Japanese Fashion Show: Avant-Garde Design Vs. The Harajuku Streets

Last Sunday, the Textile Museum in Washington, DC promoted its exhibition on Japanese fashion in a unique way - with a Harajuku Street Fashion presentation and show.

The exhibit, titled "Contemporary Japanese Fashion: The Mary Baskett Collection" revolves around the influence of Japanese Designers on Paris Fashion Week. The exhibition literature explains:

In the late 1960s, Mary Baskett, then curator of prints at the Cincinnati Art Museum, began traveling to Japan to purchase the work of contemporary Japanese printmakers. There, she discovered the work of contemporary Japanese fashion designers. Intrigued by their eccentric clothes, she began collecting and wearing only Japanese avant-garde fashion. This exhibition is comprised of pieces from her collection/wardrobe.

Japanese Fashion Show: Avant-Garde Design Vs. The Harajuku StreetsS Japanese Fashion Show: Avant-Garde Design Vs. The Harajuku StreetsS

The fact that Baskett was attracted to this clothing is a testament to her discerning eye. She recognized the uniqueness of the three designers she most admires - Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, and Rei Kawakubo - before they were known to the fashion world. Their first runway presentations in the 1970s and early 1980s shocked the West with designs characterized by asymmetry, raw edges, unconventional construction, oversized proportions, and monochromatic palettes. While such attributes seem commonplace in fashionable clothing today, these designs effectively overthrew existing norms at the time. Miyake, Yamamoto, and Kawakubo set the stage for the postmodernist movement in fashion and are considered three of the most influential designers today.

While the exhibit and the fashion show had little to do with each other (Issey Miyake and talented cosplayers aren't exactly in the same fashion circles) both are interesting meditations on the power of influence. Avant-Garde Japanese designers did not set out to usher in a post-modernist movement, and the cosplayers who hit the Harajuku Bridge did not intend to influence girls thousands of miles away. And yet, both sets of ideas became movements.

Japanese Fashion Show: Avant-Garde Design Vs. The Harajuku StreetsS

An article in NY Street Fashion Magazine explains the strange position Miyake, Yamamoto, and Kawkubo found themselves in:

These three are known as the Avant-Garde Japanese designers although it was never their intention to be called as such or to be hailed as the designers that set the stage for the postmodernist movement in the world of fashion. Many of the characteristics of their distinct styles are often explained by Western journalists and critics in relation to Japanese cultural objects, such as kimono, obi-belt, and the art of origami, among others.

However, ironically, these designers did not want to be confined by tradition, custom, or geography, and instead, wanted to be free of any external forces and social/cultural influences in expressing shapes, colors, and textures. They challenged not only the conformity of Japanese society, but also the norms of Western society. They reinterpreted Western sartorial conventions, such as how a garment should look like, hhow it is structured and made, or how it is worn. The normative concept of fashion was also put into question. Many of their clothes were deliberately designed to look incomplete and worn out, defying common sense and challenging the notion of perfection. Their cutting edge concept is that there is beauty in the unfinished, and that gave a major influence on today's fashion.

Japanese Fashion Show: Avant-Garde Design Vs. The Harajuku StreetsS

The exhibit itself is very different in scope from the Fashion Show designed to promote the exhibit. The fashion show revolved around various incarnations of the Harajuku street fashion scene, heavily focusing on Lolita Cosplay and the occasional anime character. This is logical: The event was in cooperation with the organizers of the T-MODE anime and culture convention, and as such, there was an interesting shift from discussion of a Japanese aesthetic to a lecture about Harajuku to an American interpretation of the Harajuku fashion scene. Many of the participants were involved in some way with T-MODE and frequent cosplayers themselves.

This cosplayer explains how her style is influenced by the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland:

Hot Topic Lolita from Latoya Peterson on Vimeo.

Lewis Cartoll's classic story is a heavy influence on Sweet Lolita fashion, so it was interesting to hear her discuss the elements involved in customizing her look. However, the con-goer in me blanched a bit when she revealed she purchased her outfit from Hot Topic. One of the more fun aspects of con-going is watching talented designers transform themselves into fictional characters using little more than fabric, a wig, and some cardboard boxes. Though the involvement of Hot Topic will allow for more people to participate in cosplay, I do wonder how the commercialization of con-culture will impact what types of costumes we'll see.

A veteran cosplayer and seamstress took the stage next, illuminating why I'm a bit hesitant to see Hot Topic selling standardized costumes:

Kaya Cosplay from Latoya Peterson on Vimeo.

For those interested, here's the video she modeled her dress on. It's a song by Visual Kei artist Kaya, and his song "Chocolat."(starts at 00:13):

Amy Elizabeth reveals in the Q & A section that she is a perfectionist, and that she began sewing and adding different elements to the dress to reflect things she missed as well as her own personal flair.

There was also a girl dressed as a white Lolita:

White Lolita from Latoya Peterson on Vimeo.

And here is a black (goth) Lolita, an aristocrat Lolita, and a wa lolita:

Black Lolita from Latoya Peterson on Vimeo.

The clear show-stopper though was the Belle (as in Beauty and the Beast's Belle) costume:

Belle from Latoya Peterson on Vimeo.

Here's a quick shot of all the cosplayers:

All Cosplayers from Latoya Peterson on Vimeo.

While the exhibit and the fashion show couldn't have been more different, master of ceremonies Nick Ferris made a point to stress that much of Harajuku's creative juice comes from the power of the individual to spark waves of inspiration. Whether it is a creative master like Miyake or an enterprising school girl preparing for her Sunday stroll across the bridge, much of what we know as "fashion" can be traced back to one person who decided to work with a crazy idea.

(Image Credits: The Textile Museum Flickr Feed)

Contemporary Japanese Fashion: The Mary Baskett Collection [Textile Museum]
Official Site [T-Mode]