Fashion Matrimony: Kolor and Sacai's Elegant Balance
Fashion Matrimony: Kolor and Sacai's Elegant Balance
- Words Mat Ferraro
- Date May 30, 2017
Nestled deep in the heart of Aoyama, off the beaten path of Tokyo’s street-style mecca Harajuku, lies a nondescript, red brick building that is home to Sacai’s flagship store. A reflection of the brand’s overall aesthetic, the labyrinth-like interior houses many contradictions—one elegant, all-white room connects to a raw, concrete passageway through a literal hole in the wall. A bastion of organized chaos, Chitose Abe’s store carries all three Sacai collections—Men’s, Women’s and Luck—in no particular arrangement. Instead, they are split unevenly amongst the shop's many rooms.
A mere two blocks away, another red brick building looms, adorned with plain, white block letters spelling out the word “Kolor.” Even though its façade echoes that of Sacai’s, the interior of Junichi Abe’s flagship store is a stark departure. The store’s open space highlights Abe’s contemporary take on minimalism; a plush, blue carpet interacts with the lush green of fresh flowers on a glass table in the middle of the store. Meticulously organized racks of clothes line the perimeter of the open space, which allow the shopper to view the entire collection in one glance.
Kolor and Sacai are two branches of the same tree. Despite anchored by similar roots, each reflects the differing aesthetics of their founders. Helmed by Junichi Abe and his wife Chitose Abe respectively, the pair of brands have independently risen to the forefront of the contemporary Japanese fashion scene. Despite living under the same roof and splitting nearly all tasks equally, they keep their fashion lives entirely separate famously never having attended each other’s runway shows. Both brands’ success can be attributed to the fact that they entirely follow their founders’ creative visions, eliminating external factors and opinions that threaten to dilute the final product.
Born in the Japanese countryside of Gifu in 1965, Chitose Abe (neé Sakai) was infatuated with fashion from an early age. She was confident in her defiant personal style and became famous in her small town for being a “bizarre girl.” At one point, she recalls that even her mother didn’t want to accompany her to run errands. She first realized that a career as a fashion designer was a possibility when she saw Issey Miyake on television in the 5th grade. It was then that she set her mind on moving to Tokyo despite her parents’ disapproval. Nonetheless, Chitose’s passion continued to transcend the restrictions placed on her within her small town.
Taking a traditional route after finishing design school, Chitose found a job at a large apparel company in Tokyo. However, she quickly fell in love with the offbeat attitude of Comme des Garçons and quit her job after only a year to become a patternmaker at Rei Kawakubo’s avant-garde label. Given her unique vision, determination and unparalleled work ethic, she quickly rose through the company. In 1994, she was asked to assist Kawakubo’s protégé Junya Watanabe in starting his own label. Serving on Watanabe’s small design team, she met her future husband Junichi Abe, a Bunka Fashion College alum, who had worked previously as a patternmaker for both Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons.
After becoming pregnant, Chitose Abe left Comme des Garcons in 1998. Even though she enjoyed motherhood, she often felt isolated and, upon her husband’s suggestion, decided to launch her own fashion label. In 1999, Sacai was born. Starting with only 5 pieces of knitwear, Chitose channeled her life and impressions of Tokyo into her initial womenswear collection, infusing clashing, unorthodox fabrics with chunky knits. While today hybrid knits and patchwork clothing are both prevalent in fashion, Chitose’s first knits were groundbreaking. “From the beginning, I wanted to break away from the cliché, from the preconceived notions in fashion,” Mrs. Abe said. “I wanted to reject that progression and instead do things my own unique way.”
While Sacai began to accumulate a cult following, Junichi Abe launched his own brand, Kolor, in 2004. Taking a significantly more introspective approach than Sacai, Kolor was derived from Junichi's inner emotions. “I think that what people feel when they see and wear the clothes is everything,” Mr. Abe said. His understated style emanates an aura of pensiveness and subtlety, which is clearly represented in his collections. Kolor takes classic menswear pieces and injects them with unconventional textures and colorful highlights, making something both entirely familiar and unexpected. Striking a balance between the two elements, Junichi uses abstract concepts, such as a mood or a feeling, to craft his collections.
With both designers coming from a nearly identical background, one might assume Sacai and Kolor to be hauntingly similar. While they share many common themes—a precise attention to detail, a deep appreciation for fabrics and textures, and a high level of execution to name just a few—they each occupy their own distinct lanes. Both undeniable reflections of their creators, they complement and contradict one another, like any successful couple should.
In 2009, Chitose Abe first presented at Paris Fashion Week, a serious stepping stone in her career. By this point, Chitose had already launched both a menswear collection and Luck, an experimental diffusion line that remains true to Chitose's signature style. Thinking of a collection as a “balance of betrayal and stability,” Chitose tries to stay true to the Sacai brand while surprising the viewer with the unexpected. Following closely behind his wife, Junichi Abe brought Kolor to Paris Fashion Week in 2011, showcasing both men’s and women’s collections.
Fall 2015 saw the release of two trailblazing sportswear collaborations for the couple: Sacai x NikeLab and Kolor x Adidas. The collaboration with Nike expanded Sacai’s catalog, combining Chitose's mastery of arrangement and structure with Nike’s vast array of technical materials. Existing at the intersection of style and function, the collection contained both apparel and footwear, such as a caped Tech Fleece sweatshirts and intentionally lace-less Air Max 90s. In the same vein as Sacai’s collaboration with Nike, Kolor’s collaboration with Adidas pushed the label into uncharted territory. Junichi Abe crafted garments that resemble an amalgamation of Adidas’ signature performance-based aesthetics and Kolor’s, utilizing Adidas’ signature technologies like ClimaCool, Climaheat and Boost.
Without a doubt, both Chitose and Junichi Abe will be heralded as modern icons as they have helped define contemporary fashion as well as expand Japan’s current fashion narrative. Together, they serve as a testament to the fact that there truly is no right way to create a fashion label as traditional guidelines have proven to be almost entirely baseless. Paving the way for young designers, their separate but equal legacies will continue to influence the fashion community for years to come.