Big from Japan Conceptual garments by Kawakubo, Yamamoto, and Matohu had a radical impact on modern design.

The most avant-garde clothing in mid-’80s Seattle was at Jordan, a now-shuttered Fifth Avenue boutique owned by Jacqui Cohen. There was sex appeal from Jean-Paul Gaultier, a young American named Marc Jacobs, and architectural garments from groundbreaking Japanese labels—Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons among them. Nearby at Butch Blum, similarly structural Issey Miyake pieces dovetailed with power suits, and on First, at Baby and Co., Kenzo Takada’s colorful knits flew off hangers. The city wrapped itself in conceptual, engineered designs from Tokyo; the East became part of our look. 

Future Beauty, a contemporary Japanese fashion retrospective, opens at Seattle Art Museum on June 27. About 100 of the most extreme garments from these esteemed designers and others make up the first-ever apparel exhibit in our museum’s 80-year history. It was worth the wait; the Kyoto Costume Institute-curated collection is probably the only sartorially focused show that fits the institute’s Asian-art beginnings, and it’s probably the best fit for our city’s sophisticated but understated aesthetic. 

Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s curator of modern and contemporary art, says beauty that’s been shaped by mathematics, history, and cultural critique—think outre bustle skirts and recut kimonos—relates directly to our own most influential exports. And to our style. Yohji Yamamoto’s folded, lean-lined silhouettes are what we search for when we want to stand out in the most subtle way. Junya Watanabe’s deconstructed archetypes satisfy a need for nonbasic basics. 

 The resonance will be immediate. Move among the asymmetrically wrapped forms one night and by morning your body, the fabric around it, and the shops down the street will seem transformed
by the show’s reflective, refracting Eastern light.

 

Published: June 2013

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