On my drive home from what was a record-breaking Brooklyn return for A Current Affair (my deepest thanks to all the staff who put on a seamless and sensational shindig and to all the shoppers who arrived with energy, vigor and passion), I was fleshing out why I've become so obsessed with Japanese Avant-Garde designers - Issey, Kenzo, Matsuda, Rei, Yohji etc.
When I'm thinking about a designer's work, what I'm also thinking about is the designer's impact on fashion and culture and the political overall. It's not all seam allowance and bound button holes. What did it mean for Japanese designers to insert themselves into the center of conversations around presentation, luxury and image making in the West? What images were they designing against or in conversation with?
I immediately think of Yves Saint Laurent and his intriguing fixation -- arguably dependency -- on "exoticism" or, more specific to this post, the concept of "Orientalism" in western aesthetics overall. In an excerpt from FIT's Special Exhibitions Gallery on Yves Saint Laurent + exoticism curator Emma McClendon writes
Yves Saint Laurent’s use of the ‘exotic’ was deeply rooted in the French artistic and literary tradition of orientalism. Within this tradition, clothing—punctuated by distinctive accessories, prints, and vibrant colors—plays a crucial role in creating an exotic fantasy that is immediately recognizable to a western audience. Saint Laurent turned to “exoticism” during the 1960s in order to challenge the traditional evening gown. By the mid-1970s, he was using the exotic to inform some of his most opulent and fantastical creations, such as his “Ballets Russes” and “Opium” couture collections. … During this period, Rive Gauche was Saint Laurent’s laboratory, a place where he could experiment freely with new themes and ideas.
Japanese avant-garde fashion, born in the 1980s, defies conventions and reshapes fashion through deconstruction, asymmetry, and minimalism. This movement emerged from post-war Japan's clash of traditions and Western influence, giving rise to visionary designers and unique aesthetics.
Deconstruction: Designers like Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto excel in dismantling and reimagining garments, challenging conventional forms.
Asymmetry: Garments play with irregular lines and unbalanced silhouettes, creating visually striking and dynamic designs.
Minimalism: A muted palette and clean lines shift focus to innovative construction and fabric manipulation.
Playful Subversion: Designers incorporate unexpected elements, textures, and materials for a playful twist.
Rei Kawakubo: Kawakubo's intellectual approach blurs fashion-art boundaries, reshaping the industry's norms.
Yohji Yamamoto: Yamamoto's poetic designs meld Japanese aesthetics with Western influences, emphasizing drapery and melancholic beauty.
Issey Miyake: Known for innovative textiles and sculptural forms, Miyake's work challenges fabric's possibilities.
The movement's impact transcends borders, inspiring new designers to challenge conventions. Concepts like deconstruction and minimalism continue to shape the industry, celebrating the unexpected and pushing creative boundaries.
Japanese avant-garde fashion is a testament to the power of artistic expression. Its influence persists as a reminder that unconventional aesthetics can redefine the norm and inspire endless design possibilities.