Surface Works: Sacai

Fashion has an obsession with balance. Think of the countless headlines, show notes, and collection reviews that convey this love affair, all of which observe the various dichotomies unified under the visionary arm of fashion. Innovation and tradition. The feminine and the masculine. Fantasy and reality. Streetstyle and couture. The list goes on.

The inclination towards achieving a balance is simultaneous to the step taken towards the blurring of boundaries. arises, in part, from a designer’s mission to disrupt prevailing norms through clothing. From eradicating the gender binary and melding the styles of distinct social classes to uplifting old methods through modern standards, there’s no limit to challenging the status quo. In the case of Sacai, the challenge undertaken is as simple as filling in the gap for a missing kind of dress code, creating instead one that decodes and defies all existing frameworks, invoking a tabula rasa for the way one dresses.

21 years since Chitose Abe launched Sacai, and what began as a simple endeavour has resulted in a cult following, certainly for its clothing’s dynamic appearance, but not least for its ability to correspond to the fluidity of life today. Her method of assemblage, where each garment is a smooth, delicate and punchy cocktail of materials, pattern cutting, design and styling, has created a frisson amongst both fashion and non-fashion crowds, with a number of other designers attempting to follow suit.

Military references, madras plaids, abstract florals, denim and lace — these are merely a few of the many codes present in Sacai’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection, showcasing Abe’s mastery of the hybridization concept. Similarly, Spring/Summer 2013 was about “contrasting workwear with feminine aspects of clothes,” demonstrating the possibility for what is normally considered to be divergent qualities to coexist.

The act of combining a whole host of contrasting components into an utterly streamlined manner aptly reflects the prevalence of having a multidimensional identity and lifestyle today, where individuals of all ages are expected to juggle diverse roles and activities simultaneously. Sacai seeks to help such persons to do whilst maintaining a level of suave. Unsurprisingly, balance is key to Abe’s practice. In an interview with WWD, the designer shared her mission “to create a balance between stability and betrayal. The stability is something that looks like Sacai. The betrayal is something new and different.”

Stability is crucial in establishing a recognisable vernacular, and Abe understands that. Over the years, the designer has interpreted a single pattern like stripes in a number of ways across different seasons, each with their own distinct outcome. Yet, it is by betraying that very principle that she is able to keep her viewers on their toes. Like a sartorial rendition of Jekyll and Hyde, Sacai’s silhouettes often challenge the eye and toy with the mind by contrasting from side to side or through the front and back.

Pin-sharp skills and sensibilities aside, the Sacai Philosophy can be understood through the words of American conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner, whose work “Stasis as to vector. All in due course” was built across select garments in Sacai’s Spring/Summer 2018 collection. His words, carefully selected and recounted in a short film for NOWNESS, reads: “You can put any material together and get a result, but you have to know how much, and that question of enough, is how much is enough?”

Perhaps that is a question Chitose Abe is always has on the back of her mind. Despite their obvious differences, her deep respect for materials ensure they work in unison to construct a single garment which ultimately removes any sense of material hierarchy. More than that, however, is her firm understanding of how the contemporary individual lives and the importance of licencing a wearer to author their own reality with the clothes they put on their backs that makes Sacai the esteemed brand it is today.

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