If you live anywhere near Seattle, then you have no excuse to miss Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion at the Seattle Art Museum. Not only is it one of the smartest fashion exhibitions I’ve seen, but it really explains the concepts behind Japanese fashion. The exhibit follows the phenomena chronologically, beginning with the great masters like Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, and Issey Miyake and their theories on aesthetics, as influenced by Japanese author and novelist Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows. Some of those theories are apparent in all their work: juxtapositions between light and darkness, volume and open spaces.
So much of their early work had to deal with introducing new concepts to the European market, inventing a whole new language in fashion, one different from the norm. Instead of revealing the body, they focused on concealing it, rejecting the notion of body-consciousness — thank you for that.
Following volume, the exhibition explores the idea of flatness, particularly in the work by Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo. It depicts the origami-like geometry of finest precision, where the fabric can be folded down into the crispest forms, and then exploded into astonishing volume.
Then it leads to Junya Watanabe and Jun Takahashi, both Kawakubo’s appretences, and their focus on fabric texture and print. Watanabe has always been a personal favourite of mine, and what a thrill it was to see some of the earlier works in person.
Unlike most of the work by European and North American designers, Japanese fashion is highly intellectualized. Commercialism doesn’t even seem to enter the rhetoric most of the time. In a way, this allows them perhaps to take more risks, thus pushing fashion into a forward direction, while everyone else is looking at the past for inspiration.