Intentionally Mysterious: The Elusive Nature of Sasquatchfabrix.
Intentionally Mysterious: The Elusive Nature of Sasquatchfabrix.
- Words Marc Richardson
- Date December 11, 2017
If you visit Japan, particularly retail-rich Tokyo, chances are you’ll stumble upon a brand that you’ve previously never heard of. That’s true for fashion aficionados, for their less fashionable parents and even for those who are paid nice salaries to work in the industry. It makes sense that Japan would be such fertile ground for such obscure brands. A massive population confined to a small geographic area has birthed a generation of competing brands in close proximity to one another that struggle to differentiate themselves from the pack and rise to prominence. That being said, with such a large population, do the brands really need to export themselves beyond Japan’s borders? At the same time, European and North American infatuation—at times bordering on fetishism—with lesser-known Japanese brands has encouraged said brands to shroud themselves in mystery, intentionally shying away from press coverage. One brand that has garnered less attention than some of its peers, despite being considered among the nation’s most influential, is Sasquatchfabrix.
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Daisuke Yokoyama studied spatial design at Niigata’s Nagaoka Institute of Design in the late-’90s and early aughts, but found himself drawn towards graphic design, as the discipline allowed for a more free and immediate expression of his emotions. While studying at the Nagaoka Institute of Design, Yokoyama met Katsuki Araki, who would become Yokoyama’s partner at Sasquatchfabrix. and the ringleader of the Wonder Worker Guerrilla Band—a nebulous network of Japanese artists that encompasses Sasquatchfabrix. and a number of other projects.
Fresh out of school, Yokoyama and Araki found themselves facing the same challenge as countless other Japanese artists faced: the sheer number of fellow artists. The two budding graphic designers launched what Tokyoites refer to as a “freepaper"—a zine of sorts—aimed at bringing exposure to the graffiti and cultural scenes they were apart of, while showcasing the work of the artists around them (the rest of the Wonder Worker Guerrilla Band). In conjunction with the publication of their free paper, Yokoyama and Araki started producing limited edition graphic T-shirts. Thus, the seeds of Sasquatchfabrix. were sewn.
As the duo’s T-shirts began to morph into a full-fledged brand, the search for a name began. Often times, this can be a crucial step for a brand: pick the right name, and you give yourself a considerably better chance of achieving success; pick the wrong name, and your first collection might never see the light of day. In a conversation with Toronto’s HAVEN, Yokoyama explained how the name Sasquatchfabrix. came to be:
“Sasquatch is an UMA (unidentified mysterious animal) that is suggested to exist in Canada. In the present day fashion scene, we wish to be like an UMA and used its name for our brand.”
Following in the footsteps of Big Foot, Sasquatchfabrix. has succeeded in cultivating an aura of mystery around itself, with the brand only carried by a handful of retailers outside of Japan. In 2003, newly equipped with a name that embodied the brand’s philosophy, Sasquatchfabrix. was born.
From the very outset, the brand has straddled the delicate balance between Japan and the outside world that is innate in post-WWII Japanese culture. In an interview with The New Order magazine published earlier this year, Yokoyama explained that he had no real interest in “Japanese fashion” when Sasquatchfabrix. was presenting its inaugural collections. “The Japanese word for clothes, youfuku, literally translates to ‘western clothes,’” he explains, which led him to, “dislike Japanese products during [his] teen years and twenties” and drove him to explore American music and fashion.
This is particularly evident in the brand’s collections from 2007 and 2008, entitled “TORA TORA TORA” and “ILLEGAL PLAYERS”, respectively. While some cuts and fabrics draw their inspiration from Japan, the essence of these first collections is decidedly North American. “TORA TORA TORA” features Navajo-inspired sweaters, double-breasted cardigans and a university-issue button down. “ILLEGAL PLAYERS” for its part, divided into Spring/Summer 2008 and Fall/Winter 2008, features similar inspirations, with Navajo prints, oxfords and satin varsity jackets making appearances. The Spring/Summer 2008 collection reeks of early-college angst and rebellion in America, while the Fall/Winter 2008 offering is a more polished, refined take on campus classics.
