Tradition is woven into modern Japanese fashion

by Sachiko Tamashige

Special To The Japan Times

Boosted by Japan’s remarkable economic growth and the modernization of the country’s lifestyle in the latter half of the 20th century, contemporary Japanese fashion has soared to the heights of the global fashion scene while, at the same time, the textile industry related to the kimono has declined. Yet, although it seems that the kimono has been replaced by Western fashion in Japan, traditional kimono culture continues to be deeply woven into modern Japanese fashion.

One can recognize this continuity in “Future Beauty,” an exhibition of contemporary Japanese fashion currently running at The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, which provides a comprehensive picture of the development of fashion design in this country.

“Future Beauty” conceived by The Kyoto Costume Institute (KCI) is an ambitious exhibition that has toured the world, with stops in Munich, Tokyo, Seattle and Salem, Massachusetts, since it started at the Barbican Art Gallery in London in 2010. The exhibition showcases a range of Japanese designers through their garments, from the big names that pioneered modern fashion to today’s emerging young designers.

Some of the garments on display include Issey Miyake’s Pleats Please and A-POC series; the black dress series by Yoji Yamamoto and Rei kawakubo that shocked the world; and Final Home by Kosuke Tsumura. Each of these designers introduced completely new concepts in clothing and were regarded as innovative and avant-garde.

“When the works of designers such as Miyake, Yamamoto and Kawakubo are reexamined, what is evident is the traditional thinking and sensibility of Japanese culture as manifested in the distinctive characteristics of Japanese fashion, such as ‘flatness,’ ‘achromatic colors,’ and ‘emphasis on materials,’ in addition to their unique and noteworthy talent,” explains Akiko Fukai, the chief curator of KCI. During the show’s stay in KCI’s hometown, Fukai particularly wants the exhibition to evoke the ties between fashion designers and Kyoto as a supplier of textiles

“What has allowed designers to realize their ideas in the field of materials is the extremely high level of Japanese dyeing and weaving techniques exemplified by the master-craftsmanship and the pure spirit of inquiry of Kyoto artisans,” says Fukai.

This exhibition emphasizes the skills and potential of craftsmen, through collaborations with fashion designers. One fine example is Masaya Kushino’s shoes “Bird-Witched,” which was commissioned for the Kyoto exhibition. Kushino used custom-made Nishijin brocade from HOSOO, the Kyoto-based textile company that has been supplying luxurious kimono textiles to aristocratic clients since the 17th century. “Inspired by the rooster in Ito Jakuchu’s painting, I would like my shoes to resonate with the obsessive creative energy of that great master of the Edo Period. By collaborating with HOSOO, which has superb craftsmanship and a tenacious attitude to achieve the best, I discovered the power of tradition,” Kushino says.

“Future Beauty” shows the hope that the threads of the old and the new will continue to be woven to create more exciting designs in the future.

“Future Beauty: The Tradition of Reinvention In Japanese Fashion” at The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto runs till May 11; Open 9:30 a.m.- 5 p.m. (8 p.m. Fri.) Closed Mon.; www.momak.go.jp/English/

“Future Beauty” will tour to Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane in Nov. 2014.