by Jack Patrick Garner
“Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion” is currently showing at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), in Brisbane, Australia. The exhibition comes from the archives of the prestigious Kyoto Costume Institute and explores the influence Japanese fashion designers have had over the last thirty years.
The comprehensive collection is comprised of more than one hundred pieces from the heavyweights like Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, and Issey Miyake, to the less known but important Junya Watanabe and Jun Takashi, to the obscure ones like Hiroaki Ohya, Koji Tatsuno, Akira Isogawa, Hokuto Katsui and Nao Yagi.
On view is also an exhaustive volume of archival runway footage, fashion objects, photographs, catalogues, and books. The exhibition was curated by eminent Japanese fashion historian Akiko Fukai, who is currently the Director and Chief Curator of the Kyoto Costume Institute. Tarun Nagesh the Associate Curator of Asian Art at Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art was the facilitating curator for “Future Beauty” and brought the exhibition to life at GOMA.
The show begins by contextualizing the collection within a broader historical context – we wander through an extensive fashion timeline, see archival footage of contemporary collections of the 1980s and peruse fashion magazines and books of the era.
This understanding helps to frame the radical departure of Japanese designers from traditional European design and illuminate their seismic influence first felt on the Paris catwalks of the early 80s.
The exhibition is then broken into four distinct themes: “In praise of shadows,” “Flatness,” “Tradition and Innovation,” and “Cool Japan,” followed by highlighting the work of six seminal designers.
“In praise of shadows” explores the use of black, texture and light within Japanese design. The themes title is borrowed from the formative 1933 eponymous essay by Junichirō Tanizaki which contrasts the use of light and darkness between Western and Asian cultures.
Tanizaki highlighted the emphasis in the Asian cultures on the subtle, subdued and shadowy. The pieces in this section embrace ideas of imperfection, asymmetry, sculptural forms and an emphasis on the use of black – all of which were at great odds with contemporary design.
Japanese designers embraced a radical rethinking of the sculptured silhouette by creating sophisticated garments of voluminous forms. This second thematic element (“Flatness”) examines the influence of traditional graphic design, origami and the spatial concept of “ma,” which refers to the empty space in garments, especially evident in the traditional kimono. This section features contemporary takes on the kimono, clothing that can be folded flat but expands to resemble complex voluminous origami style shapes, and photographs by Naoya Hatakeyam’s of garments by Rei Kawakbuo – all of which demonstrates the complex relationship between flatness and volume that is present in Japanese fashion.
“Tradition and innovation” have played a key role in the avant-garde nature of the Japanese designers since the 1980s. This thematic section highlights another radical departure from the traditional European approach to fashion design – the cultivation of close working relationships with the textile designers.
These relationships helped to develop innovative new materials, new weaving, dyeing and synthetic textile construction techniques and processes, allowing for the creation and cultivation of more progressive design.
The works in this section include the infamous “Dress Meets Body, Body Meets Dress” collection by Comme des Garcons (Spring/Summer 1997), intricate and complex pieces from Jun Takashi of Undercover and Junya Watanabe, as well as hand sewn work from the Australian designer Akira Isogawa.
The influence of youth subcultures in Japan, especially in the streets of Harajuku and Shibuya has had a long-standing affect on Japanese designers but also on worldwide taste and street style. “Cool japan” examines some of these highly diverse “zoku” (tribes) of youths and tracks the influence they have had.
The final section highlights the work of six key Japanese designers by illuminating their past and contextualising their work by presenting a number of their key pieces. The designers featured are Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, Junya Watanabe, Jun Takahashi, Hokuto Katsui and Nao Yagi.
“Future Beauty” at GOMA, until 15 February 2015.
Photographs courtesy of GOMA.
(click on any image to enlarge)