The ‘Chitose Effect’: Is sacai Fashion’s Most Underrated Collaborator?

From COMME des GARÇONS alumni to streetwear pioneer, Abe’s done it all.

Fashion 
16,311 Hypes 10 Comments

It feels strange to say that Chitose Abe’s label sacai is underappreciated, given the global grail status of its collaborations with Nike — not to mention a just-announced partnership with Kim Jones at Dior. But the brand has never garnered as much critical acclaim as other renowned Japanese designers (Yohji Yamamoto, Hiroshi Fujiwara, Junya Watanabe, Issey Miyake and so on), despite having done just as much as them in sacai’s 21 years of existence.

From humble beginnings growing up in Gifu, near Nagoya in Japan, Abe transformed her fascination with fashion into a career, working at World Co. Ltd (responsible for lots of what we see on the high street) in the early ‘90s before heading to COMME des GARÇONS under Rei Kawakubo. It was from there where she learned, mastered, and appreciated fashion more than ever, and after having her daughter in 1997 she went on to found sacai in 1999.

Her way of designing is left-field, small-scale, and became a quintessential bookmark of her taste: you know sacai when you see it, just like any other great designer’s work. Known for splicing and cutting things up, patching it back together, and reworking garments, Abe was doing double layers and exaggerated cuts long before her time with Nike and the streetwear boom she now plays a considerable role in.

In the early 2000s, sacai was worn by those in the know, but now (like most COMME-derived brands), we can’t get enough of it. And she has a mastery of collaborations unlike almost any other designer: her deconstructive aesthetic and canny reworking of recognizable garments applies so easily to any number of partnerships. What’s more, they sell: there seems to be a growing ‘Chitose Effect’, where any brand she deigns to align with becomes retail gold. 

Collaboration is the key to many success stories, but Abe was doing just fine before. All the same, here are five of the designer’s greatest collaborations so far.

The New York Times x sacai

sacai debuted its collaboration with The New York Times for FW18, and while printing text on T-shirts and hoodies was nothing new, its timing was absolutely spot on. Focusing on the newspaper’s multi-award-winning “Truth Is Hard” campaign that aimed to tackle fake news, garments were emblazoned with slogans acknowledging the importance of truthful reporting. It came during the time of the Trump administration, a rise of independent and citizen journalism, and went on to become “The Truth Has A Voice,” representing women’s rights. And all this could be worn on a T-shirt.

sacai x NikeLab SS15

Chitose Abe’s first collaboration with Nike wasn’t the one that put her on the streetwear map (that came later, with her inaugural LDWaffle and Blazer) but it is by far one of her best. At a time when Kanye West, Hiroshi Fujiwara, and even Pharrell dominated the streetwear-sneakers industry, Abe came in from behind with her Nike Air Max 90s and a full collaborative look for women — it was something fresh and often overlooked in the industry, but she was the one paving the way. The looks were technical and functional but still featured archetypal sacai elements, from ruffles and lightweight fabrics to pleating and frills in places you wouldn’t expect, which added flair to otherwise simple pieces. 

sacai x Nike Blazer Mid and LDWaffle

It’s 2019 and peak “insert brand x brand = hyped sneaker” era. sacai is now well-and-truly on the map, having been co-signed by every Instagrammable figure known to hype-kind. Its next Nike project was already being touted as one of the collaborations of the year. Needless to say, Abe did not disappoint. The collaboration turned out to be a huge success for both sacai and Nike, leading on to more colorways, new fabrications, and further collaborations down the line on the Vaporwaffle and the Blazer Low.

sacai x The North Face

sacai’s FW17 runway show debuted a collaboration with The North Face, and dare we say this one might just have kick-started TNF’s foray into high-end collaborations (Gucci and Margiela, as opposed to Supreme). In true sacai form, everything was designed to be functional but beautiful, and we saw the likes of TNF’s Mountain Jacket and Nuptse get dressed up with newfound intricacies that, to this day, make it one of the strongest outerwear collaborations to come from The North Face. 

sacai x A.P.C. 

Many wouldn’t put the A.P.C. collaboration on the same level as the rest of sacai’s work, but that’s where you’re wrong — this collaboration was different from the rest. It was a) more affordable than other high-end collabs and b) daring but still approachable, and for that we love it. By fusing a denim jacket with an MA-1 bomber, Abe gave an everyday staple that was wearable but still a talking point. The same goes for the T-shirts and hoodies, while the collaborative denim-pleated nylon skirts were another star of the collection. 

