Riding the Wave
JAPANESE BRAND SACAI IS ONE OF TODAY’S HOTTEST LABELS. CREATIVE DIRECTOR Chitose Abe, IN HONG KONG TO LAUNCH HER DEBUT CAPSULE COLLECTION WITH LANE CRAWFORD, TALKS TO Justine Lee
Chitose Abe of Sacai hits town to launch her first capsule collection with a retailer
Some of the fashion world’s most notable authority figures, including Anna Wintour and Suzy Menkes, have been singing the praises of Japanese designer Chitose Abe, and Karl Lagerfeld was quoted in The New York Times last year describing her label, Sacai, as “the most interesting brand of the moment.”
To many, Sacai appears to be a fairly recent arrival on the global fashion scene, but it’s no overnight success. Abe founded the label in Tokyo 15 years ago and has been quietly selling through some of the most prestigious retailers around the world, from allencompassing speciality stores such as Lane Crawford and Barneys New York to avantgarde concepts such as Rei Kawakubo’s Dover Street Market.
Now she’s in Hong Kong to launch her first capsule collection with a retailer, and things are hectic. “My team and I just landed this morning,” Abe explains when we meet at the Sacai pop-up in Lane Crawford at IFC Mall. “We were in Paris yesterday celebrating our shop-in-shop at Le Bon Marché. So far, I’ve only seen the store [Lane Crawford] and the interior of China Tang, where we had lunch.”
Abe, looking stylish in her clothes of own design, shows not the slightest indication that she didn’t get much sleep on the flight from Paris, most of which she spent doing final sketches for her next collection’s show in Paris—just three weeks away.
The softly spoken creative director spent eight years working with industry legends Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanabe at Comme des Garçons before launching Sacai. “I left Comme des Garçons not because I wanted to, but because I had my daughter,” the designer explains. “A year or two after my daughter was born, I was determined to start something on my own,” which is how Sacai, a variation on her maiden name, Sakai, came into being in 1999. Abe is not just the founder and creative director; ultimately, she serves as the label’s muse and its most definitive customer. “There’s only one rule at the design office—if I wouldn’t wear it, we won’t make it,” Abe says firmly.
The Sacai design process begins with the materials. Abe has designed specific fabrics to create certain styles in the past, and also looks to juxtapose different materials in her designs. The label has become instantly
recognisable for its graceful yet complex spin on mix-and-match styles. “I don’t want to make something that’s already in the market,” Abe says. “I want to design something unexpected and styles that have never been seen before.”
Abe has developed a cult-following for subversive designs that juxtapose seemingly everyday styles. Her favourite picks? A classic crew-neck cable-knit jumper or T-shirt with an unexpected back—either in silk chiffon or thin cotton pleats.
“My capsule collection for Lane Crawford is my first one with any retailer, so I really wanted to make it personal.” She chose her favourite colour, navy blue, as the basis for the line. “We looked back at the Sacai archives and redesigned some of my favourite wardrobe staples for men and women.”
Fashion is a family affair for Abe. Her husband, Junichi Abe, is the founder and designer of another cult-favourite Japanese label, Kolor, and Chitose has famously been quoted as saying she has never been to any of his runway shows. Asked if this is still true, she nods. “Yes, we haven’t been to each other’s shows. The only way we learn about each others’ work is through our daughter [17-year-old Toko].”
Outside the biannual trips to Paris for her shows and the occasional business trip, Abe says her life is more ordinary than you would
“There’s only one rule at the design office— if I wouldn’t wear it, we won’t make it”
think. “I wake up early in the morning and I prepare my daughter’s lunch before I head in to the office,” she says, “and my husband and I take turns staying late at work, so there is always someone at home with our daughter.”
So, with a solid foundation of success and critical acclaim under her belt, what’s next for the label? “I’m not in a rush to grow my collection,” says Abe. “I want things to happen naturally and will only take the leap when things feel just right.”
That philosophy is apparent in her designs, which show an unforced and natural progression that keeps the label intriguing and simultaneously wearable.
QUIETLY COOL Chitose Abe pairs a cable knit jumper with a pleated chiffon back from her autumn/ winter 2014 collection with minimalist jewellery by Repossi and Delfina Delettrez
CHECK IT OUT Clockwise from top: Backstage at the Sacai autumn/ winter 2014 show in Paris; the set up for the exclusive Sacai for Lane Crawford capsule collection at IFC Mall; two looks from Sacai