New exhibition charts Japan's influence on the world of haute-couture

LONDON (Kyodo) -- The first exhibition in Europe to comprehensively survey avant-garde Japanese fashion has just opened at the Barbican Art Gallery in London.

The display shows how Japanese designers took the world by storm in the early 1980s and how they have continued to have a presence on the international stage.

Works from icons Issey Miyake and Kenzo Takada are among more than 100 garments from the last three decades that have been loaned by the Kyoto Costume Institute.

The exhibition starts with fashions from the early 1980s, when designers like Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto gained critical acclaim for their asymmetrical, deconstructed garments -- where raw edges, exposed seams and distressed textiles give the clothes an unfinished look -- in monochrome palettes.

They rejected the then current obsession with body-consciousness by concealing, rather than revealing, the figure, often in loose swathes of fabric. Commentators called their designs "bag-lady chic" when they exploded on to the scene in Paris.

The display goes on to show how Japanese designers have sometimes used synthetic materials to create innovative designs, as well as employing traditional techniques with a modern twist.

Visitors are able to see the "techno couture" of designer Junya Watanabe, whose honeycomb-structured dresses made out of polyester are particularly striking.

There are also a series of paper garments based on origami techniques from Hiroaki Ohya and Tao Kurihara.

The exhibition also features Kenzo Takada's modern take on the traditional kimono.

The final section of the gallery is dubbed "Cool Japan" and shows work from a new breed of designers who have been influenced by manga, anime and the "kawaii" (cute) culture epitomized by the Hello Kitty brand.

It features pieces by Kurihara, Ohya and Jun Takahashi for the Undercover label.

Here, there is a mixture of styles with some pieces being described as "Lolita", "Gothic", "Victorian" or "Rococo."

Akiko Fukai, director of the Kyoto Costume Institute, told Kyodo News, "From 1980 Japanese designers are trying to remake the western notion of beauty. Before then, nobody knew about Japanese fashion.

"From 1980 the West started to become interested in Japanese designers, who brought a new aesthetic into the fashion world: deconstruction, slashed or tiered clothing. Japanese designers focused on black, grey and white while European designers were focusing on color."

But she admits that Japanese designers now are not as influential as they were in the 1980s.

Despite this, Fukai believes an exhibition in Europe is now well overdue given the wealth of talent in Japan.

Kate Bush, head of art galleries at the Barbican Centre, said, "The great Japanese designers -- Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto -- changed fashion forever in the 1980s.

"The tight silhouettes of western couture were jettisoned for new fluid shapes. Out went the magnificent ornament and extravagant techniques of the postwar tradition and in came a stark, monochrome palette and an entirely new decorative language -- holes, rips, frays and tears -- emerging from the stuff of fabric itself."

"Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion" is on at the Barbican Art Gallery in London until Feb. 6.

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