I attended last evening’s cocktail party to fete the opening of The Museum at FIT’s new exhibit, Japan Fashion Now, curated by museum director Dr. Valerie Steele. It has the distinction of being the “first exhibition to explore contemporary Japanese fashion in all its radical creativity, from designer fashion to street style, including menswear.” As Dr. Steele so aptly put it, “Japan continues to be on the cutting edge – maybe the bleeding edge – of fashion”. Indeed.
When you think of the names of the famed designers, true creators all, who are responsible for starting the Japanese “fashion revolution” of the 1980’s, that list has to include Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, Matsuda, Kenzo, Kansai Yamamoto, and Hanae Mori. And so, it was rather fitting that a room filled with iconic examples of their work played out almost entirely in a signature and somber palette of black, navy, and gray, served as the introductory gallery for the exhibition. By contrast, the much larger main gallery, filled with about 90 pieces, set in a mise en scene made to evoke 21st century Tokyo (the exhibition was designed brilliantly by Charles B. Froom who was the subject of a past ‘Masters of Fashion’ interview), touched on many more themes and it was at times more exuberant, playful, and (dare I say), colorful. There was even a sighting of patterns such as tartan plaids.
h.NAOTO. Gothic Lolita dress ensemble, autumn/winter 2008-09, Japan, museum purchase.
Effectively divided into 4 platforms, it began with the brilliant designs of Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kwakubo for Comme des Garcon, Junya Watanbe, and Jun Takahasi of Undercover (as for the latter, I loved several highly textural coats on display). Among my personal favorites were CDG’s chic trench made entirely of white handkerchief fabric and a fabulously shaped army green military jacket shown over khaki cargo pants- how timely is that? – which was on loan from Veronica Webb). In addition, there was menswear, (an ever growing part and parcel of Japanese fashion), which included the work of up and coming menswear designers; street and sub cultural styles (Kamikaze suits, the Forest Girl look, Gothic-Punk- Lolita fashions); “Utility products” (denim, vintage style military wear, etc.); and “Costume Play” (Cosplay) which is more performance art than fashion.
Number (N)ine. Man’s ensemble, autumn/winter 2009, Japan, museum purchase
By the way, the clothes on exhibit are not the only things that merit looking at during the course of one of the Museum of FIT’s cocktail soirees: its fun to see how the invited guests come to pay homage. (Bill Cunningham was kept very busy shooting all the outfits). Michelle Harper (not exactly a shrinking violet), showed up in a black wire cage top worn over nothing but a black bodysuit, there were several in fancy headpieces, and of course, quite a few devotees showed up in their Issey Mikayes, Comme des Garcons, and Yohji’s (I pulled out my beloved tan cotton jacket from Yohji’s “Dior New Look” collection, the back of which is entirely shaped with wire). Dr. Valerie Steele looked chic in a knee length black dress by h. Naoto, (made from some sort of techno fabric), her blonde hair swept back in an aerodynamic style that was in perfect keeping with Japanese avante garde. When I asked who her personal favorites were (in the exhibition), she told me “I love Chitose Abe of sacai and Big O of Phenomenon!! (the latter does menswear). And of course, Comme des Garcons, especially, Junya.” As for surprises she found in the course of mounting the exhibit? “Hmm…. It was a rollercoaster getting the photos done for the walls. And all the techno additions – like the computer graphics.”
Japan Fashion Now was sponsored by the global marketing and merchandising company specializing in fashion, Yagi Tsusho Limited, whose brands include Moncler (Mr. Tsusho was there of course, and made a little speech prior to the beginning of the evening), with additional support by Sokenbicha. Upon leaving, each guest was handed a shopping bag; while alas, it did not contain a Moncler coat, it did have a white printed t-shirt and 5 bottles of Sokenbicha’s authentically brewed zero calorie unsweetened teas blended with natural botanicals.