Still, despite taking its cues from North American college culture—which was not necessarily novel, particularly in Japan—Sasquatchfabrix.’s early work still manages to differentiate itself thanks to its strong graphics, reflecting the influence of WWGB’s myriad artists behind the scenes. It also reflects what Yokoyama refers to as “the modern technique of designing” when talking with HAVEN: the incorporation of humor into fashion through the brand's use of graphics. The cheeky college references, the faux Pink Floyd artwork and the play with colours makes Sasquatchfabrix.’s collection almost irreverent, oozing something that is hard to define but that is decidedly cool.
While Spring/Summer 2009’s “HOMING-chama cha amani" collection pushed the brand to explore the African continent and play with patterns, textures and new garments, the Fall/Winter 2009 “Tokyo Air Runners” collection brought the brand closer to home, playing magically on Japanese youth’s interest in American culture and fashion. The lookbook exudes the angst of the American Northwest’s grunge scene and the collection mirrors that vibe, with chunky knits, myriad jackets and an apt appropriation of the iconic Patagonia fleece. The Patagonia Camo? Jacket features a fleece vest with detachable came sleeves and a hood that embodies the brand’s ethos and still stands as one of Sasquatchfabrix.’s best—and most sought-after—pieces.
Spring/Summer 2011’s “Zenarchy” collection is an important benchmark, in retrospect. It stands out as one of the brand’s strongest and most complete offerings, with stand out pieces, eye-catching graphics and a collection-defining sneaker. The Zenarchy Double Zip Star Sneaker epitomizes Sasquatchfabrix.’s very existence. It is an unauthorized takedown and dramatic reevaluation of the iconic Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star, an icon of Americana. Yokoyama and Araki may not have been well-known enough to sit down with Converse, but they served up an impressively contemporary and innovative take on a silhouette that had long grown stale. Remarkably enough, the sneaker was panned at first, with Highsnobiety stating they “weren’t [their] favourite sneaker ever, but they may work for [others]”. Four and a half years later, Nike—Converse’s parent company—and ACRONYM would release a similar “re-imagination” of the Lunar Force 1 SP in three colourways, to much fanfare.
“Zenarchy” would be Yokoyama and Araki’s greatest work together—a collection of mini-collections, diverse yet complete. It would also be their penultimate collection together at the helm of Sasquatchfabrix. and Wonder Worker Guerrilla Band, as the events of March 2011 would change all of Japan. “Araki [and I], we always worked on impulse and instinct, which [was] both good and bad,” explained Yokoyama to The New Order, emphasizing the importance working together in Tokyo, along with the rest of the WWGB crew. The earthquake that struck Japan in March of 2011 and the subsequent nuclear disaster, pushed Araki to move from Tokyo to Fukuoka, leaving Yokoyama alone to continue the brand. Wonder Worker Guerrilla Band has been dormant since then, but Sasquatchfabrix. lived on, with Yokoyama revitalizing the brand’s direction and philosophy. “I wanted to dig further into the meaning of modern clothes in Japan and not just leave it as Western clothes”, he told The New Order, “I wanted to do something that only I could do because I am Japanese.”
The first collection designed following Araki’s departure and Yokoyama’s recommitment towards Japan, “JAPONISM SUNBEAM”, doesn’t shy away from its Japanese influence, nor from commenting on the nuclear disaster that changed the face of the country. The brand “drew the Japanese flag on tatami mats and wrote ‘anti-nuclear’ on lanterns” and incorporated a considerable amount of indigo denim into the collection, not to mention the traditional kimono. Despite this return to Japanese fashion, Sasquatchfabrix. maintained a degree of Western influence in its collections. For example, the Japonism Sweat Cardigan, the brand’s take on the kimono, saw the words “NEW YORK CITY” printed on the fabric. In Yokoyama’s words: “it is necessary to maintain balance [and to] showcase tradition at the right time.” That has arguably become the brand’s crowning achievement over the last five years: striking a delicate balance between Japan’s tradition and its people’s adoption of Western culture. It is something that only a Japanese brand helmed by a Japanese designer could express with such grace.
