30 Years of Japanese Fashion

As someone who is completely clueless about any form of Japanese fashion, I really enjoyed the exhibition at the Barbican which covers the last 30 years of its development. Covering the likes of Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake and a few others, the exhibition takes you on a journey through the development of not only different designers and their collections, but also through the very workings and principles behind this type of fashion. What marks it out as a fascinating form of art is the innovative use of materials and techniques, some of which include complicated draping of materials and printing lots of the same garment on the same piece of cloth which can then be pulled apart by the wearer to make lots of replicas of the exact same piece. I'm not sure I've explained this well but this is what it looks like:

Image by Matt Bramford, taken from http://www.ameliasmagazine.com/fashion/future-beauty-30-years-of-japanese-fashion-at-the-barbican/2010/10/22/ 

It's amazing how much this type of fashion has actually developed in a mere three decades and, through a couple of short films that were dispersed throughout the exhibitions, the creative processes of the designers were made somewhat clearer. Interestingly, a lot of them didn't want to be associated with the Japanese kimono culture, and with the making of garments which only reflected their heritage and so moved away from this and made more avant-garde pieces. There was also a lot of androgyny in the pieces since so many of them also distanced themselves from the ideas of tight clothing which forms the premise of many Western traditions of dress, so there were lots of long, flowing garments which could be worn differently every time.

The above coat was one of my favourite pieces from the exhibition. It was made up entirely of colourful beads which reminded me of the kinds used to make little children's bracelets.

I think that the exhibition as a whole not only offered a view of Japanese fashion but also challenged established notions about dress, clothing and fashion as a whole. Especially when we have become so synthesised and conditioned towards how fashion should look and feel, and especially coming from another tradition which is so far removed from Japan's. At the beginning of the exhibition, by a few pieces displayed on the models, stood giant photos of what the garment looks like when it is laid out flat. The sheer scale of each piece, and the material used is really astonishing seeing as when you look at the model, you really cannot tell that there that much material on her. The piece above is a perfect example. You can't see the model very well but just look at the size of the garment when it has been laid out.

Both images by Matt Bramford

As the exhibition progressed and took us onto the upper floor of the gallery, the clothes started to brighten up (whereas on the lower level most of the pieces used a palette os navy, black, white or grey), as some of the more modern designers started to be inspired by Japanese street style and texture. They were also interspersed with various illustrations and drawings which shed another angle on the clothes. I would really recommend this exhibition to anyone interested in seeing another side of fashion and I would say that the way the space is organised makes it easy for you to enjoy the pieces and see the materials used close up. My only criticism would be that the films are slightly too long for use in an exhibition, but they are worth looking at briefly as a quick glance into the designers' minds. Hurry though, it closes on Sunday! More info can be found here.

Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons 1997, illustrated by Faye West, taken from http://www.ameliasmagazine.com/fashion/future-beauty-30-years-of-japanese-fashion-at-the-barbican/2010/10/22/

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