Chitose Abe, the Art of Reimagining

The stylist behind the brand Sacai is now involved in various collaborations with the biggest names in fashion.


WordsClémence Leleu

© Victor Demarchelier - Sacai

If Chitose Abe were to be described in one word, it could be reimagining. This starts with that of her surname. Chitose Abe was born Sakai. And so, when she had to find a name for her label, launched in 1999, she only needed one letter to reimagine her surname: thus, Sakai became Sacai. For several years now, these five letters have been on the lips of everyone in the fashion world, both in Japan and internationally. 

The other form of reimagining comes through in her creations. Chitose Abe takes the original form or function of garments and reimagines them. Points of reference are blurred, nothing is as it seems and yet it works as a coherent whole. Symmetry is shaken up, pockets are moved, basics are deconstructed but everything is marked by a unique touch: Abe puts her stamp on it, and makes the most prominent designers swoon, from Dior to Jean-Paul Gaultier himself via Nike. 


APC, Lacoste, Petit Bateau and Dior

‘I came across one of her creations, sailor stripes on the front, lace on the back. I instantly saw myself in this model she’d adapted. I remembered her name and later discovered her work on bomber jackets, another of my favourite pieces. Besides corsets, we have a huge number of things in common’, states Jean-Paul Gaultier who, after retiring from the world of haute couture in January 2020, left his label’s first new collection in the hands of the Japanese stylist. 

He is not alone in trusting Chitose Abe’s keen eye and quick hands. The long list of her collaborations speaks for itself: APC, Lacoste, Petit Bateau, Birkenstock, Vans, The North Face, Uggs, Dior and Beats by Dre. The stylist is everywhere. ‘Chitose doesn’t merely stick a logo on a product; instead, she adapts it, educates us about its history and transforms it with a unique recipe’, explains Sarah Andelman, co-founder of the Paris-based concept store Colette and now a consultant, to Le Monde.  


A first collection composed of five pieces

Born in rural Gifu prefecture, Chitose Abe discovered fashion design through her mother, who was a seamstress by trade. After studying fashion in Nagoya, she got a job as a pattern cutter for COMME des GARÇONS at the age of 26. She gave birth to her first child, then started out in design, and so the label Sacai was born, with its first collection consisting of five knitwear pieces, made entirely by hand by the stylist. Years passed and fabrics evolved, and Sacai found its identity: hybridisation of garments juxtaposing textures, mixing fabrics and intermeshing colours and motifs. 

This blend of genres can also be seen in the retail outlets, where materials are combined to create an ambiance that bears the mark of the label’s universe, with wood alongside steel, acrylic and glass. Indeed, she charged expert architect Sou Fujimoto—known for bringing together contrasting elements like interior and exterior, new and old, nature and artefacts—with creating her first Japanese store in Tokyo’s Minami Aoyama district.


More information about Chitose Abe and Sacai’s latest collections can be found on the brand’s website.