Flying Saucer Dress, Spring/summer 1994, (Designed by Issey Miyake, Japanese, born 1938). Polyester plain weave, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Gift of Issey Miyake.
PHILADELPHIA.- Kansai Yamamoto (born 1944), one of the founding fathers of Japanese contemporary fashion, is best known for his work of the 1970s and 1980s. Inspired by the colorful art of Japan’s Momoyama period (1568–1615) and traditional Kabuki theater, his exuberant designs contrast with the Zen-like simplicity and deconstructed silhouettes favored today by designers such as Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, and Issey Miyake.
Kansai opened his first boutique in Tokyo in 1968 and eventually expanded worldwide. His collections debuted in the United States in 1971 at Hess’s in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a department store known for its controversial fashion shows of American and European styles selected for their potential to influence ready-to-wear clothing designs. (Rudy Gernreich’s topless bathing suit was first modeled at Hess’s in 1964.) That same year Kansai became the first Japanese designer to show in London, where his clothing was seen by musician David Bowie; Bowie later commissioned Kansai to create the wardrobe for his Ziggy Stardust stage persona. The designer was again featured in Hess’s showing of Asian trendsetting fashions for fall/winter 1973 at One World Trade Center in New York. All of the Kansai ensembles on view in this gallery were modeled at the New York event; several were shown earlier in London.
Since his last collection for fall/winter 1992, Kansai has lent his name to licensed products ranging from eyeglasses to tableware. His fashion show spectaculars have become the framework for the grand Kansai Super Shows, the first of which was held in Moscow’s Red Square in 1993. Others held since in Japan, Vietnam, India, and Berlin have drawn audiences in the hundreds of thousands.
Kansai recently returned to fashion as a designer of traditional Japanese garments in a contemporary idiom including kimono (2004) and Hanten festival–inspired coats (2007). He continues to produce Super Shows as part of a larger initiative to invigorate the arts in Japan and serves as a government advisor on tourism and cultural affairs.