the right direction too.”
Tokyo New Age is a collective of emerging fashion designers who debuted on the Amazon Fashion Week runway in 2015. It consisted of Yoshida and his Coconogacco classmates Aoki and Otsuki, fellow Esmod graduate Kotoha Yokazawa, and Ryota Murakami. All young, all with unprecedented potential – and all of whom have since established themselves as successful new talents.
However, Yoshida is quick to dismiss any notion of success. “I think successful is definitely an overstatement because I have so far to go,” he says, “but I am glad I got to start young. When I was a student, fashion designers were like rock stars to me, and I still feel that way today. Even now I’m still far, far from being my ideal fashion designer. I think everyone has these ambitions of trying to be someone like that … I guess you could say that’s my ultimate goal.”
In the egomaniacal world of fashion, Yoshida’s humility is refreshing – and typically Japanese. It’s the kind of down-to-earth attitude that can only encourage growth. In the spirit of all those who are truly wise, Yoshida is open to admitting how little he knows about the world: “I still have a lot to learn,” he says.
But the designer also knows there’s a kind of magic to this naivety and adolescence, and that’s what lies at the heart of the KEISUKEYOSHIDA brand. “I think having the emotional process of maturing come out directly in my work is huge in terms of how I design,” he says. The heightened emotions of adolescence, the music, the solitude, the swagger, the parking lot hangouts, the fleeting romances … all of it combines to make vivid, heavy memories, and these memories become art. Yoshida has often described his brand concept as a throwback to teenagedom, once calling it “the adolescence, which is ambiguous, bright and dark, and the adolescent fashion in that time.”
For us, his style stands out for its refreshing portrayal of the modern woman: carefree and bold, with something to say. In his AW18 collection, there were blue, pink, and green satins, shimmering yellow platform boots, super-sized shoulders and frills; in SS18 it was colorful, casual mix of sporty and sexy – like being an unabashed teenager and putting on all your brightest, shiniest items at once.
“Rather than saying I’m trying to be adventurous, I’d just say that I think there’s no one correct way to be a brand”
“Rather than saying I’m trying to be adventurous, I’d just say that I think there’s no one correct way to be a brand. There will definitely come a time when I get serious about doing a really minimal collection too,” says Yoshida. “The SS19 collection I’m working on right now has a dark, restrained palette. I must have a bit of an oppositional streak because I seem to have this habit of wanting to do monotone things in SS and colorful stuff in AW.” There’s that duality again.
Yoshida says that ultimately the most important thing he considers when designing is empathy. His clothes are for people who “harbor some kind of internal conflict but have a firmly constructive outlook.” The spaceman and the kendo player; head in the sky and feet on the ground – that’s Keisuke Yoshida.
More info at keisukeyoshida.com
Interview translation by Felix Idle
Top photograph by Yulia Shur / Avgvst