Subsequent collections saw the brand experiment with textures, materials, shapes and proportions, with Spring/Summer 2013’s “RAW LIFE” sitting in stark contrast to much of Sasquatchfabrix.’s earlier work. Shorts and flood pants mixed with oversized jackets and excessively cozy knits make for one of the brand’s most curious collections, albeit one that still works. In retrospect, however, 2013 seems like a placeholder for the brand. Sandwiched between its re-boot in 2012 and a move closer towards the North American mainstream in 2014 thanks to a now famous graphic and concept.
“Satoyama Woodlands”, the Spring/Summer 2014 collection, continued the brand’s exploration of proportions and cuts, but also ushered in a return to an era of playful graphics. From all-over prints, to contrasting toe-boxes on sneakers, to piping on baseball jerseys and pants, “Satoyama Woodlands” is about contrast. Even in the way the lookbook was presented the idea of contrast comes back again and again: stark green fields against crisp blue skies; tight tops and harem pants; colour blocking; mid-day looks and mid-night looks. That play on contrast carried forward to Fall/Winter 2014’s “What’s Avant-Garde” collection, which, along with “Zenarchy”, is probably among the brand’s most important collections.
The collection’s most famous graphic and one of the brand’s most iconic pieces, features a mash-up of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers logos, with each printed on a different colour garment and sewn together asymmetrically. It is truly a brilliant piece. A unique take on the iconically American sports team t-shirt. Devoid of any actual logo, or the words “Chicago”, “Los Angeles”, “Bulls” or “Lakers” in full, the Rival graphic speaks to the ubiquity of sports in America and of American culture in Japan. The piece is graphically strong, sure, but the asymmetrical mash-up makes it a piece with character, as well. It’s understandable that it has come to define Sasquatchfabrix. in many people’s minds: playful, yet poignant.
The piece exemplified what many have come to expect from the brand: to expect the unexpected. To that end, it came as a surprise to many when Supreme announced a collaboration with the brand in early 2016. While the brands both have their roots in counterculture and the skate scene, the collaboration strayed from American streetwear and featured a decidedly Japanese inspiration. Embroidered pants, noragis and Hanten coats gave the collection an east asian feel, but even the T-shirts and longsleeves (staples of any Supreme drop) featured decidedly Japanese-inspired graphics and cues. The capsule’s use of a traditional Japanese fan, branded with Supreme’s famous box logo, resonated with the masses, but also with Sasquatchfabrix.’s cult following. Most would assume that Supreme chose Sasquatchfabrix. and, while that may be true, it is a collaboration that works both ways, given the Tokyo-based brand’s established affinity for playing off Western culture. Supreme may have more stores in Japan than in America, but the brand embodies New York and the United States.
While the collaboration with Supreme tends to steal the headlines, Sasquatchfabrix. has developed a reputation as a master of collaborations over the last few years. Prior to the collaboration with Supreme, Yokoyama worked with Stussy on a collection that fused Japanese and Californian graphics, blending Stussy’s Surf Man with traditional Japanese wave motifs and incorporating Mount Fuji into the T-shirt collection. More recently, Vans tapped the Tokyo-based brand to reimagine the iconic Old Skool and Sk8-Hi, in 2017 and 2016 respectively. Much like the brand’s Zenarchy Double Zip Star Sneaker, the Vans mainstays were reimagined with utility in mind and saw elastic straps added to the tongue, creating Frankenstein-esque hybrids that draw from the Slip-On, but can be worn with or without laces. The collaborations were available exclusively through BEAMS, in a move that limited their availability on the market.
That scarcity, intentionally and meticulously crafted, is what has made Sasquatchfabrix. into the brand it is today, stocked in only 13 retailers outside of Asia. Coupled with a distinct balance between Western and Japanese culture, the brand has created something that cannot be replicated. In their interview with the designer, HAVEN challenged Yokoyama about Sasquatchfabrix.’s seemingly shifting aesthethic, from season to season. In response Yokoyama argued that “[he] feels that [the] collection doesn’t change so radically every season…”—rather, if you conceptualize fashion as being a reflection of the current time and atmosphere and use that as a constant guiding force, then you accept that “fashion exists with time and it changes, [as our] thought changes when time changes.” Sasquatchfabrix.’s hard-to-pin down aesthetic is the brand’s aesthetic.