Kazumi Yoshida is an artist, an award wining textile designer, and creative director of Clarence House, the renowned American to-the-trade-only fabric house in New York - and not the royal residence in London of the same name. Robin Roberts, the visionary founder of Clarence House, had bit of fun with the name since it does offer beautiful fabrics crafted in the great mills of Europe which one could envision adorning a regal residence. Roberts was a connoisseur at heart and lived lavishly. For example when he traveled, he did so in a grand style and sometimes with more than dozen Louis Vuitton suitcases. Instead of a suite of trunks, Kazumi Yoshida travels with one of his favorite bags, a burgundy Prada bag that Roberts gave him - a long time ago when Prada was just a luggage store at the Galleria in Milan.
From Japan to New York via London
Kazumi was born in the small town of Tatsuno, Japan. It’s kind of hard to believe, yet Kazumi intimated he was the black sheep of his family since they are all doctors. His father anticipated that Kazumi would be a doctor too. Kazumi picked up ink and brush painting as a child and even painted a mural at the tender age of six. While growing up, he was very captivated by fashion photography that he saw in magazines by artists such as Irving Penn, Antonio Hiro, and Guy Bourdin. He later became awestruck by the work of the Japanese Edo period artists Katsushika Hokusai and Ito Jakucho. After finishing college, he studied at the Royal College of Art in London before making his home in New York in the Tribeca neighborhood.
Kazumi’s first design for Clarence House was Papiers Japonais - a design of botanical drawings arranged as a collage. This design completely won over Robin Roberts. The fabric was printed by Ratti in Como, Italy. In 1982 the American Society of Interior Designers awarded Papiers Japonais Best in Printed Design Category. Lee Radziwill had her dining room walls upholstered in with this fabric in her Park Avenue penthouse in New York. It graced the cover of Architectural Digest in January 1982. “She had great taste,” Kazumi said. At one point there was talk of creating a collection based on her archives. Kazumi’s design of Papier Japonais is now a part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Printed Textiles in Mulhouse, France. When working, Kazumi creates art pieces and then translates them into fabric and wallpaper, or vice versa. Kazumi works with two assistants: Takuji Matsuda for his wooden sculpture pieces, and Yoshiteru Kawasaki for his textile work.
His textile designs hearken many influences from his memory that give birth to new. - One might sense Jean Cocteau, Raoul Dufy, Fernand Léger, Marie Laurencin, Picasso or Henri Matisse in his work. His inspiration doesn’t stop with artists. It could be nature, an archival document, or fashion, such as a beautiful vitrine of a store that catches his eye. Under the direction of Pascale Mussard, Hermès sought him out for its Petit “h” collection. This collection utilized discarded left-over leather or suede from the Hermès atelier and demonstrated to the world that upcycling could be chic. For a one-of-a-kind chest-of-drawers, his beach towel design for Hermès was used for face of the drawers and trimmed in leather. The drawers were also lined with the beach towels. This chest-of- drawers was on display in the window of Hermès flagship store on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris and it sold immediately.
Recently, Kazumi just completed an all-white wood sculpture for the Cheryl Hazan Gallery, Tribeca,, New York and he is currently preparing for a show at this gallery in June. Kazumi has created a porcelain Lily-of-the-Valley flower for a charity event initiated by the owner of Le Cabinet de Porcelain, Paris, and the artist Samuel Mazy..
Kazumi has created an exceptional collection of over-sized cashmere and silk shawls based on his paintings and drawings which translate beautifully into shawls with a bold use of color and contrasting black-and-white abstract designs hinting at Art Deco or Fernand Léger. He starts with sourcing the materials he wishes to use and then determines which weaver and printer to work with. He has established a great working relationship and respect for mills such as Ratti in Como, Italy, and Bicol in Lyon, France. He tends to favor silk-screening over digital printing for its warm appeal to the human touch and for richness of the colors in the final product. He also offers a cotton and silk blend of colorful pareos and beachtowels designed for Hermès.
Preservation and Innovation
For the future, he sees innovation leading the way - particularly in Japan - with synthetic fabrics used commercially in the hospitality sector of interior design. Yet when it comes to the home, he senses that people will favor natural fibers as they feel good. Kazumi’s hope is that the small mills in France and Italy - such as La Manufacture Prelle, Lyon, Bevilacqua Tessuti, Rubelli and Fortuny - will be able to continue long into the future.
“The whole is waiting for you to explore.” - Kazumi Yoshida
Kazumi is refreshingly easy-going and makes work look like play. He is a true artist: Passionate, hardworking, and dedicated. Whether it’s a textile design or a work of art, his work is embedded with his joie de vivre. It was such a treat to be privée to a glimpse into his world.
Here are a few of Kazumi’s favorite things:
• Museum: Brancusi Studio at Centre Pompidou, in Paris
• Summer destination - Pantelleria, Italy
• Book - An artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
• Boutique - Azzedine Alaia’s, at 5 rue de Marignan, Paris
• Scent - Yuzu Rouge, from Parfum Zéro Six Cent-Trente, in Grasse, France.