Maternity leave changed Chitose Abe’s life. It was while she was home tending to her baby daughter, Tohko, that the designer came up with the concept of hybridization—clothes that look different coming and going, combining, for example, a jacket and a skirt—which has become her signature. “All I was wearing were jeans, chinos, V-neck sweaters, T-shirts, polo shirts,” Abe has explained. “I thought, is this it? I started to experiment to see if I could maybe fuse two garments—say, a sweater with a shirt.” This new way of thinking about fashion is also helping to drive it in a new direction. So indelible is Abe’s touch that Vogue’s Sarah Mower has suggested that the designer’s “idiom has almost broken through to become part of the common language of fashion.”
Abe has been fluent in the language of high fashion from a young age. A great fan of the avant-garde, she recalled that her outfits upset her mother terribly: “She refused to go out with me, and sometimes even cried! But to me, fashion is an important part of my life; it’s a way of expressing myself.” After earning her degree in Nagoya, Abe moved to Tokyo with just “two cardboard boxes” and landed a spot with a large commercial concern before joining Comme des Garçons, where she worked as a pattern cutter and, later, on Junya Watanabe’s label.
She debuted her own label, Sacai (a variation on her maiden name, Sakai), from her home with a handful of knits in 1999. She started selling her line in Europe and the U.S. in the early aughts, and by 2009 she was showing in Paris. Sacai’s menswear collection got its first public outing in 2009. So influential is Abe that she was rumored to be the successor to Alexander Wang at Balenciaga, a post that ultimately went to Vetements’s Demna Gvasalia.