interview by Anna Fitz
photography provided by Yokoo
Atlanta-based designer Yokoo has been picking up steam on the internet, gaining recognition not only for the oversized chunky knitwear that she makes and sells but also because of her eclectic sense of style, minimalist self portraits, and that trademark haircut.
Where did your name come from? Was it inspired at all by Japanese designer Tadanori Yokoo?
Years ago, I had fallen in love with my college freshman English professor, and he had decided to give me a Y for my birthday. It was wonderful. The next day I broke up with him.
The three “O”s were not always so cute. They actually started out as zeroes. When I found them they were rather humble little things. They used to tell me how they were all going to be big, big movie stars one day. I told them if they wanted to be movie stars then they had better change their names, because no one would ever give an Oscar to someone named Zero.
Finally, they agreed and decided to call themselves Oscars. I told them that was just plain stupid, and then they settled on just “O.” Oh, and I fell in love with K because she can cook. But don’t tell her that because she’s really sensitive.
How did you dress when you were in high school?
One has to understand that high school used to be nothing like it is today. Dressing up was not a part-time job the way it is today. You had maybe like three or four kids that put a lot of time, if any, into chiseling a look out for themselves. Because it contrasted so drastically with my environment, I was fascinated with the whole preppy lifestyle. I had a certain fondness for United Colors of Benetton. Then I would incorporate a lot of the underground hip hop hippie movement into my style as well. People like De La Soul had a huge impact not only on my way of dress, but also on how I started to perceive the world. I wore the hippie hip hop haircuts, the big medallions, and a lot of Nikes.
What was your day job before you concentrated on your own designs full time? Did it have any impact on what you do now?
I never had a job for more than a year. Yeah I was definitely one of those that had a hard time with submitting to authority. I would sit at my desk and daydream for hours. I was always inventive. And I always somehow knew that there was something just beyond the horizon of what most people considered success. I didn’t know what it was until I became a little older, and a little wiser. I started to see other young people that were my age doing amazing things with backgrounds that were similar to mine. This left me with a rather concrete diagram of what was possible and how to go about becoming financially independent.
You do a good deal of your business online; how do you think websites like Etsy are changing the way independent fashion designers work? What do you think about people selling their copies of your work?
Esty is a wonderful tool for leveraging your work against the same people you’re selling to. Because many of the sellers are also buyers, the marketing is built right into the website — unlike eBay, where the buyers and sellers are so varied that one has to be a marketing guru to build up a following.
But at the same time, they have made it much harder to brand. Brand is a strange balancing act that goes into the way you approach everything you do. Etsy has allowed me to express my company at a smaller scale. It also allows me to make mistakes that can go relatively unnoticed. But at the end of the day what really matters is the product, and whether your product is worth buying.
It’s okay if someone is influenced by my work, because copying is an art form in itself. I mean, all of my favorite musicians and writers copied in some way or another. But it’s how you allow that artist’s influence to permeate your work.
You seem to be very inspired by movies, like Woody Allen’s Interiors, which you pay homage to on your blog. What other directors and films do you find inspire and shape your work?
Besides Woody Allen, definitely Adrian Lyne has and continues to have a huge impact on my style and work. He is responsible for movies such as Flashdance, Nine 1/2 Weeks, and Fatal Attraction. His and Allen’s styles are so subtle and subdued that no matter how much fashion changes, most women would never readily comprehend how distinctive their looks are. It goes over most people’s heads, allowing it to remain fresh and new. John Hughes’ films I would say motivate me to dress up, but don’t really have much of an influence on my style. Not anymore, at least. I hope not.
There is a line from the movie High Fidelity, “what really matters is what you like, not what you are like.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
No, it’s definitely the reverse. Who you are and where you come from dictate what you are naturally drawn to. It’s just that many people don’t feel who they are inside is good enough for whatever reason, so they have placed one’s ability to to say “I like this” as precedent over “what they are like.” And this works on a rather surface level. And most artists do begin this way. But it soon exhausts itself. I find that it is much easier to be an artist who expresses who she or he is as an extension of where she or he is from. One’s own self-story is the gift that keeps on giving. Or at least that’s how it’s been for me.