Career: Designer, menswear line, Monsieur Nicole line, for Matsuda; joined Matsuda, 1976; took over as designer of Matsuda's menswear collection (known as Nicole in Japan), 1983; showed collection in New York for the first time, 1983; initial showing of collection in Paris, 1987; named chief designer, Matsuda's menwear and womenswear lines, 1995; opened Kobayashi Design Office Company to develop signature brands, late 1990s. Awards: Art Director's Club of New York for photo collaboration with Nan Goldin, 1996; Kuwazawa award, 1997. Address: Kobayashi Design Office Co. Ltd., 103, 2-30-9, Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo.
Phaidon Press (ed.), The Fashion Book, London, 1998.
Fressola, Peter, in DNR, 5 November 1986.
DNR, 5 February 1992.
Klensch, Elsa, "Matsuda Paints a Second Skin for Spring '97," on CNN, 12 February 1997.
Ozzard, Janet, "Matsuda Out to Stake a Bigger Claim in U.S.," in WWD, 12 February 1997.
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Memory, both in the collective and crystalline form of history and in the ether of personal recollection, is the primary concern of Yukio Kobayashi's menswear for Matsuda. Memory mingles in Kobayashi's work with a desire for literary expression. Language blurts out irrepressibly in the work in frequent words, letters, and numbers. A lapel, for instance, may vanish into linear design or letters may become a surrealist free fall of pattern. Literature abides in another way: the clothing is laden with an evocative knowledge of the literary past, as if costuming for a Merchant-Ivory film (Kobayashi's 1984 collections had reflected movie star elegance from the 1940s).
Kobayashi builds his clothing on the dandy's proposition that all clothing is to be seen in a self-conscious spectatorship. Tailored clothing explores a repertory of early 20th-century menswear; sportswear is supple and minimal, sometimes suggesting the Renaissance, Beau Brummel languor, or anticipating Utopia. Without contradiction to his historicism, Kobayashi is an apostle of advanced technology in synthetic fibers, often in startling juxtaposition with traditional materials and craft-domain handwork.
Kobayashi's aesthetic made Matsuda menswear favored apparel for artists and intellectuals; the boulevardier dandyism of the clothing is due to its intellectual edge. Peter Fressola characterized Kobayashi's work for Matsuda Men almost as an acquired, special taste in DNR (5 November 1986): "If you have never liked Matsuda, chances are good that you never will. But this designer has inspired the loyalty of a great many who willingly suspend judgement in favor of the rich, romantic, almost decadent aesthetic that is the world of his design." In literary traits and audacious style, Kobayashi created the most romantic menswear of the 20th century.
Kobayashi's aesthetic is invariably elegant, but he achieves his elegance not solely through refined materials but through the tactile satisfactions of fabric and pattern. A Norfolk jacket, a favorite template of Kobayashi's design, is transformed by blocks of pattern at differing scale; robust outerwear becomes luxurious by the swelled proportions of the collar; in the 1990s, trousers were transfigured by their uninflected plainness, flat front, and cropped just above the ankle. Kobayashi generally mediates between the inherent elegance of his style and a simple design sincerity—treating the basics of clothing, like allowing jackets to move with loose fit, or in his exploration of soft velvety and corduroy materials.
In February 1992 DNR called the Kobayashi fall menswear collection "a modern, down-to-earth, very Matsuda look," capturing its unpretentiousness. Even argyle-patterned Donegal tweeds, jackets with suppressed waists, seemed common, comfortable, and friendly. Thus Kobayashi achieves the dandy's grace with none of the dandy's disdain or arrogance: rugged materials, comfort, and vernacular borrowings are essential to his design. England and Scotland are the motherland of Kobayashi's historicist vision.
In brilliant command of menswear history, Kobayashi has favored early 20th-century clothing, the time of menswear codification. Nonetheless, he is capable of reflecting with bravura elegance on Victorian tartanitis and in creating revelers from a Venetian masked carnival in modern form. Responding to a question in Details, Kobayashi said: "The early part of the century was a time when the way people thought about clothes was radically changing. But the period I enjoy speculating about most is the future." Without such a sense of late-modern invention and adventure, the components of Kobayashi's style might seem to fall into clever but tiring eclecticism. Instead, he keeps a sharp analytical edge and an unremitting sense of the new and vanguard about his clothing. After all, almost all other menswear designers have recourse to the same body of Anglophilic and Edwardian styles that inspire Kobayashi, but his energy is quicker, more intellectual, and more transforming.
Kobayashi and Matsuda have a reputation for looking at fashion as art. As part of this belief, they have paired with a number of well-known photographers, many of them outside the fashion industry, to create advertising and art photos that have been exhibited around the world. They have included drug-culture photographer Nan Goldin (whose series "Goldin Meets Yukio Kobayashi," won an award from the Art Director's Club of New York), performance artist Laurie Anderson, Jan Saudek, and Bruce Weber.
Kobayashi often lets fabric lead when he creates a line. From wool tweed, sponge and quilting, to body-hugging synthetics and sheer fabrics that emulate tattoos on the body, Kobayashi looks to the material to inspire his designs, which always emphasize comfort. Much of his work is gender-bending and age-blind and incorporates a broad range of colors. The designer combines experimentation with an adherence to traditional, classic styles.
Kobayashi had been designing Matsuda's menswear lines since 1983 and, in 1995, took over the women's collection as well, working closely with Matsuhiro Matsuda on its direction. At the time, Matsuda had 500 stores in Japan and had $230 million in wholesale volume; just one percent of this figure was attributable to the U.S. market, according to Women's Wear Daily. The weekly publication further reported that Matsuda would focus on increasing its presence in the U.S. market in the late 1990s, using Kobayashi's expanding and favorable reputation as a launching point.
While the Matsuda label is solely for export, the company markets ten labels under the Nicole banner in Japan. Nicole is licensed for home furnishings, tabletop products, eyewear, luggage, and small leather goods in Japan and around Asia, and Matsuda planned to expand its licensing efforts in the U.S. as well. In the late 1990s, Kobayashi opened his own Tokyo-based studio, Kobayashi Design Office Company Ltd., to develop his own labels. His intention, as he told Hideki Iwauchi on the Internet publication Insite-Tokyo, was to create clothing that was fun and free, designed for wearability rather than to be viewed on models.
updated by Karen Raugust