Japan’s fashion impact charted


Kyodo News

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

The exhibition, which runs until February, shows how Japanese designers took the world by storm in the early 1980s and how their presence continues on the international stage.

Works from icons Issey Miyake and Kenzo Takada are among more than 100 garments from the past three decades on loan from 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 body-consciousness fad of the times by concealing, rather than revealing, the figure, often in loose swathes of fabric. Commentators called their designs “bag-lady chic” when they exploded on the Paris fashion scene.

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.

“From 1980, Japanese designers have been trying to remake the Western notion of beauty. Before then, nobody knew about Japanese fashion,” said Akiko Fukai, director of the Kyoto Costume Institute.

Japanese designers aren’t as influential now as they were in the 1980s, Fukai admits. But she believes an exhibition in Europe is now well overdue, given the wealth of talent in Japan.