All You Need to Know About Sacai

All you need to know about Sacai

chitose abe sacai

Chitose Abe Sacai Biography

Born in the middle of Japan – quite literally, in the countryside prefecture of Gifu – Chitose Abe’s childhood was an unusually sheltered one compared to most contemporary fashion designers working today. Growing up, she dreamed of moving to Tokyo to study fashion but her parents wouldn’t allow such a stretch across the country. Instead, she studied fashion at college in Nagoya, still a two hour commute each way from her bucolic home. As such, it was clear early on that Chitose Abe was a determined young woman who wouldn’t let a small thing like tradition and authority stand in her way – even when she clashed with her parents, causing a family riff that lasted four years, the designer stuck steadfast to her ambitions. Eventually they came round to her way of thinking.

After college, Abe finally moved to Tokyo where she was hired to design for a somewhat run-of-the-mill commercial fashion corporation, World Co. Ltd which produced high street fashion for various fashion brands. But as always, her dreams lay elsewhere.  She longed to work for Comme des Garcons whose offices neighboured her workplace and within two years she achieved this goal, rising to the ranks of pattern cutter under Rei Kawakubo and subsequently working alongside Kawakubo’s protégé Junya Watanabe on his own line within the Comme des Garcons mothership.

In 1997, Abe began to make her own knitwear – she had just had her first child with her designer husband, founder of Japanese label Kolor, Junichi Abe, and wanted to keep busy. Starting small, Chitose Abe had just five knitwear designs made up in small quantities which she showcased to her favourite buyers. To her surprise, the pieces were an instant hit with Tokyo’s luxury department stores and niche boutiques. Spurred on by this success, Abe launched her own label in 1999 and called it Sacai, a playful and more typographically pleasing take on her maiden name, Sakai.

Today, Sacai is still independently owned by Chitose Abe and the designer has wisely chosen to expand her label without hast. 2011 marked the point that the designer first began to sell overseas – this same year she presented her first collection at Paris Fashion Week.  In terms of bricks and mortar, Sacai is still relatively small with only a handful of standalone boutiques in Tokyo, Hong Kong, South Korea and Beijing. Yet Abe’s designs have consistently proved to be a huge commercial success for international stockists such as Corso Como, net-a-porter, Dover Street Market and Selfridges, with many looks selling out as soon as they land on the page.

Abe has many feathers in her cap: in 2006 she launched her diffusion line Sacai Luck (mainly available in Asia and a more commercial take on her signature hybrid aesthetic). In 2009, she launched Sacai Men (although her first menswear catwalk was in June 2016 for SS17 during Paris Men’s Week). For Fall 2016, Sacai entered the world of accessories with a debut handbag collection which was celebrated by a specially commissioned film by Craig McDean. She has also collaborated with a variety of fashion labels including The North Face, Nike, Birkenstock, Linda Farrow as well as smaller brands such as Ambush and Hender Scheme.


Sacai Signature Style

All about Sacai
The designer in NikeLab

Sacai style has been described as a ‘hybrid’ one – sliced, spliced and complicated, fusing different materials and dress codes together to create unexpected juxtapositions that challenge ‘safe’ wardrobe staples. Interestingly, Sacai designs are nonetheless highly wearable and are designed to be worn from day to night – they are made with versatility in mind to suit a large demographic. Fundamentally, I make the clothes that I want to wear. No matter how fresh and innovative a design may be, I ask myself whether I would wear it when going about my day in the city, and if the answer is no, then I won’t make the piece, ” explained Chitose Abe to I-D magazine’s Tiffany Godoy in November 2016


Sacai Highlights:

SS17 Campaign by Craig McDean

This campaign video was shot by Craig McDean and styled by Karl Templer. The collection was apparently inspired by various cultural “game changers” through history from Pablo Picasso to Kurt Cobain. As always though, the references were loose for Chitose Abe – the clothing is what ties it all together quite literally and metaphorically through an alloying of fabrics and ideas that is so particular to the designer and her method of fabrication. That anthem of the ’70s – the Rolling Stones’ ‘She’s a Rainbow – sprang to mind thanks to multicoloured outerwear and scarf dresses; drummer boy jackets were deconstructed to look like Kways and separates were layered into a cohesive whole, even if the parts were unlikely partners (coats overs coats over kilts over skirts). Every garment masqueraded as something else, like a puzzle for the eye to dismantle.

Sacai Highlights:

The Collaborations

“My collaborations are based on things I personally like and wear, and they just happen naturally,” she said to the New York Times in 2014.

Sacai X NikeLab

chitose abe sacai
chitose abe sacai

Released in March 2012 this collaboration saw NikeLab sportswear adopt an architectural spin with unexpected pleats, peplums and panels – all under the guise of athleisure, way before athleisure became such a ubiquitous term. Playful and inventive, the 8-piece collection included her version of Nike’s iconic and 30-year old Windrunner jacket, which Abe recast as a skirt with plissé-style paneling.

