The Japanese Avant Garde Revolution

The Japanese Avant Garde Revolution

Rei Kawakubo – “I’ve always felt very comfortable with the colour black. I don’t know why. But my feeling for black is stronger than ever these last ten years.”

The ubiquity of black in the new Japanese fashion domain was often interpreted as being depressing and destructive due to it’s symbolism of mourning and death in both Asian and Western culture. This didn’t deter designers, Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake. In fact, they became infatuated with the representation of black and used the colour for its abstract, androgynous power. This ultimately led to the term ‘Japanese avant garde’ in fashion, implying a cohesive group of artists who reject both popular culture and middle-class lifestyle. All three designers gave the rude finger to everything that existed in society. Not only did they refuse to conform to Japanese traditional values but also challenged the norms of Western culture.

Forget Madonna’s spandex bodysuit or Prince’s non-flattering shoulder pads, the Japanese fashion of the 80s pioneered a turning point in fashion as black increasingly became the default fashion colour. Yamamoto, Kawakubo and Miyake reinterpreted Western standards by implying altered ways of wearing a garment, suggesting “…it’s up to the wearer to decide how to wear it according to one’s ‘creativity.’ Simplicity is often the key to wearing his clothes, which are versatile.”

It didn’t stop there. Large, loose-fitting garments such as dresses with straight, simple shapes were introduced to women and no longer restricted to our Mars’ counterparts. Gender neutrality became key, extending beyond the men we see braving long skirts in the streets of East London. Yamamoto’s early Fall/ Winter 1984 collection shocked the fashion world with large pieces of stiff fabric draped and folded around the body, concealing the once exposed female body. We could parallel this with the covered body, legs and feet of traditional Japanese women in kimonos as he states “…to me this is the very epitome of reality, as a woman of the past did exist only from the collar up and from the sleeves out; the rest of her remained hidden in darkness.”

Nowadays, you can find followers of this black cult known as ‘The Crow Tribe’ all across Japan and they’re recruiting new members across the globe, one shadow at a time.

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