Jean Paul Gaultier and Chitose Abe

Leading up to Abe’s appointment as Jean Paul Gaultier’s couture designer, JPG was also experiencing somewhat of a revival. For SS19, JPG teamed up with Supreme for a collaboration capsule, with more appearing in 2020. Then the designer announced his retirement, and soon came Abe’s partnership.

As a result of COVID delays, we’re still waiting for Abe to debut her Jean Paul Gaultier couture collection in July at Paris Couture — and we’re hoping for something incredible. We know it’s going to be visionary and special, it’s going to be an ode to femininity and the brand’s past, and hopefully, we’ll get a closer look at those JPG x sacai x Nike LDVaporwaffle Mix sneakers. For now, all we can do is reflect on Abe’s words: “I have a long-held admiration for Jean Paul’s unique vision of subversive femininity and his originality, both of which I’ve strived towards in my work since the beginning. It’s a true honor to be given the opportunity to be custodian of his house as the first designer of this project.”

Read Full Article

What to Read Next

Take a Look at the Jean Paul Gaultier Paris sacai Haute Couture FW21 Collection
Fashion

Take a Look at the Jean Paul Gaultier Paris sacai Haute Couture FW21 Collection

Accompanied by a ready-to-wear drop available now.

Jean Paul Gaultier x sacai x Nike Vaporwaffle Capsule is Dropping in September
Footwear

Jean Paul Gaultier x sacai x Nike Vaporwaffle Capsule is Dropping in September

Coming in “Black/White” and “Blue/Sesame” colorways.

Rough Release Details for the Jean Paul Gaultier x sacai Nike LDVaporwaffle Mix Surface
Footwear

Rough Release Details for the Jean Paul Gaultier x sacai Nike LDVaporwaffle Mix Surface

Chitose Abe’s ongoing partnership has a new element.


Take an Official Look At the sacai x Nike Vaporwaffle "Sesame"
Footwear

Take an Official Look At the sacai x Nike Vaporwaffle "Sesame"

One of four colorways set to release.

Meet the M.A.D. 1 - the $2,100 USD Watch You Can't Have
Watches

Meet the M.A.D. 1 - the $2,100 USD Watch You Can't Have

The avant-garde design is simultaneously the most affordable and most exclusive watch Max Büsser has ever created.

Bowers & Wilkins Adds the PI5 to Its Wireless Earbud Lineup
Tech

Bowers & Wilkins Adds the PI5 to Its Wireless Earbud Lineup

Following up the release of the popular PI7 model.

ABT Sportsline Celebrates 125th Birthday With 800 HP Audi RS6 "Johann Abt Signature Edition"
Automotive

ABT Sportsline Celebrates 125th Birthday With 800 HP Audi RS6 "Johann Abt Signature Edition"

Each car will be built by one person by hand, and only 64 will be made in total.

Everything Dropping at Palace This Week
Fashion

Everything Dropping at Palace This Week

Including its highly-anticipated “Palbro” instalment.

DDG Puts a Spin on 'iCarly' Theme Song in New Freestyle
Music

DDG Puts a Spin on 'iCarly' Theme Song in New Freestyle

Just in time for the premiere of the ‘iCarly’ reboot on June 17.


Virgil Abloh Explores Inner Monologue and Louis Vuitton FW21 in 'Monologue 6' Video
Fashion

Virgil Abloh Explores Inner Monologue and Louis Vuitton FW21 in 'Monologue 6' Video

Go behind-the-scenes with the designer as he edits the FW21 collection before your eyes.

"Doge" Meme Becomes Most Expensive Meme NFT Sold at $4 Million USD
Entertainment

"Doge" Meme Becomes Most Expensive Meme NFT Sold at $4 Million USD

The price of the iconic photo of Kabosu the Shiba Inu surpassed ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ and “Disaster Girl.”

Would You Buy This 1991 BMW M5 With Almost 250,000 Miles?
Automotive

Would You Buy This 1991 BMW M5 With Almost 250,000 Miles?

Somehow, this E34 M5 is still in (pretty good) working order.

Dior and sacai Embark on "Creative Conversation" in First Collaboration
Fashion

Dior and sacai Embark on "Creative Conversation" in First Collaboration

Encompassing ready-to-wear, bags and accessories.

New Balance Dresses Its R770 in Muted Shades of Navy and Grey
Footwear

New Balance Dresses Its R770 in Muted Shades of Navy and Grey

An amalgamation of classic brand silhouettes.


More ▾
 
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Gain access to exclusive interviews with industry creatives, think pieces, trend forecasts, guides and more.

By subscribing, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Adblock Detected.

We charge advertisers instead of our readers. If you enjoy our content, please add us to your adblocker's whitelist. We'd really appreciated it.