Rid­ing the Wave


Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

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

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