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Monday, 10 January 2011

Future Beauty

'I know. It's just fabric. But it speaks to us like a world. If it were a desert, and you a traveller, you would talk about its winds, its stars, its sun. You probably will.'

This quote was found at the Barbican, but I don't know who it belongs to. For me it is entirely appropriate; it is just fabric. But in this exhibition of Japanese fashion I see that there is a world these designers have found and which some of their designs have the power to communicate. Surveying Japanese Fashion from the 1980's to the present, the exhibition encompasses figures such as Miyake, Kawakubo and Yamamoto who turned fashion in to art.

It is difficult to believe that these works which challenge construction, experiment with fabric, textile innovation and move towards space age shapes were produced in the 1980's. It is a prophetic flash of the East overtaking the West. Juni'chiro Tanizaki in his1933 text In Praise of Shadows found the essence of the Japanese aesthetic in shadows,. I think that 'shadows' is a beautiful way of describing the quality of these garments. Displayed in front of long drapes of opaque white fabric, it is the silhouette, the shape, the shadow and the inner shadows that are between folds or curves of fabric which are presented to us. This is where I have to mention the Japanese concept of 'ma' 'which views the void between objects as a rich energised space.' Which is one of those astonishing things that my Western eyes just can't quite grasp.

Mintdesigns Spring/Summer 2007

If all of this leaves you feeling dizzy then there is respite in the room devoted to street trends; Harajuku, Kawaii (cute), Hello Kitty and Astroboy might be more familiar icons of Japanese culture. This is the fashion that comes from the street as small groups of youths or Zoku 'have defined Japan's street style and subculture for decades.'

The Barbican always puts on rich exhibitions, and this was no exception. With footage of catwalk shows as well as related material in the form of magazine shoots, photo-collages, design inspiration and some amazing invitations to an Issey Miyake catwalk show handmade by a graphic designer, Future Beauty really explores the status of fashion as art. An art that is culturally engaged, forward-thinking and experimental.

Tao Kurihara/ Tao Comme des Garcons, Spring/Summer 2009

Perhaps it seems obvious to conclude that Issey Miyake was a highlight. His newest project 132 5 is based upon folded polygons in a shimmering plastic fabric which metamorphose in to beautiful garments when worn on the body is an astounding innovation. Like fabric origami these tightly folded shapes become masterful creations. Future Beauty indeed.


  1. I'm old enough to remember that in the 80s even poor students bought from those designers'.... There were pros and cons for this, but I cannot deny the fact that it's fun to see their creations. It's interesting that you connect those clothes with Tanizaki. Do you like his writings?

  2. Amazing, so it was high fashion on the streets, and all quite cheap? Unfortunately I have to admit that Tanizaki was not my connection, it was the Barbican's! But I do think the idea of 'shadows' fits?

  3. In Japan, there's no clear distinction between high fashion and street fashion. They make some affordable (if Diesel is affordable, yes, it's affordable...) ready-to-wear stuff, which is wearable on the streets. So I didn't mean that those fashion victims wear things like the images above. I think Japanese people usually associate Tanizaki with the good old tradition, but not with futuristic one. But I guess the idea of shadows may fit.

  4. Great post! Japanese design amaze me too!