The Fashion Revolution of Avant-Garde Japanese Designers: Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto

In: Fashion-Wise
Flavia Loscialpo
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During the 1970s and throughout the 1980s avant-garde Japanese designers made their first appearance and consolidated their presence within the international fashion scenario. Their work represents a significant contribution that, at the time of their breakthrough, was destined to challenge, put into question and subtly affect the canons that till then had dominated Western fashion. The present chapter focuses on the moment Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto entered the Paris scene, in the 1970s and 1980s. The impressions the ‘Japanese’ designers raised among Western critics and reporters, as well as the revolutionary valence of their creations, clearly emerge from the controversial reactions they provoked at the time. Through the decades, Miyake, Kawakubo and Yamamoto have questioned and contributed to rethink the relationship between the body and the garment. The unconventional forms, the dark shades, the tattered fabrics, induced some journalist to speak of ‘post-Hiroshima look,’ which was in complete contrast with the perfection and opulence typical of the time. Nevertheless, beyond the uncanny appearances of their creations, those designers have been strenuously pursuing a critical and constant experimentation with materials, volumes and voids, to show how the body in motion transforms the ‘piece of cloth’ and discloses unexpected shapes. The question of the Japanese identity has then to be reconsidered, paying attention to the positions assumed in this respect by the designers themselves. The common thread uniting their oeuvres is in fact to create, as stated by Issey Miyake, ‘a new fashion genre that is neither Japanese nor Western.’ As emerges from a look at some of the most representative exhibitions and tributes dedicated through the years to Miyake, Kawakubo and Yamamoto, the role that such designers play within the contemporary fashion landscape continuously opens up new possibilities to experimentation and is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for younger generations.

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