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5 Things We Learned From Kansai Yamamoto, David Bowie’s Costume Designer

Kabuki bowie kansai yamamoto
Photo: Courtesy of V&A Museum

The man behind Ziggy Stardust’s wardrobe talks Bowie, Kabuki, and his love of “-stan” fabrics

Article originally published on in February 2014.

David Bowie has reinvented himself numerous times, but his Ziggy Stardust persona is probably the most recognizable and most revolutionary. With a legacy that spans from inspiring glam rock, to troubling preconceived notions of gender and sexuality, to influencing pop music in perpetuity, Ziggy Stardust has left one of the most prominent and significant marks on contemporary culture.

Much of the power of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust persona came from the character's appearance. The blazing red hair, out of this world makeup, and the crazy outfits were what made Ziggy Ziggy. The man behind some of Stardust's most memorable looks was a Tokyo-based designer by the name of Kansai Yamamoto. Vice magazine correspondent Kazumi Asamura Hayashi interviewed the visionary designer and we've got the best bits. Here are the 5 things we learned from their conversation.

1. Yamamoto had no idea who David Bowie was until he saw him on stage at Radio City Music Hall wearing his clothes. A stylist friend of Kansai, Yasuko Hayashi, dressed Bowie in some of Kansai designs and the rest is history.

2. The same thing happened with Lady Gaga.Kansai made some outfits for Gaga, an artist quite obviously influenced by Bowie's Ziggy Stardust character, but had no idea who she was until he looked her up 10 minutes before meeting her.

3. Some of those Ziggy Stardust outfits were actually clothes that Kansai had designed for women. Yamamoto told Vice that many of those designs were influenced by "hikinuki, the method of changing costumes quickly in Kabuki." Kabuki theater, for the majority of its history, had excluded women from performing and female characters were played by men and young boys. This worked with Bowie's gender bending persona.

4. Though his designs are seemingly influenced by a myriad of styles and concepts, Yamamoto considers his work to have a "Japanese Beauty." Kansai keeps on coming back to Japanese motifs and styles.

5. That being said, he has really gotten into "-stan" fabrics. "I'm thinking of doing a 'super show' in Istanbul. There are so many '-stan' places in the world, from Afghanistan to Istanbul, but I have never taken any ideas from them. I've spent a lot of time studying the materials of India, China, and Tibet, sure, but I haven't really looked into Central Asia much. The pants I'm wearing right now are made of fabric from one of the '-stan' countries, and I think it's a pretty intense material to use for clothing."

Read the full interview here.

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