Cool Japan

Two major Australian exhibitions are currently showing the work of well-known Japanese fashion designers, including Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto.

These exhibitions highlight the impact of Japanese designers on the rest of the world and remind us that fashion is so much more than what’s on trend and accessible on the high street. There are few designers who constantly deliver unique and thought-provoking collections through the years – think Raf Simons for Jil Sander, Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga and Comme des Garçons. Rei Kawakubo’s autumn/winter 2012 collection for Comme des Garçons featured trompe l’oeil designs and oversized 2D shapes using felt and velvet, showcasing a simple idea that had a resounding impact. Pieces from this collection can now be seen at the Art Gallery of South Australia’s exhibition Fashion Icons as well as at Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art’s Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion, giving people the chance to get up close and connect with the intricate and clever work of these designers. Curated by leading fashion historian Akiko Fukai and drawn from the archives of the Kyoto Costume Institute, Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art’s Future Beauty explores the effect of Japanese fashion designers on their European contemporaries and their challenges to Western fashion conventions, from the 1980s through to today. The exhibition showcases the work of pioneering fashion designers Miyake, Kawakubo and Yamamoto, alongside designs by mid-career innovators Junya Watanabe and Jun Takahashi, as well as Australia’s own Akira Isogawa and others. The exhibition is divided into four thematic sections that explore Japanese style and aesthetic principles. ‘In praise of shadows’ highlights the use of black, texture and light, ‘Flatness’ reflects the reductive treatment of shapes and contours and ‘Tradition and Innovation’ features groundbreaking construction techniques and materials. The final section, ‘Cool Japan’, showcases the influence of Japan’s youth subcultures on contemporary fashion. Local Adelaide designer Christopher Arblaster hopes to bring more of this design aesthetic to Adelaide with a new online space Filter Store. With a launch party at the Props Dept and more pop-ups planned, the online store stocks vintage pieces from Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garcons and more. “Having a space through Renew Adelaide was a great opportunity to test the concept before going into business, without the risks associated with a commercial lease and so on. And what I learnt was that an online store,, needed to be the primary focus,” says Arblaster. ​With Filter Store, Arblaster is giving people in Adelaide the chance to see, experience and appreciate these clothes up close. “I want to do semi-regular temporary shops in different locations which are collaborations between Filter Store and the spaces that host us, in the process providing the interesting retail experience that these garments deserve,” he says. Arblaster explains the collaboration with Tania Saxon at the Props Dept for his first popup store on Logan Street in the city. “Tania has a great eye and we share an appreciation for quality and for the beauty that can be found in the austere, the earthy, the worn-in. She’s generously hosting our first temporary shop – it’s a beautiful space run by a creative, passionate, talented local and we’re working together to create a retail environment that combines her world and Filter Store’s.” These designers are a constant source of inspiration for Arblaster. He explains the differences between traditional western patternmaking and the work of designers such as Yamamoto and Kawakubo. “First, where the western tradition of patternmaking involves making pieces that highlight the shape of the body, these designers often produce oversized layers that hang off the body, that explore the relationship between garment and body and allow a freedom from dressing according to strict gender characteristics. “Indeed one of the most important contributions of designers such as Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto to fashion, I think, is that in the 1980s, in particular, they introduced the idea that fashion did not have to be about creating an exterior image of perfection, as was the preoccupation in Paris and other western fashion centres. They also tend to have a respect for fabric, construction, and experimentation, and perhaps most of all an appreciation of the beauty that can be found in asymmetry, imperfection, and the unfinished.” * The writer was a guest of Queensland Gallery of Modern Art.

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