Koji Tatsuno, Autumn/Winter 1993. Photo: Masayuki Hayashi. Image courtesy of PEM
SALEM, MA –When it comes to fashion, Japan is cool. For more than two decades now, Japan has forcefully inserted itself into the fashion world, forcing a rethinking of fashion design. Presently at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is an exhibition celebrating the ingenuity and innovation of contemporary Japanese fashion designers. Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion features of nearly 100 dresses, skirts, gowns, and suits and other items of clothing from renowned Japanese Fashion designers. Originally co-organized by the Kyoto Costume Institute and Barbican Art Gallery, London, the exhibition provides an insight into how Japanese designers have reshaped the idea of fashion and fashion design.
At the center of the show are three distinguished Japanese designers: Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. With their designs they have challenged conventional ideas to give prominence to new forms of fashion movement. Like many Japanese fashion designer, Miyake, Kawakubo and Yamamoto have been most audacious in their exploration of innovative forms, techniques, and materials that have taken their designs across the threshold of fashion into art. “The fashion designers featured in this exhibition are remarkable for their daring visions, bold wit and incisive creativity,” said Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM’s James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Chief Curator and the exhibition’s coordinating curator. “Through their designs we are exposed to alternate definitions of beauty, new ways of considering the human form and insight into some of the most provocative artistic minds working today.”
The Japanese fashion designers featured in this show have made great impact in the fashion world because of their radical approach to design. Instead following the Western convention of fashion design, they created a new language of fashion that combines the cute with the absorbed. There is a play on texture, variability, imperfection and looseness of layered fabric. For many of these Japanese designers, fashion should be seen as an effort to resolve the tension between flatness and form: The activation of a piece of fabric into two dimensional and three dimensional forms must be the fundamental principle of fashion design. In Hiroaki Ohya’s The Wizard of Jeanz collection, for instance, this principle of transforming a flat fabric to two-dimensional garment and three dimensional experiences is cleverly explored. Composed as a series of books, Ohya’s works open out like enormous paper lanterns into a range of voluminous garments such as skirts and capes.
Since 1983 when Japanese designers made a great impact on the fashion world during the Paris Catwalk, where Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto introduced their black and white collections, Japanese fashion designers have never looked back in the effort to dominate world fashion culture. Deviating from the Western concept of fashion which gives credence to sexual forms, balance and perfection, many Japanese fashion designers find imperfection, mistakes and accidents, asymmetry, roughness simplicity as integral part of fashion design. So, instead of a quest for faultlessness, many Japanese designers celebrate imperfection. As designer Yohji Yamamoto puts it, “I think perfection is ugly.”
Kawakubo and Yamamoto designs at the Paris Catwalk were considered radical. Radical as their designs were, however, they have become part of the world fashion vocabulary. Across Western metropolises, it no more unusual to see their designs on the streets New York and Paris. In Japan, there designs have helped fostered a fascination for anything cute. Cute combined with a reinterpretation of gothic, punk, hip- hop and strange has helped Japan create a hybrid fashion culture that continual fluctuate the luminal space.
At the heart of the Japanese fashion design is the development of synthetic and industrial fabrics in Japan after the Second World War, when people realized that they could create amazing and array of texture, visual effects using new techniques of weaving and dying. It became clear to many designers that fabric presented endless possibilities. An example of that endless possibility is evident in Junya Watanabe’s voluminous honeycomb construction seen in his Autumn/Winter 2000-01 Techno Couture collection. It exemplifies this ultra-modern approach to fashion that unlocked the potential of using fabric as a sculptural material.
Japanese fashion designers have made great impact because their designs challenge conventional approach to fashion. The creativeness inherent in Japanese fashion culture has given it a global recognition and appeal. A sense of high fashion pervades the streets of Japan today because of the innovative works of the designers in this show and many others. In the space of 20 years, Tokyo’s Shibuya and Harajuku have become the major centers of the fashion world, especially when it comes to youth fashion. Many of the youth fashion are mimetic of animation and cartoon characters have give a pride of place in the fashion world. Lolita, Cosplay, menga such as Hello Kitty and Astro Boy have become integral to Japan’s fashion vocabulary. Today, anyone looking for innovation in fashion design must first look at Japan.