A Sense of Style
It was during a visit to Paris when Kanna Yamauchi originally decided she would become a fashion designer. Some may say it was inevitable and that a sense of style was in her blood – her mother has been one of Okinawa’s top designers for more than thirty years. Upon her return to Okinawa, Kanna quit her job as a tour guide, enrolled in fashion art college, and hasn’t looked back. Now age 32, Kanna has received several design awards, gained prefectural sponsorship, and set up her own company, Yokang.
Where do the ideas for your designs come from?
“I grew up in Yanaburu; it’s very rural so you’re always surrounded by nature. The mountains, trees, ocean and flowers of Okinawa have all influenced the patterns in my clothes. When designing a new article, I think about the structure of the dress or shirt, and then work out which material and pattern will best fit that particular piece.
While studying at college, I spent my afternoons helping my mother make clothes and iron fabric. I guess it influenced me, but my own designs tend to be more functional than my mother’s and aimed at a younger market.
I also appreciate the work of some foreign designers like John Galliano. He uses materials and colors that are similar to those found in Okinawan clothing. Before he was famous, Galliano spent a lot of time ironing clothes for other designers, so I feel we are traveling similar paths.
Who buys your clothes?
Above all, it tends to be people with a real love of Okinawa. They like to have uniquely Okinawan designs, and want to support smaller businesses, like ours, that produce such items. We distribute to about forty stores at the moment, but we are now making contacts with boutiques in other countries. We’ll soon be selling Yokang designs in London and Copenhagen. We’re also starting to develop a following with celebrities; my clothes have been worn by Okinawan models Yamada Yu and Yukie Nakama, and even some Hong Kong movie stars.
What are your plans for the future?
As each item is handmade, I never expect the company to become huge. I think making clothes is at its most satisfying when you are creating tailor-made pieces. I like to be able to spend time meeting and getting to know the client. I love to discuss ideas then create the exact thing they want, whether it is an outfit for a wedding or something more casual.
At the moment ten percent of our designs use traditional bingata printing methods and ninety percent is done using stencils and an airbrush. Using an airbrush is faster and enables more people to afford traditional Ryukyu designs. In the future, however, I hope to spend more time printing with the traditional techniques.
If you could design an outfit for any person who would it be?
I would love to create clothes for Madonna. She’s been a style icon for decades, from her outrageous Jean-Paul Gaultier brassieres through to cowboy chic. Once when I was an elementary student, I went to school dressed like her. I was sent straight home by the principal. I guess not everyone shares my love of fashion.
(Interview first published in Okinawa Living Magazine March 2006)