FUTURE BEAUTY: AVANT-GARDE JAPANESE FASHION
November 16 - January 26, 2014
The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is the exclusive East Coast venue for Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion, an exhibition of nearly 100 dresses, skirts, gowns and suits that celebrate the ingenuity and innovation of contemporary Japanese fashion designers. Since the early 1980s, designers such as Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto have reshaped couture as well as popular fashion and launched a revolution that marks the first time a non-Western culture has significantly transformed the global fashion world. Through innovations in form, technique, material and approach, Japanese designers have challenged conventional ideas of beauty and helped recast fashion as a vital and nuanced art form. Co-organized by the Kyoto Costume Institute and Barbican Art Gallery, London, Future Beauty is on view at PEM from November 16, 2013, through January 26, 2014.
"The fashion designers featured in this exhibition are remarkable for their daring visions, bold wit and incisive creativity," said Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM's James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Chief Curator and the exhibition's coordinating curator. "Through their designs we are exposed to alternate definitions of beauty, new ways of considering the human form and insight into some of the most provocative artistic minds working today."
The fundamentals of haute couture in Europe and America -- highly sexualized fitted forms, balance, finish, invisible tailoring and complementary color and pattern -- are noticeably absent from contemporary Japanese fashion. Instead, imperfection, transience, austerity, asymmetry, roughness, simplicity and subtlety are valued. As designer Yohji Yamamoto affirmed, "I think perfection is ugly. Perfection is a kind of order ... things someone forces onto a thing. A free human being does not desire such things." The avant-garde visions featured in Future Beauty carve a new aesthetic path forward, one that bridges tradition and innovation while charting a new understanding of what beauty can be.
In Praise of Shadows
A watershed moment for Japanese fashion occurred at the now legendary Paris catwalk show in 1983 where designers Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto debuted their black and white collections. Asymmetric and sculptural, Kawakubo and Yamamoto's forms enveloped, rather than revealed, the body in a way that radically rejected the trending obsession with body consciousness and form-fitting silhouettes. Through variability, imperfection and layering, Kawakubo's Autumn/Winter 1983-84 ensemble seen here emphasizes the contrast generated by the textures and looseness of layered fabric. Their "new black" became the "in" color and widely influenced Western designers.
Jun'ichir? Tanizaki's influential 1933 essay In Praise of Shadows is often credited for Japanese designers' gravitation toward asymmetry, layering and use of darkness. Fascinated with shadows as dynamic, shifting spaces, Tanizaki posited that, "the collision between the shadows of traditional Japanese interiors and the dazzling light of the modern age."
Tradition and Innovation
After World War II, the development of synthetic and industrial fabrics expanded Japan's legacy of creating sophisticated textiles. New techniques and processes were devised for weaving and dyeing a range of materials -- from silk and paper to polyester and stainless steel -- resulting in a host of new textures, visual effects and creative possibilities. Junya Watanabe's voluminous honeycomb construction, seen in his Autumn/Winter 2000-01 Techno Couture collection, exemplifies this ultra-modern approach to fashion that unlocked the potential of using fabric as a sculptural material.
Counter to the prevailing Western emphasis on the tailored form and traditional dressmaking conventions, contemporary Japanese fashion delves into the tension between flatness and form. Voluminous garments embody the Japanese concept of ma, a uniquely Japanese aesthetic concept that refers to the energetic potential of space. Wearing a garment activates the space it defines and transforms it from a two-dimensional garment to a three-dimensional experience. Hiroaki Ohya's The Wizard of Jeanz collection explores this concept in a particularly clever manner. Presented as a series of books, Ohya's works unfold like giant paper lanterns into a range of voluminous garments such as skirts and capes. Riffing on the geometric principles of origami, modern Japanese designers continue to explore new ways of expressing form and dimension.
Japan's street culture enjoys an explicit relationship with high fashion. Since the mid-1990s, Tokyo's Shibuya and Harajuku districts have gained a global reputation as hot spots of youth fashion: from the Lolita look typified by young girls' predilections for everything kawaii (cute), cosplay (costume play) and manga characters such as Hello Kitty and Astro Boy, to the reinterpretation of gothic, punk and hip-hop. In 2002, the international press coined the phrase "Cool Japan" to describe the country's ascendancy as a cultural superpower. In reinterpreting these looks, Japan's pioneering designers play with the cute and strange, the beautiful and the ugly. The result is highly eclectic, fun and nonconforming.
In addition to immersive, large-scale fashion runway show videos, Future Beauty features contemporary Japanese fashion pieces that visitors can try on to experience these unique design attributes firsthand. Select ensembles from Future Beauty also appear in PEM's Japanese and Japanese Export Art galleries to inspire aesthetic connections that span time.
PEM's FASHION INITIATIVE
Future Beauty is an important building block in PEM's new fashion initiative, undertaken as the next chapter for one of the country's leading collections of historic costumes and textiles from around the world. PEM's fashion initiative began in 2009 with Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel, followed last year by Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones and continuing in 2015 with a fresh focus on Native American fashion.
Co-organized by the Kyoto Costume Institute and Barbican Art Gallery, London. Support provided by the Japan Foundation, Wacoal Corporation and the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.
EXHIBITION SPONSOR: The Coby Foundation
For more information please visit: The Peabody Essex Museum
-listing posted by Joanne Molina