Jürgen Lehl - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia

German designer working in Japan

Born: Poland, 1944. Education: Trained as textile designer, 1962-66; freelance designer in France, 1967-69; moved to New York, 1969; moved to Japan, 1971. Career: Textile designer, 1970-74; formed Jürgen Lehl Co. Ltd., 1972; showed first ready-to-wear collection, 1974; also designer, bed and bath Tint collections. Exhibitions: Contemporary Fabric Exhibition, Kyoto International Conference Center, 1992; Seasonal Exhibition, Tokyo; Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York; Koromo-Stoffe Zwischen Zwei Welten (Fabrics Between Two Worlds), Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Cologne, 1998; Fashions by Jürgen Lehl, Gemeentemuseum den Haag (The Hague), 2000; Jürgen Lehl: A Personal View, London, 2001. Awards: Creative prize, 1991; Best Advertisement award, 1993. Address: 3-1-7 Kiyosumi, Koto-ku, Tokyo 135, Japan.




Tadanori, Yokoo, Made in Japan—The Textiles of Jürgen Lehl, Tokyo, 1983.

Koren, Leonard, New Fashion Japan, Tokyo, 1984.

Martin, Richard, and Harold Koda, Flair: Fashion Collected by Tina Chow, New York, 1992.

Fleischmann, Isa, and Brigitte Tietzel, Koroma-Stoffe Zwischen Zwei Welten, [exhibition catalogue], 1998.

Fashion by Jürgen Lehl, [exhibition catalogue], 2000.


"Fashions by Jürgen Lehl," available online at Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, www.gemeentemuseum.nl , 25 July 2001.

"Artist Biographies," Museum of Modern Art, online at www.moma.org , 25 July 2001.

Featured in "Japan Newsletter," Embassy of Japan in the U.K., Japan Information and Culture Center, online at www.embjapan.org.uk , 17 October 2000.


Jürgen Lehl represents a cultural amalgam that is reflected in his design philosophy. Born in Poland of German nationality, he has lived in Japan since 1971. He founded his textile design company, Jürgen Lehl Co. Ltd., in 1972, producing a ready-to-wear line of clothing in 1974.

His clothes convey united elements of both Eastern and Western fashion. In 1982 Lehl's contemporaries Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons founded a fashion revolution when they showed their respective collections in Paris, introducing clothes that were Asian in origin and inspiration, with few concessions to traditional Western ideas of dressing. The clothes presented a design theory that contradicted established Western modes yet immediately became essential dressing for any serious follower of 1980s fashion.

The Japanese invasion permanently altered concepts of fashion in the West. These clothes seemed to owe nothing to trend, reaction, or retrospection but were rather a constantly evolving and refined version of the traditional kimono shape. Multilayered and elaborate in its simplicity, the kimono represents the basis of all Japanese fashion thinking. Lehl's clothing married Eastern and Western fashion. A man's jacket in black wool from 1986 combined the notion of Western tailoring with the band neckline of a kimono jacket. His radical minimalism is reflected with a single button that fastens the jacket, with a simplistic buttonhole created logically between the band and the body of the jacket. Lehl is intellectually reductive in his approach to design, reexamining and reducing details to produce unpretentious simplicity.

Lehl is also culturally eclectic in his textile designs, introducing concepts from high art or native idioms in both Western and Asian customs. He is inspired by the unexpected; chance discoveries of old shop signs or even an upturned shoe are applied to his design mechanism of refinement and reduction.

Japanese designers often seem subtle when compared with their Western contemporaries. Their logical, controlled approach has a mathematical precision, a calculation accurately solved. Fabric, texture, and proportion are of supreme importance to the designer. Kansai Yamamoto admits to spending as much as seventy-percent of his time working with textiles, which explains perhaps why Lehl's career expanded into clothing from his textile design origins.

Lehl's creations are popular in Japan and are sold there in 44 boutiques. His garments are always made of natural materials— cotton, linen, silk, and wool—and he uses the traditional Japanese dyeing techniques of ikat and shibori. When a major assessment is made of the influence of Japanese designers on contemporary fashion, it should be remembered that the East-to-West design passage is not all one way. Lehl represents the rare phenomenon of a Western designer working in the East.

—Kevin Almond;

updated by Carrie Snyder

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