To wit: Its ongoing tie-up with Nike, which started in 2015, has birthed a steady stream of covetable sneaker designs that regularly sell out within the day of launch.
Sacai’s standalone boutique at Hilton Hotel opened in January 2021 and feautres one-of-a-kind furniture designed and produced by the brand’s longtime partner, Japanese collage/DIY artist group Gelchop.
The year 2021 in particular has seen the brand embark on some of its most ambitious partnerships to date: French brand A.P.C, Japanese tulle extraordinaire Tomo Koizumi, couturier Jean Paul Gaultier, buzzy artist Kaws and even Kim Jones of Dior are among the diverse range of names that have worked with its founder Chitose Abe so far.
“I believe we have friends and family who understand our passion, and believe in what we do and in our continuous effort to make better clothes,” says Abe of this seemingly ready and willing stream of co-conspirators.
Sacai created a summer capsule of tulle bags with Tomo Koizumi.
It’s an interesting point that she’s making because it alludes to the uniqueness of Sacai’s pieces and why so many (both consumers and collaborators) are drawn to the brand.
Its recognisable signature is hybrid clothing. Almost every one of its designs can be read as a combination of nouns. A sweater is also a shirt; a skirt is also a pair of pants; tailored jackets are also parkas, and so on.
A look from Sacai’s collaboration with the contemporary artist Kaws.
The guile and wit of Sacai’s spliced-together designs mean that a single garment can look completely different from various angles. And though this suggests complex and inscrutable clothing, the opposite is true.
“Our core essence and belief have always been to create something truly necessary. Sacai clothes are designed to be worn in everyday life,” explains Abe.
And there are plenty who are in agreement. In a 2014 interview with the biannual magazine The Gentlewoman, Akiko Fukai – doyenne of the Kyoto Costume Institute – for example sums up Abe’s designs as “wearable… not ostentatious, not for showing off”.
Sacai’s apparel collection with Nike in August 2021 highlighted the beauty of motion by remixing the latter’s performance garments with Abe’s trademark voluminous silhouettes.
At the start of the pandemic lockdown last year, Sacai made it a point to create “clothes that people can relax in at home,” points out Abe. More recently – sensing a shift in mood – her collections have been geared towards “matching people’s desire to dress up and go out”.
For Spring Summer 2022, for instance, the brand has incorporated the use of water-repellent technical fabrics – go on and wear the pieces out; they might make a fashion statement, but they will also keep you dry in this era of crazy climate change.
This method of joining disparate elements together into beautiful yet practical wholes might also offer a parallel explanation for Abe’s talents as a collaborator. For the 56-year-old, teaming up with other names presents opportunities to “represent the many aspects we have as a brand.”
Earlier this year, for example, Sacai unveiled a collection of haute couture for Jean Paul Gaultier – part of the French fashion house’s experiment to refresh its couture arm by inviting guest designers to take the reins.
Sacai was the first brand to kick off Jean Paul Gaultier’s haute couture collaboration project this year.
In this collaboration, Abe played up Sacai’s ability to make garments that are more-than-meets-the-eye and fused in iconic Gaultier motifs like cone bras, trompe l’oeil tattoo prints and Breton stripes.
The looks revealed on the runway were striking with neither designer’s signatures overpowering the other’s. Aesthetically, it’s a fine line to toe and Abe nailed it.
“When we do collaborations, it needs to have the right balance between Sacai signatures and the unexpected,” she says. “I try to respect the partner and add the essence of our brand for equal presence.”
Tattoo artist Doctor Woo was roped in to create illustrations for the Gaultier Paris by Sacai couture collection.
That equilibrium is also on view with Dior Men, the latest big-name collaboration for Sacai that hits the French luxury maison’s boutiques this month. “We’ve known each other for a long time and always wanted to do something together, and it finally happened,” says Abe of Kim Jones, artistic director of Dior Men.
She further describes the collaborative capsule as a “creative conversation” and a meeting of two heritages and cultures. The result, as Dior describes in its press notes, is its own unique savoir-faire “blended with Sacai’s technicality”.
The Dior and Sacai collaboration spans ready-to-wear, bags, shoes and accessories that combine motifs from the French luxury maison (think floral patterns) with the Japanese brand’s inventive combinations of technical fabrics and details such as utilitarian pockets and drawstrings.
Take the Tailleur Oblique – a softly-shaped, one-button, double-breasted suit that Jones has made his signature silhouette for Dior. Traditionally cut from fine wool, it’s been recontextualised using technical fabrics and details that tip the tailoring into sportier territory.
Both brands share an affinity for Japanese denim (Dior is often considered a pioneer of designer jeans). Tapping on that, Kim and Abe have used the material to create a cobranded patch (the Sacai logo is rotated and worked into the ‘i’ in Dior) that turns up on a number of items in the capsule.
Kim Jone’s Tailleur Oblique jacket for Dior Men gets the Chitose Abe touch with technical fabrics and details that tip the tailoring into sportier territory.
There’s also an elegant jean jacket finished with drawstring toggle cords at the hem. The same drawstring detail is also worked into various versions of the Saddle bag and even the backs of berets made by longtime Dior milliner Stephen Jones, adding a utilitarian touch.
“If we think that something is fun, we can do it right away,” says Abe of the freedom that comes with being both owner and designer of Sacai.
Sneakers borne out of a three-way partnership (yes, three) between Sacai, Nike and streetwear label Clot.
That lightness of spirit and Abe’s considered approach may well explain why Sacai partnerships – in an era of non-stop brand dalliances – still stand out. Collaborations, as she puts it, “are not special projects for Sacai, but a necessary element of expression in our collections.”
Ahead, a product showcase of merchandise from Sacai’s in-demand collaborations this year.