VICTORY CEREMONY COSTUME DESIGNER YAMAGUCHI SODAI: ‘I WANT THE FIELD CAST TO FEEL COMFORTABLE AND NATURAL… TO SHINE IN THEIR ROLE’

YAMAGUCHI Sodai designed the costumes that will be worn by the medal bearers and those escorting the athletes (Field Cast) during the victory ceremony. Yamaguchi is an up-and-coming fashion director who has worked on numerous fashion shows, exhibitions and shop designs. He spoke to Tokyo 2020 about his passion towards this grand project.

A new style in formal wear for today’s world
In the spring of 2019, applications were open for the public to design the volunteer’s costume to be worn during the victory ceremony. When you started to work on the design, what did you decide on first?

I decided on the concept, ‘a new style in formal wear’, at the very beginning. Looking back at the Olympic and Paralympic Games that were held in Japan, the women who worked as tray bearers wore a kimono during the victory ceremony at the Tokyo 1964 Games and the Nagano 1998 Winter Games. I have respect for tradition, but I was also struggling with the thought that maybe carrying on a tradition isn’t enough. So I decided to take on a new challenge while embracing kimonos and traditional Japanese attire.

And the result was a new formal wear design that also has a sense of affinity.

I tried mixing the good things about ‘Japanese sentiment’ and ‘western practicality’. Japanese and western clothing has a significantly different design. Western clothing is worn on the muscles and meat of the body, so the pattern follows the curves of a person. It fits nicely and is therefore practical. On the other hand, Japanese clothing is worn on the bones. It is supported by the shoulders, then tied around the waist and supported again, so there’s a space between the body and the clothing. Because of this space, the form of the clothing changes depending on the movement or the shape of the body, exuding an ambience or the beauty of the person standing. I thought it would be nice to create a Japanese and western crossover style, mixing the good qualities of both.

You studied at Bunka Fashion College where you received the College Dean Award for your graduation project, which was a formal wear combining Japanese and western styles. Is that’s where the crossover started?

In today’s world, Japanese attire and fashion are considered two separate categories. The kimono is a traditional costume, and fashion represents the attire of today. I wanted to make the borderline fuzzy and bring the different styles to the same level, then provide the option of choosing different elements. My interest in Japanese attire comes from my grandmother, who made kimonos, and my grandfather, who worked in the sericulture industry. I realised at a young age that the aged kimonos kept at my grandmother’s house and the material used for the clothes I wore were of totally different quality. It was not so much from a sense of responsibility to preserve traditional techniques, but I had a desire to always have a wide selection from which to choose from. I didn’t want to lose these options.

What approach did you take when you were designing the costume for the victory ceremony?

I first thought that as ‘Japan’s finest quality formal wear’, the costume should leave an impression of a ‘junihitoe’ (a twelve-layered ceremonial kimono). However, it’s hot, heavy and difficult to move when you layer material, and it’s not very practical. You have to consider that the victory ceremony would be taking place in the middle of the summer under the scorching sun. The costume should also be comfortable to wear for all Field Cast members, who are volunteers from different age groups and gender. My approach was to connect all kinds of purposes to merge practicality with Japanese impressions.

Which parts did you work on to express the impression of the ‘junihitoe’ formal wear?

The layering details. Wearing two layers would be too hot so I used double layering only for the collar by layering the collar of the jacket and the shirt collar worn underneath. I also used different shades of colouring to achieve the solemn impression of the twelve-layer junihitoe kimono. I expressed the tension with this collar while I used the lower part to convey a sense of liberation. Freedom of movement makes one look graceful. I tried to design something that people can wear without stress and yet maintains the impression of a formal wear. I also added pleats on the backside so the dress would flutter as the person moves. It’s an exaggeration to say that I wanted to replicate ‘ohikizuri’, the hem of the kimono trailing. I would be happy if people could sense even just a small amount of the sentiment and ambience that Japanese attire exudes.

The beautiful indigo colour and the ring pattern of the ‘haori’ (a short coat worn over a kimono) material stand out.

