Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion at the PEM

junkyardarts January 6, 2014 Comments Off on Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion at the PEM
Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion at the PEM

Fashion as art has had quite a boon in the past few years with major exhibitions drawing  crowds across the country.  I’ve written about this before, and since that post appeared  years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a number of fashion-focused exhibitions, mostly in New York, though one or two in Boston.  One thing that has been missing up until now, however, is the focus on fashion as art in a very literal sense.

Not this is beautiful, it’s a work of art but I’m going to make art that is wearable.

Koji Tatsuno, Autumn/Winter 1993
Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute, Gift of Mr Koji Tatsuno. Photo by Richard Burbridge.

Japanese designers of the 20th and 21st century have taken this approach in many ways, interpreting fashion in such an unfamiliar manner, Westerners either gaze in awe or, well, confusion.  It is this reaction that has drawn me to Japanese fashion since the 90’s and why I was so thrilled to see Peabody Essex Museum’s Future Beauty was going to highlight the most influential Japanese avant-garde designers of our time, Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, Junya Wantanabe, and Yohji Yamamoto among them.

future fashion, japanese fashion

Junya Watanabe for Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons, Autumn/Winter 2009-10.
Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute.

The exhibition is a wild ride of the senses, with shapes, colors, and textures that reject every contemporary notion of what the human body should look like.  Outrageous proportions, sculpted lines that reject the actual human form, and layers upon layers of unfinished materials.  It is quintessentially rock and roll, baby, and like no exhibition you’ve seen before.

japanese fashion, future fashion

Jun Takahashi for UNDERCOVER, Autumn/Winter 2000-01.
Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute.
Photo by Takashi Hatakeyama.

The wonder of the show is that these ‘future’ works were made nearly a decade ago and remain completely relevant yet forward thinking, still.  A testament to the adventurous nature of the designers whose names you may not recognize but have created works you won’t soon forget.

future fashion, japanese fashion

Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons, Spring/Summer 1997.
Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute.
Photo by Takashi Hatakeyama.

Highlights of the exhibition for me were the Wantanabe and Kawakubo’s excessively layered and exceptionally draped items made for Comme des Garcons, and the runway videos where many of these designs were first seen and in motion.  Also, there is a section of the exhibit where you can try on a number of items, which was particularly fun but also heartbreaking knowing I couldn’t just take home that vinyl and wool cropped coat with penguin tails that looked so strangely good on me.

Future Beauty is on view until January 26th, so there is precious little time to take it all in. I highly suggest you do as this is the only time it will be on the East Coast.

Peabody Essex Museum | Kyoto Costume Institute |

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