written by
Ryan Lynch

Wandering in the World’s Wake With Yuthanan Chalmeau

Fashion design 6 min read

Japan and their relationship with the Western world is one that’s undergone a massive shift in the past 30 years.  After World War II, relations between Japan and Western countries were strained for decades. However, since the explosion in interest in Japanese culture that has come along with the popularization of things like anime and covetable streetwear, Japan now sees millions of visitors each year flock to cultural hubs like Tokyo, Osaka, and Yokohama.

As a teenager, Thai-French designer, photographer, and Paris native Nicolas “Yuthanan” Chalmeau didn’t care about any of that. “Japan wasn’t a place that I was imagining myself shortly. I discovered Japan the same way as everyone, as a tourist, first came in 2015 and instantly liked it, for its culture, cleanliness, and common sense. Things that I didn’t know before coming, since Japan wasn’t a culture that I was familiar with, had never been a fan of anime or even the food,” Chalmeau has said.

Yuthanan Chalmeau
(Photo courtesy of Natsuki Ludwig)

Despite only visiting Japan once on a spontaneous trip with a friend, Chalmeau immediately decided to make Japan his future home. Chalmeau would then return to Paris, and drop out of fashion school. After working in the various fashion stores of Paris he gained experience as a shopkeeper, manager, salesman and buyer. Eventually, with just 1000 Euros and a dream in his pocket, Yuthanan moved to Japan.

However, life came at Chalmeau fast in Japan; within a month, he burned his money on necessities, and found himself selling shoes and hitting up family members for cash. He needed a job, QUICK. Undeterred, Chalmeau's hustler spirit drove him to hit the streets of Tokyo, seeking a way forward. Eventually, utilizing connections he had fostered back in Paris, he would be hired at fashion boutique 1LDK. There, he would oversee international relations, creative photography, and buying .

Chalmeau had been practicing with a camera day and night since he’d arrived in Tokyo, and as it would happen, skills behind the lens came naturally to him. Within 3 months of working at 1LDK, he left the boutique. He founded his own creative collective under his Thai namesake, Yuthanan. There, he would quickly find success. “I understand what makes a good picture, what people want, because I myself am from Instagram, so I know what people like on Instagram, so when I shoot I am using my camera as my phone screen. After one and a half years now I don’t consider myself a pro, but I know what I am doing and I know what people want so that's why I have a lot of work lined up,” Chalmeau said in 2019.

Despite its relatively short time in existence, the team has done promotional work for various fashion brands. Brands like A Bathing Ape, Loewe, and Ralph Lauren just scratch the surface of the collective’s portfolio. Professional jobs is only one half of the photography side of Yuthanan; the other half comes from social media, particularly Instagram. The account started as an archive-style collection of ephemeral fashion, design, art, and photography. It combined with Chalmeau’s own style photography. This has since made him the pseudo-mascot of his brand Sillage. He frequently posts himself wearing his brand.

Sillage (pronounced See-Yazh), is a French word evolved from “wake” or “trace of passage”. For Chalmeau, Sillage embodies the results of a life lived around the world, constantly face-to-face with customs and ideas foreign to his own in origin but omnipresent in his day-to-day existence. Chalmeau was born and raised in Paris’ 11th arrondissement, a “ghetto”, by Chalmeau’s description. He was raised shoulder-to-shoulder with other children who shared his half-Thai origin. Many of them, though, were half-African, unlike Chalmeau, who was half-French. This experience opened Chalmeau up to ideas of diversity and polyculturalism from a young age – a sentiment that is embedded itself in the bedrock of Sillage’s ethos.

“Sillage’s slogan is ‘inspired by the world, made in Japan’ so I have no limit. And Sillage is based on me and the universe around me, so it’s just making things I like. I think it’s not difficult mixing cultures for the brand if you keep following what you like,” Chalmeau asserts.

This passion for exploration and culture through clothes is evident in the pieces available on Sillage’s website. Scrolling through their products will have you stumbling across shoes inspired by Czech military sandals, or overshirts sourced entirely from antique quilted fabrics from India, or a shirt with a simple camel print, inspired by Chalmeau’s travels to the Gobi Desert. As Chalmeau describes it, the ideas seen on the clothes are a byproduct of his processing the world around him. “Regarding the seasons, it’s depending on my own experiences, travels, encounters and other possible ways to be inspired. I do have new ideas popping in my head from time to time, but it’s never instantly after finding inspiration, it takes days or weeks to emerge in my head,” he admits.

Chalmeau enhances this blend of elements from different cultures with Japanese craftsmanship. He makes a point of manufacturing all of Sillage’s products in Japan’s Okayama region, famed for high-quality fabrication. With every collection Sillage releases, we see Yuthanan’s world expanding more and more.

This expansion is not just visible via Sillage, however. Chalmeau is also the founder and curator of the “WhatWeWear” online store. The name originates from the hashtag under Yuthanan’s earliest fit pics on Instagram. Here, we really get to see the international community Chalmeau has created through social media and Sillage on full display. The store features items from underground brands from around the globe, like clogs made from Moroccan rugs by Parisian brand Calla or eyewear from Japanese label Ayame, as well as items found by Chalmeau himself in his travels, like hand-painted ceramic tiles made in a local pottery shop of Nijar, Spain, or a camel bag found in India, embroidered by the tribal people of Gujarat. To Chalmeau, the platform exists to amplify his own relationship with the world. By extension, it enhances the world’s relationship to him.

“I’m happy to be supporting other artists and local businesses with this store. We are selling some hand-knitted hats from London and some necklaces from South Africa and jewelry  from Mexico and ceramics from Japan. The store has connection with the world. The goal with the store is not to make money but it's just for fun,” Chalmeau says.

For Chalmeau, there seems to be no lid on the creative potential for Sillage or himself. As long as there are places to explore, cultures to probe and understand, and people to meet, Chalmeau will have the fuel he needs to keep creating. No matter the lane, be it photography, design, or curation, Chalmeau imbues everything with a sense of storytelling. Seeing the world according to Yuthanan, piece by piece, shot by shot, you get a sense that there is no inherent separations in this world. There is only us, and how we can express who we are, creatively and culturally.

“This is my natural curiosity showing, and a part of my creating process. There are no divisions between fashion, design and art, I am interested in them all,” Yuthanan attests .

And as the web of Yuthanan continues to grow into greater and more varied creative endeavors, it seems the world is at the feet of Chalmeau and his team, and it’s anyone guess what wonders they will find in their boundless travels in the world’s wake.

japanese Fashion Photography design