Sacai X Birkenstock

chitose abe sacai

Available only in stylish black and white leather, the humble Birkenstock was lifted beyond the realms of casual footwear – thanks to Sacai’s 1.6-inch platform! The collaborative shoe which was sold through Sacai Luck and special Birkenstock stores were launched for SS2014. Abe also collaborated with the German footwear brand for Sacai’s SS15 Menswear presentation in Paris, creating Birkenstock ‘bootie style’ sandals – essentially like Roman sandles with straps around the ankles.

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Pierre Hardy X Sacai

chitose abe sacai
Pierre Hardy PreSpring 2017

For Sacai’s Fall 2016 runway, the French shoemaker designed two vertiginous ankle boots inspired by classic New England ‘duck boots’ – the result was anything but conservative and clumpy: a perforated ‘mesh’ leather design with a straight, jagged-edged heel for the first design and a pull on ‘Chelsea boot’ look for the other.  Hardy has also just released the 2017 pre Spring Summer collection for Sacai.

Sacai X The North Face

chitose abe sacai

A capsule collection for both men and women was launched in January 2017. It featured fierce weather breaking adaptations of two of Sacai’s best sellers: an oversized parka and the MA-1 bomber – only more robust with typical North Face features. The full collection will hit a niche selection of North Face stores in September 2017.

Sacai X Linda Farrow

chitose abe sacai

This was a dual experiment: a first foray into sunglasses for Sacai, as well as an inaugural ‘see-now-buy-now’ line for both brands. The collection was showcased on Sacai’s Fall 2017/18 runway and immediately available for purchase on net-a-porter.

Sacai X Ambush

chitose abe sacai

Not a collaboration in the true sense of the word – this was more of a commission. Chitose Abe approached the designers behind young Tokyo jewellery and ready-to-wear brand Ambush to make statement pieces for her first menswear catwalk during Men’s Fashion Week in Paris for SS17. Pieces included chockers and bangles that looked like shiny oversized watch straps and large ‘gourmette’ or chain necklaces with gold and silver  padlocks.

Sacai X Sophie Bille Brahe  

chitose abe sacai

A small but perfectly formed capsule collection of fine jewellery was launched by the Dutch designer in collaboration with Chitose Abe at Dover Street Market London, New York and Tokyo in May 2016. The pieces were first seen on models at Sacai’s spring/summer 2016 show in October 2015. Combining Sophie Bille Brahe’s delicate and feminine aesthetic with Sacai’s love of visual contradictions, the collection was elegant yet tough, with cuff-like earrings made of pearls or diamonds finished off with long exclamation marks of thin gold strands, sometimes punctuated by a gem or pearl at the end.

Sacai and Menswear

chitose abe sacai

Sacai has been creating menswear since 2009, and while the collections have always been presented in Paris starting with SS09, they weren’t given a proper catwalk run until 2016. The show for SS16 in the French capital was influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s  A Clockwork Orange – less eerie and complex than it sounds. Abe’s hook was the straight forward workwear uniform, only deconstructed in her own special way to give it instant cult appeal, much like the film itself. Boiler suits, bomber jackets, loose knits and separates were a patchwork of textures, colours (lots of magenta for a retro futuristic edge) and patterns running the gamut from Prince of Wales checks to thickly woven striped blanket weaves.

chitose abe sacai

Sacai’s influences

Initially it was her seamstress mother who inspired the young Chitose to follow a career in fashion. Today, the designer prefers not to cite specific people as influencers; she talks more like lab technician, explaining how she and her team design garments with the cut, pattern and fabric in mind first rather than a specific narrative.

What Makes Sacai’s Chitose Abe tick?

This quote published in the South China Morning Post in 2015, says it all:

“I don’t consider myself cool – I am low-key and like to keep a low profile but I want people to understand my work. When I design, I always think of a balance between two elements – the unexpected, and the stability of the brand image. It’s also important that my clothes must be wearable, otherwise what is the point? So many clothing brands exist out there – we make what only Sacai can make.”

Five Reasons We Love Sacai

Chitose Abe Sacai
A Spring Summer 2017 look courtesy of Vogue Japan

1, Sacai perfectly captures today’s urban lifestyle – one which is always on the go, at once casual but polished. Or as the designer says herself, “Something not too casual, but not too elegant.”

2. Chitose Abe isn’t bothered about the ‘rules’ of fashion. She’s developed Sacai at her own pace, preferring not to be lured by big business and over-zealous expansions into the international retail universe. Every boutique opening has been as considered and carefully thought out as her collaborations, giving her brand an unusual artistic cachet.

3. Karl Lagerfeld is a huge fan. That’s approval worth having. After her Fall 2013 runway, the Chanel and Fendi mastermind said, “Sacai is the most interesting brand of the moment.”

4. Sacai bomber jackets. Still the label’s best seller and always recognisably standout without ever looking over stylised. Her fabrics too usually developed for the brand as opposed to bought in.

5. For her mantra which she has unerringly stuck to all these years. “It’s better to do things right than to do them fast.”