Chitose Abe, the founder, owner and designer of Sacai, speaks enchantingly on her inaugural Hong Kong shop opening, and her theory of balance strategy.
Since Chitose Abe founded her own label in 1998, Sacai has been slowly and steadily garnering support from some of the premier international top buyers. Abe recalled humbly,
“When I first started, I used to bring samples to meet buyers on my own. Joyce was one of them. Luckily Joyce took a view and has been supporting me - believing in me - since the very beginning. They allowed me to reach more and more customers, and thus grow my business.”
And so it is only a natural step for Joyce to open the first Sacai stand-alone store in Hong Kong, on On Lan Street, Central. Proudly it also has the status of being the first outside Tokyo, Japan.
“I feel that Hong Kong customers are very progressive, they accept new things very well and quickly, hence I was very excited with the idea of opening a shop here (Hong Kong).” Abe explained on this bold move.
The interior of the store is derived from the Tokyo flagship store, which is based around a maze-like layout. The reasoning behind this is because Abe wanted to create a “treasure hunt” like shopping experience whereby the customer doesn’t get the full visibility of the collection immediately, but a taste which leads to expectation, which leads to desire and ultimately hopefully to fulfilment and pleasure at the end overall result.
Abe owns both Sacai and Sacai Luck, and both houses offer an extensive range across what is considered a collection in today’s terms: from classic staples such as knitwear to experimental voluminous coat-dresses - all based around the same philosophy— to create something new based on familiar elements. For example, a cashmere cardigan is classic from the front but on the back transpires into is a floaty chiffon panel. It’s highly wearable, classically beautiful but full of surprises.
For SS15 collection the affect is not dissimilar; Abe applies utility wear as the “baseline” for the entire collection, but instead of juxtaposing with fabrics and silhouettes back to front or inside out, this season, she cleverly “inserts” intricate lacework, feminine georgette and vintage floral patterns into the contrasting trench or military elements. Like always, it’s from classic to new, from familiar to unexpected.
Prior to founding her own label, Abe worked under Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons, then later helped found Junya Watanabe. Over this time she absorbed a solid experience in pattern-cutting, designing and making clothes as well as running a business. Abe is thankful to Kawakubo, “I learnt the importance of creating something new, the drive of a creative initiative at Comme des Garçons,”
Abe is the creative director as well as the sole owner of her company, and as a mother of a teenage girl, how does she find the balance in all three roles? She answered modestly:
“I see myself as 100% designer, a 100% working mother but maybe only 5% business woman. Because I own the business, I have the freedom to make decisions intuitively that I think is important to me and to the company. For example, I don’t think ‘this season, we have this much for advertising budget.’ I don’t work like that. I don’t feel like a president of the company because I only design interesting clothes, I don’t design the sales.”
What a brave, to be respected in today’s world and somewhat paradoxical statement. After all, fashion is a business, but she elaborated,
“Sometimes when a design sells too well it makes me worried. To me, it’s important to maintain the DNA of the label; it needs a bit of negation. I need to pull back to reassess then push the boundary.”
It all sounds so intuitive and instinctive and at this moment, Yoon, one half of the design couple behind the jewellery label Ambush, who also designed Sacai’s SS15 jewellery collection appeared. It’s time to get a second opinion and Abe signalled Yoon to join our conversation.
“She (Abe) called me 3 weeks before the show and asked me to design a range of jewellery for her. I hadn’t even seen her collection. But we are very close and we understand each other’s aesthetics a lot.”
They both chuckled at the harmless banter and Abe spoke agreeably,
“I’ve been making fashion for 25 years, it’s nice to have Yoon, who’s someone outside fashion to give me a fresh perspective.”
Japanese designers are best known for their precision but in Abe’s case, it's her innate sense of combining both precision and prescience that sets Sacai apart.
Sacai address: Shop 2B, G/F, 18 On Lan Street, Central
Interview by Lucienne Leung-Davies
Photos by Filep Motwary