From Pseudo-copywriter to Stylist
With a career spanning 50 years and covering a wide range of fields including advertising, music and movies, stylist Yasuko Takahashi, or “Yakko-san” to those who know her, is even now still at the forefront of her industry. From iconic stars like T-Rex, David Bowie, Iggy Pop as well as Japanese stars YMO, Kiyoshiro Iwamano all the way to recent sensations Momoiro Clover Z, famous artists from Japan and abroad as well as countless photographers and creators have great trust in her, and it is with her that they have created unforgettable work in the process.
However, as Takahashi explains to us, the notion of a stylist did not exist in Japan when she started her career in the 1960s, and there was no specific desire in her mind to become one back then.
“While at university, I took on a job as a copywriter at a major Japanese advertising company, treating it as a stepping stone that I hoped would lead to some kind of job in the future. It was through this work that allowed me to land a position as a copywriter in a major agency. But the problem was I found writing copy to be quite hard the moment I started (laughs). It was then while visiting an advertising agency of an acquaintance that I was asked if I wanted to work for them. I was taken aback by the offer from them and, I have to say, close to some kind of awakening for me. So I quit the agency I had been working for and began my journey doing work of my choosing (laughs).”
It was at this small company made up of young staff, where alongside her work as a copywriter, she went on location for shoots where she ran around gathering tools, equipment and outfits and preparing meals for everyone.
“Since I was not a professional at anything, I had to make myself useful to justify getting paid. But in time, I was asked to help more in shooting where it evolved into becoming my main work.”
With the ability to line up the ideal props and outfits for the shoots based only from quickly-drawn rough sketches, Takahashi was praised by her colleagues around her. People spoke of her as such that “Yakko has that something that others don’t have”. Before long it was “Yakko, please help us!” where she was assigned to filming after becoming indispensable to the staff. Two years later, she became independent, the beginning of making her own way as a freelancer.
“Financially it was a struggle at first however hard I tried because styling itself had not taken hold in Japan at that time. However, as I pushed myself along with the help of those around me tried who gave me encouragement by telling me ‘the time will come someday’, not just posters and catalogs but also commercial film work started to come in. It wasn’t long before I was so busy that I had little time to sleep. The people in these industries are the types that ‘love new things’ so I reckon they wanted to try me out.”
With all the money she had, she jumped on a plane to New York to hone her skills. This period proved to be the most stimulating and inspiring time. For Takahashi, still hesitant in the back of her mind as to whether to become a stylist, she got the confidence where she knew she was “heading in the right direction”. Not long after, and for the first time in Japan, the title ‘Stylist’ was printed on her business card.
A Deeply Held Respect for Photography
Takahashi’s workplace before becoming freelance was located in Harajuku Central Apartment, a building that was famous for being a haven for creative types during the 1960s and 1970s in the trendy and artistic Harajuku district of Tokyo.
“Every day we talked for hours on end, drinking coffee at the cafe located under the apartment, talking about wanting to make this, work on that. It was fun to be there so it couldn’t be helped to spend so much time there. The cafe also attracted young musicians and designers and were also the offices of famous Japanese photographers Masayoshi Sukita, Shinpei Asai and Kurigami Kazumi where we worked together on many projects.”
The home she grew up in used to house a photo gallery where, as a young girl, she was able to lay her eyes on the works of Eikoh Hosoe and Ikko Narahara in photography magazines ‘Asahi Camera’ and ‘Shashin Bunka’.
“I was blessed to have the chance to assist Mr Hosoe on one of his shoots. When I looked at his work, I knew with all these great people around that I could not become as great a filmmaker or photographer. But why I continue and not tire of being a stylist is because I love photography and love to help out in shoots”.
She went to England together with Masayoshi Sukita, where the subsequent portrait sessions for rock icons Marc Bolan of T-Rex and David Bowie have become iconic. At that time Takahashi was not styling but being made to contact record companies and negotiate with them face-to-face. Having spent significant time with the photographers and creators that shaped the 1960s and 1970s, paying respect to the people on both sides of the camera, and with the curiosity, a head full of ideas and fire burning inside, she soon became a pioneer for Japanese stylists in her own right.
When Someone Comes Calling, I Jump Right In
Takahashi is well aware that complete trust is put in her from the artists and models she styles. It is her principle to maintain a certain distance, to not cross the line no matter how however friendly, to not bear too much from them but to remain a supporter to the end. On the other hand, there are times when she has to step up to a role only stylists are able to do. For example, the time she went she embarked from London to New York for her first show with David Bowie, whom she forged a strong friendship with in the 1970s. In front of a sold-out audience and just as the curtains were about to be raised, Bowie let out a scream. What happened was the make-up had gotten into his eyes.
“‘He became unmanageable, screaming that his eye hurt so much that he couldn’t perform I realized at that moment that he was so nervous that he couldn’t appear on the stage without releasing it.
So without saying a word, I held him tight and stroked his back. He stopped crying, where he then headed straight out to the stage. Why I was able to do that was because my work as a stylist involves skin contact, so anything like that is part of the job.”
Even now in her mid-70s, Takahashi looks for outfits by herself and makes them if she is not able to find what she wants. She even returns any leased goods on her own. Though she has an assistant, she has never wanted an organization to handle such tasks. Her passion to seek unknown horizons by herself does not stop.
“As a stylist, I look forward to who might contact me or the encounters I will have. I always want to work on location so I can be curious and be moved. If for one year I have no work, I would then stop calling myself a stylist.”
One more thing Takahashi pours her energy into is writing. “It’s funny come to think of it as I hated writing in my time as a copywriter,” She laughs at the thought as she is currently writing a blog, updating her Facebook and even in the process of writing a book.
“I want to write down my daily thoughts, and I also want to jot down one at a time my childhood memories. I have had my fair share of troubles and setbacks. And though I have overcome these to get to where I am now, still somewhere, there are things I have not forgiven or moved on from. To put them into written words makes me feel like I can overcome them. I want to jump free from the past and discover something new. There is not much time left for me, so when the end comes, I want to say to myself ‘I am satisfied.’ That is why, each and every day, I don’t want to waste my time.”
Person who opens the door of new music
This is the photo album that can be considered as the compilation of YMO (Haruomi Hosono, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yukihiro Takahashi) which Masayoshi Sukita continued to photograph from “Yellow Magic Orchestra World Tour” in 1979 to 1980 to “World Happiness Show” in 2009.
“One day at the Harajuku Central Apartment’s coffee shop, Mr. Sukita came up to me and said,“Yakko, do you know T. Rex?”Since then I have helped him with his music journey and he always opened doors of new music for me. YMO was also one of them. I am glad that this photo album was published. (Takahashi) ”
Born in 1941. Joined an advertising company upon graduating from Waseda University Politics and Economics Department. Became a freelance stylist in the 1960s. Active in Japan and abroad, including working on David Bowie’s costumes, becoming a pioneer for Japanese stylists along the way. In addition, she is a prolific writer. Recipient of the 19th Yomiuri ‘documentary’ prize for her essay ‘Kazoku no Kaiten Tobira’. Her most recent work is ‘Toki wo Kakeru Yakko san’