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Yohji Yamamoto

For a designer of such imposing stature, Yohji Yamamoto is amazingly playful. He's a master tailor, yes, but that skill is often put to work conjuring up wildly avant-garde silhouettes that conceal the wearer's form, creating a new shape altogether. And yes, much of his lineup might be done in his favorite color, black, but the sobriety is usually interrupted by shots of ultrabrights.

Constantly exploring the relationship between the masculine and the feminine, Yamamoto makes clothes for women with an artistic or intellectual bent. Raised by his mother, a self-employed seamstress working in postwar Japan, Yamamoto arrived at fashion after studying law at Keio University. In 1969, at the age of 26, he also got a degree in design from Bunkafukuso Gakuin, Tokyo's esteemed fashion training ground. For the next several years he worked out of the back of his mother's shop, and in 1977 showed his first collection in Tokyo, under the name Y's. In 1981, he moved his presentations to Paris; he accepted France's Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1994.

Yamamoto also plays surprisingly well with others. In 2002 he embarked on a successful partnership with Adidas, launching the popular Y-3 brand. He has dabbled in film and opera costume, too, and collaborated on ethereal pearl jewelry with Mikimoto, must-have handbags with Hermès, and onstage outfits for his friend Elton John.

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