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Unfinished textiles — the exposed lines of 12,000 unwoven warp yarns in a panel of jacquard, or sheets of speckled paper from an experimental study in washi — are not what you would expect to find displayed inside a clothing store.

Yet these showpieces of exhibitions “Tadanori Yokoo Issey Miyake” at Issey Miyake Kyoto: Kura Gallery and “Yoshihisa Tanaka × Tokyo Design Studio cooperative research vol.01” at T-House New Balance, Tokyo, reveal a lot about the evolution of fashion and its relationship with art.

Today, art investment and in-store galleries are de rigueur for heavyweight fashion houses, as is commissioning artists for limited edition collections. Visually, the results can be extraordinary — paintings faithfully replicated on fabrics, colors and textures inspired by artists’ palettes, even garment shapes informed by art movements. Dig a little deeper, though, and there are other innovations beneath the glamour.

For Issey Miyake designer Yoshiyuki Miyamae, incorporating the works of celebrated artist Tadanori Yokoo into a collection of jacquard blousons — now on display in exhibitions at Issey Miyake Kyoto: Kura Gallery in Kyoto and Issey Miyake Semba: Creation Space in Osaka — took around two years of research and development. Replicating over 40 hues of eight Yokoo paintings within woven textiles involved having to experiment with color theory for the limited number of weft yarns that the looms at the Issey Miyake collaborating weaving factory A-POC (A Piece of Cloth) would allow.

“Mr. Yokoo gave me complete freedom in using his artworks,” says Miyamae. “The most challenging part was to express all his powerful colors by combining just seven weft colors.”

Elaborate weave: A panel of textile featuring Tadanori Yokoo’s depiction of Tarzan is woven at the A-POC factory. | OOKI JINGU
Elaborate weave: A panel of textile featuring Tadanori Yokoo’s depiction of Tarzan is woven at the A-POC factory. | OOKI JINGU

At Issey Miyake Semba’s Creation Space, four jackets paired with podiums displaying prints of Yokoo’s original paintings highlight the color accuracy that Miyamae and his team achieved using complex weaving techniques. Accompanying wall hangings showing all the components of each blouson woven into single panels of fabric also showcase the clever use of minimal waste patterning for which A-POC is renowned.

Details of the weaving process can be seen at the Issey Miyake Kyoto: Kura Gallery exhibition, which focuses on one jacket ― Yokoo’s portrayal of Tarzan posed for his famed yell ― and features an incomplete panel of its jacquard. Pulled from a loom in mid-weave, the work exposes a stretch of black warp threads attached to spools of the seven yarns used to create varying reds, blues, pinks, yellows and browns.

“Color gradation was one of the hardest things to achieve, but it was ensuring that the textiles were of high enough quality to pass the test to be used in a garment that proved tough,” says Nanae Takahashi, one of Miyamae’s team members. “Some of the weft and warp floats we were developing to produce specific colors would snag too easily, and that kept sending us back to the drawing board.”

The resulting voluminous Tadanori Yokoo Issey Miyake jackets are also made with 70% recycled plastic polyester, part of the company’s commitment to developing sustainability in design — an endeavor in common with T-House New Balance’s “Yoshihisa Tanaka × Tokyo Design Studio cooperative research vol.01” exhibition in Tokyo.

Working together: T-House New Balance’s latest exhibition features the work of artist Yoshihisa Tanaka, who collaborated with Awagami Factory to create washi paper patterned with recycled textile offcuts from New Balance factories. | KOHEI OMACHI
Working together: T-House New Balance’s latest exhibition features the work of artist Yoshihisa Tanaka, who collaborated with Awagami Factory to create washi paper patterned with recycled textile offcuts from New Balance factories. | KOHEI OMACHI

“Tokyo Design Studio (TDS) focuses on designing lifestyle items for New Balance and aims to collaborate with artists in a more conceptual manner, rather than making finished products,” says one member of the studio, which is based on the mezzanine floor of T-House New Balance. “The exhibition is a first step in an exploration of paper as a potential textile for clothing.”

Developed by Yoshihisa Tanaka, who is one half of the art unit Nerhol, the works on display at T-House New Balance employed the various washi techniques of Awagami Factory in Tokushima. Offcut textile fibers were blended into kozo paper pulp to produce a grainy flecked effect, or spread out in layers and manipulated to create patterns of gray, brown and orange streaks and swirls. Shoeboxes made from the paper also dot the showroom, with one illustrating an incredibly skilled and time-consuming technique.

“The New Balance logo on the box is created by a process called zōgan (inlay),” explains the member of TDS. “The washi is debossed and its depression meticulously filled with a contrasting paper pulp to create a seamless design.”

Brand awareness: The logo on washi paper boxes, conceived by Yoshihisa Tanaka using techniques of Awagami Factory, involves using inlaying different colored paper pulp. | GOTTINGHAM
Brand awareness: The logo on washi paper boxes, conceived by Yoshihisa Tanaka using techniques of Awagami Factory, involves using inlaying different colored paper pulp. | GOTTINGHAM

In a glass case lies a display of Tanaka’s paper cut into the pattern parts of a New Balance shoe — an idea that the TDS team stresses is just wishful thinking right now. But who knows? With the continued focus on exploring textile innovations sparked by artist collaborations, a paper sneaker may not be that far off.

“Tadanori Yokoo Issey Miyake” at Issey Miyake Kyoto: Kura Gallery runs through Jan. 11. The end date of the exhibition at Issey Miyake Semba, Osaka, will be announced next year. “Yoshihisa Tanaka × Tokyo Design Studio cooperative research vol.01″ at T-House New Balance, Tokyo, runs through Dec. 15. For more information, visit www.isseymiyake.com/en/news/6977, www.isseymiyake.com/en/news/7003 and the @newbalance_t_house Instagram account.

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