Ikki Izakaya owner Ayumi Yuda makes internationally influenced style seem effortless.
By Omar Mouallem | July 4, 2016
Ayumi Yuda had a mid-mid-life crisis in the seventh grade. The child of an aristocratic mother and a catcher for the Yomiuri Giants (the Yankees of Japan), she understood that whatever she earned – good grades, high income – would always be dismissed as nepotism and birthright. Yuda wanted to isolate herself to prove herself. On the pretense of learning English, she convinced her parents to send her to an American boarding school for the rest of her teens.
Today, she is blazing her own trail with Ikki Izakaya, a pint-sized Japanese pub in Oliver beloved for its sweeping sake list and playful tapas. Ikki (“one breath”) is a nod to her grandmother, a fiercely independent bar-owner who moved to Thailand in her 40s to strike out on her own. Borrowing Grandma Takako’s recipes and bar name, Yuda built one of Edmonton’s hottest new restaurants on just 470 square feet of floor space. She has quite literally carved her own niche, but it’s not her smallest. Yuda once opened VLNS (“Valence”) on Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive – a beauty boutique that was half the size and cost six times the rent. It counted amongst its customers Reese Witherspoon and Kanye West. But the margins weren’t great and she was exhausted, so, after five strong years, she let the lease lapse. Besides, love was beckoning her from up north.
She married a Canadian developer who lives in Vancouver and Edmonton. When it came time to open Ikki, she recalled a paper from her international business studies that showed Alberta posted great liquor sales, income averages and margins. In fact, Edmonton has been so good to her that she’s doubling down with another Japanese eatery near the Ice District this year, while launching a line of Ikki-branded sakes. Yuda, who has lived here for a year, speaks three languages and has two degrees. She has worked in hospitality and beauty, and runs a translation and notary business from home. She has also dabbled in fashion, once interning in London with Unconditional by Steven Philips, and now, with Edmonton’s Sylvia Soo, she’s hand-painting kabuki art on leather accessories. Is there anything she can’t pull off? Judging from her mix of streetwear, professional attire and international fashion, no.
You work seven days a week and Ikki is open till 2 a.m. On top of that, you’re a translator and notary public. Where do you even find the time to dress yourself?
I usually choose what to wear the night before and think about what to do with my hair and makeup too, because I want to get ready in 30 minutes and I want to make sure I sleep for as long as possible. Maintaining a healthy life and skin has a lot to do with how much we sleep.
Where does your appreciation of beauty care come from?
We Japanese people are very afraid of getting old. Anti-aging remedies start at 12. Now it’s all about natural ingredients, but when I started VLNS, it was all about high-tech, nanotechnology and “scientifically proven” creams.
Are you still crazy about high-end beauty products?
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not about the expensive stuff; it’s about being consistent. You’ve got to stick to your routine every day. I use more natural products and make my own treatments. For hair: Avocado, honey and olive oil. For anti-aging: Yogurt, a little bit of honey and this super whitening powder from Korea that I can’t read.
How much has Japan influenced your style?
I go home and people look at me and say, “Wow, you’re so not Japanese.”
What do they mean?
Japanese is head-to-toe trendy. So a really big, loose men’s pant on girls, which I’m not crazy about, and a puffier off-shoulder shirt. And in Japan, we have four seasons and have to buy new outfits every three months. We can’t carry things from this spring to next spring. It’s just not allowed. You have to keep up with the society and it’s rude not to embrace the fashion with the season. Luckily, I’m in a Western country now.
You’ve made very pragmatic, shrewd choices in business. Is it the same when you’re shopping?
Japanese people, we value harmony and teamwork so much. I always like my belongings to complement each other, not fight with one another. I always picture my current closet situation of 100 items or so, and I run a mini-fashion show in my head with the new items in the store. If it can add five different looks with the existing items, then it’s a done deal. This rule is for clothing only. Shoes, hats and purses have a free pass, no questions asked!
Dare I ask how many accessories?
I have closets everywhere. Here, Vancouver, 10 or 12 pairs of shoes in Tokyo. My mother was just complaining that I’m never going to wear them.
So what does inspire your fashion?
Different cities, countries and cultures. I have been to most of the major cities in the world and I love buying their somewhat traditional wear, but definitely tailored to fit today’s modern generation. My closet is full with pieces from all around the world. I love my boyfriend denim from London, dressy yoga pants from Thailand, hats from Japan and pin-heels from Italy.
Are there similarities between your food and fashion?
I make sure to taste every single ingredient before I create a new dish because I appreciate and respect each and every ingredient and want all of them to play an important role with other elements. Choices are unlimited, but too much is never good for cooking or fashion … or life! Just like too much salt can ruin the dish, too many accessories, patterns, colours could ruin the overall look. Simple is the best.