Japanese fashion icons on display in London

14th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Rarely seen outfits by some of Japan's most influential designers, from Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto to the fashion labels dressing Tokyo's coolest kids, go on dispay at a new exhibition Friday.

"Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion" at the Barbican looks at the design culture which took Paris by storm in 1981 and went on to infuse the whole industry with its mix of confident, playful, beautifully-crafted work.

"These designers have a huge legacy and you can see their ideas throughout the fashion world," Barbican curator Catherine Ince told AFP.

"Their work is deeply engaging on all sorts of levels -- there is beautiful craftsmanship, it's full of ideas... it's akin to art."

The exhibition features more than 100 women's outfits, many of them unique specimens held at the Kyoto Costume Institute, which is not open to the public. The institute sent its director Akiko Fukai to help curate the show.

Among the collections is the latest project by Miyake -- striking and sexy dresses and skirts in a fabric made of recycled plastic which are sold packed flat and then pop open into highly structured 3D clothes.

A room is also dedicated to Yamamoto, including a strapless striped dress with the skirt contorted into waves, and black shoes with three white stripes he designed for sportswear label Adidas, displayed with matching trousers and jacket.

Although Miyake, Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo -- founder of Comme des Garcons fashion label -- were internationally known in the 1970s, it was in the Paris collections in 1981 that Japanese fashion really took the world by storm.

Twelve Japanese designers showed that season -- more than ten percent of the collections -- and they shocked commentators by eschewing the then trend for tight-fitting, brightly coloured outfits in favour of black and white outfits in loose-fitting styles.

"A lot of the journalists at the time were very shocked by what they saw -- they saw these sort of dishevelled, raggy dresses, there was quite a xenophobic response... but buyers really embraced their work," Ince said.

Although subsequent designs embraced colour, they continued to stand out with their innovation and sense of fun.

Kawakubo became a favourite of the late British designer Alexander McQueen, among others -- he cited her as "the one person who made him feel he could do anything", Ince said.

One halterneck dress designed by Jun Takahashi is covered by what appear to be red frills. On closer inspection, they are revealed to be hundreds of skull and crossbones cut out and stitched together.

Meanwhile a red outfit by Hiroaki Ohya was created as a book that folded out into a concertina that was wrapped around the body as a skirt and top.

The exhibition also explores what the curators called "cool Japan", or the streetstyle developed by Tokyo's youth, which includes Hello Kitty and Astro Boy manga characters on clothes by Ohya and Zucca.

And it looks ahead to the work of a new generation of designers, from Chitose Abe -- who trained at Comme des Garcons -- and Kazuaki Takashima and Tamae Hirokawa -- who worked under Miyake.

The exhibition runs from October 15 to February 6, 2011.

© 2010 AFP

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