STYLE

Art Class: Japanese Fashions Hit The Barbican And The V&Amp;A

15/10/2010 16:13 | Updated 22 May 2015

Japanese designers are at the forefront of boundary-pushing fashions and constant innovation, often taking fashion into the realm of art and constantly influencing Western styles. This autumn, two London spaces are celebrating Japanese fashion and design.

An outfit by Yohji Yamamoto s/s 1998, Kosuke Tsmura's Final Home coatAn outfit by Yohji Yamamoto s/s 1998, photographed by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin and Kosuke Tsmura's Final Home coat, both from Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion at the Barbican

For the first time in Europe, a comprehensive selection of the great works of designers like Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons' Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamato, Junya Watanabe, Undercover's Jun Takahashi and newer talents like Tao Kurihara, Matohu and Mint Designs has come together in Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion, at the Barbican, opening Friday, 15 October. These designers changed the face of fashion in the 80s when they rejected the tight Western silhouette in favour of fluid shapes, a stark black and white palette and a new approach to fabric, using tears, holes, rips and frays as embellishment.

The exhibition, which boasts over 100 items from the last 30 years (many from the Kyoto Costume Institute and never before seen in the UK), explores the creations of these designers in relation to Japanese art, culture and costume history, focusing on themes like light and shadows, which looks at the monochromatic palette favoured by Yamamoto, Kawakubo and Watanabe and the interaction between flatness and volume in Japanese design, seen in Miyake's famous pleated garments and Kawakubo's "bag lady" silhouettes.

Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons from s/s 2007 and a/w 1983-4A look from Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons from s/s 2007 and a/w 1983-4. Both courtesy of the Barbican Centre

The tension between tradition and innovation is explored in modern reworkings of traditional Japanese garments (see Matohu's take on the kimono) and in how designers incorporated techniques like weaving, dyeing and origami with advances in textile fabrication. Finally, the exhibition looks at the interplay between Japanese street style, high fashion and popular culture in the playful works of the new generation of Japanese designers.

The Japanese aesthetic has impacted the Western fashion scene for decades, with designers like Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen and Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga taking inspiration from Japanese silhouettes and street style. Even Christopher Kane's s/s 2011 collection mixed Japanese gangster tattoos with Princess Margaret-on-crack colours and shapes.

The finale at the Kenzo s/s 1989 showThe finale at the Kenzo s/s 1989 show. Image courtesy of Kenzo

The interplay between an Eastern and Western fashion ethos is also felt in the work of designer Kenzo Takada, whose Kenzo label celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The brand not only mixes elements of Japan and France (the fashion house is based in Paris), but current creative director Antonio Marras also infuses the clothes with influences from his native Sardinia. The designer told MyDaily that the Japanese fashion ethos is defined by "a sort of outsider vision - a conception of beauty that is far away from the Western codes. A talent for simplicity is essential, along with a very focused and specific vision."

On 12 November, the Parisian fashion house is the focus of the V&A's Fashion In Motion, with a day of catwalk shows featuring clothing from the Kenzo archive. Marras tells MyDaily how the brand forged its identity over the last four decades: "When Kenzo Takada arrived in Paris, he could hardly speak any French and had no connections or money. Fashion was at the time a very closed world dominated by a few French designers. It was just impossible to think that someone like him could cause a revolution, but he did.

A wedding dress from Kenzo's s/s 1979 collection and the label's a/w 1982 Russian collectionA wedding dress from Kenzo's s/s 1979 collection and the label's a/w 1982 Russian collection. Images courtesy of Kenzo

"He came claiming that fashion could be freedom and fun - not a dress code for bourgeois ladies. He presented collections in the street, displaying flowers, colours, no-shape pieces inspired by kimonos. He took fashion inspirations from all over the world, creating a style that was his own and remains the unique signature of the brand."

The Kenzo house continues to pay tribute to Japan with Marras at its helm, and spring/summer 2011 saw the creative director mixing traditional elements like Geta-style woodblock shoes and Hokusai wave prints with Mediterranean graphics and breezy, patchworked silks. As for the future, the creative director plans to make Kenzo a global lifestyle brand with women's, men's, children's, accessories and home lines. "I felt a need for the whole brand to regain some of its original spirit and primitive strength," Marras explains. "Even today, which other brand gives women and men freedom? They all try to impose elegance codes! Kenzo stays true to its vision that gives dream and escape, not a dress code!"

If you're feeling inspired by Japanese style, bring it home with you. Books for both Future Beauty and Kenzo's 40th anniversary are available alongside the exhibitions.

Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion is at Barbican until 6 February. Tickets, online from £8, available at www.barbican.org.uk.

Fashion in Motion: Kenzo at the V&A is on Friday, 12 November at 13 at 13.00, 15.00, 17.00, 20.00, www.vam.ac.uk

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