I based my design on one of the classic Japanese patterns called ‘watsunagi-gara’. I interpreted the ‘curves (ko)’ forming the rings as ‘individuals (ko)’, and each ‘ko’ is connected to form ‘rings (wa)’ or circles, symbolising ‘harmony (wa)’. I applied curves and rings to express ‘ko’ (individuals) connected together to create ‘wa’ (harmony). Using six different shades of indigo threads, the different coloured curves form the ring pattern. At the same time, the background indigo colour is also made of six different shaded curves layered on top of each other. The pattern changes from different angles and the various shades give it depth. It was very difficult to weave this pattern, and the craftsman and I made many trial-and-error samples.

Expressing uniqueness within a common format
The colour of the ‘uchiginu’ (inner wear) is in a gradation of white to indigo. Each piece was dyed individually?

Yes. I wanted to express how each person is unique, and I contemplated how this differentiation could be achieved within the common format of ‘formal wear’. I arrived at the idea of using colour gradation. Each piece ended up with a different colouring, and lined up together they all have a unique look.

What was the reason you changed the design for the front and the back of the jacket?

It has a lot to do with the psychology of the person wearing the costume. The Field Cast members have different physiques. Some of them do not like a tight waist so I altered the length of the jacket in the front and back to show the waistline from behind. Practical and confortable to wear are not the only aspects that are important. I think one of the key elements of practicality is to feel elated. It has to do with the person wearing the costume thinking, “I look great!” and being able to concentrate during the ceremony. I designed the costume with the wish that everyone wearing it will shine with pride.

The ‘kumihimo’ (a plaited cord) is designed so it is tied at the hip of the dress.

The dress has a straight tube style, so if a person wants to show some lines, he/she can pull the kumihimo tighter. You can arrange it any way you want to express yourself.

The materials used for the ‘haori’ and ‘uchiginu’ are made with sustainable fabric.

Using sustainable or recycled material is going to be more common. To make the haori, I obtained a recycled polyester thread called Ecopet and dyed it to make it original. The uchiginu material is plain, but I put a lot of emphasis on using breathable material so I ended up making a new fabric too. I wanted to have a highly breathable fabric that is not sheer and is comfortable to wear, and something that expresses both elegance and tension. That is how I arrived at the original material.

You chose to have the costumes sewn at a garment factory in the city of Hanamaki (Iwate Prefecture). Why?

I chose that factory because of their excellent skills and quality, not necessarily because I was thinking of contributing to the recovery of the area from the 2011 earthquake. I use factories that I can rely on in terms of quality, cost and delivery time.

For the shoes to go with the costume, you chose western-style sandals, which was an unusual choice.

I took a diverse approach here. The ceremony for surfing may take place on sand, and it would be difficult to walk in Japanese-style sandals like geta or setta. I tried to think what style would be most comfortable in all kinds of situations, and I settled on a practical sandal made with state-of-the-art technologies.

A ceremony that is a premonition of the coming age
The Field Cast wearing this costume will attend the victory ceremony. What kind of ceremony did you envision when designing the costume?

I wanted the international ceremony to have a Japanese taste as well as a premonition of the coming age. Formal wear exhibits an austere impression, but in today’s age the victory ceremony will be viewed on TV as well as mobile phones. Just like it’s more accessible, I wanted people to feel a sense of intimacy with the Olympic victory ceremony. I thought it would be nice if people could relax and watch the ceremony on their smartphone, and think, “I could’ve been a Field Cast too.” I wanted to somehow achieve that kind of intimacy.

Two years have gone by since the costume design was submitted. What are your thoughts toward the victory ceremony now?

We have been working together as a team with the craftsmen and factory staff to produce the costume carefully. I really hope the victory ceremony will be a rewarding moment for every single person who takes part. If the costume is easy to move in and comfortable for the Field Cast, and they can be themselves, feel proud to be a part of the Games and can focus on the ceremony, I would be very happy.

Victory ceremony costume designer YAMAGUCHI Sodai: 'I want the Field Cast  to feel comfortable and natural… to shine in their role'

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