by Sheryl Garratt / Fashion Magazine
17th March 2013
David Bowie first saw my designs at a show in London in 1971, and decided to wear them on stage. This picture was taken in my studio in Tokyo in April 1973, when his Ziggy Stardust tour came to Japan. By then we’d become friends, after meeting at his first American dates two months earlier.
There’s a 13-hour time difference between Tokyo and New York, but a good friend of mine there phoned me several times in the middle of the night, saying, ‘There’s this very interesting person here called David Bowie, you’ve got to see him. Fly over now!’ If someone calls at 4am telling you to get on a plane, it must be for something pretty interesting. So I had my secretary cancel all my plans for that week, and I went to New York.
I went straight from JFK airport to the Radio City Music Hall, and was shown to the front row just as the show was about to start. I’d never seen a performance like it. Bowie came down from the ceiling, wearing my clothes. My designs have been influenced by kabuki theatre, as was his show. There’s a movement used in kabuki called hikinuki, where one costume is dramatically stripped off, revealing a different outfit underneath. At first Bowie was wearing all black, then suddenly he was in full colour. The audience was so impressed they all rose to their feet.
To me, it was the beginning of a new age. We met afterwards, and I felt we had the same energy. I’ve never gone for wabi-sabi – the austere elegance that people admire about Japan. I like bright colours, and I like to stand out in a crowd. So I had real empathy with Bowie. He’s from the West, I’m from the East, but we had the same crazy energy in our hearts. We inspired each other, and pushed each other to another level.
When the tour came to Japan later that year, we went out for dinner with Tamasaburo, who is one of the great kabuki actors. Bowie’s young son – now the film director Duncan Jones – would come and play with my family. I made the knitted jumpsuit in the picture at that time. Now it’s part of the V&A’s Bowie exhibition . I’m wearing trousers I’d made using a very unusual mohair – the fibres were 5-6cm long – and you’ll notice I have the same pattern on my sweater as on Bowie’s costume. There was a feeling that we were like brothers – or father and son.
I’d been showing my collections in the traditional way, but after I got to know David, I became more of a producer, creating my Kansai Super Shows for big audiences. So I started off as a fashion designer, but now I express myself in broader ways.
David Bowie Is, V&A Museum, March 23 to August 11, in partnership with Gucci ( vam.ac.uk )