Yohji planned feature. Models in flat shoes, messy

Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo’s arrival to Paris in 1981 was a
“declaration of war”. (Yamamoto, 2014, p. 40) The
collections shocked the audience and challenged the western notions of beauty,
aesthetics and femininity. Tearing down the bourgeois look and with it its
aristocratic Parisian chic. The fashion world was quickly divided, some became
allies while others “positioned themselves in the enemy camp”. (Yamamoto, 2014) The work create
by the two designers was described as rebellious, anti-conformist, anti-fashion
and avant-garde. Others called the work “Hiroshima chic”. (Burley, 2011) In the book Yamamoto & Yohji
the author sais that those who wore these clothes were labeled “the crows” (Yamamoto, 2014, p. 30) Regardless of
the labels given by the French press the idea shared by the two designers was a
state of mind “one of opposition, an ‘anti’ position.” (Yamamoto, 2014)


The work created in the years of 1980’s by Yamamoto and Kawakubo was
completely revolutionary. The designers shared many similarities in their
design aesthetic, their thinking and approach to fashion, the ‘anti-fashion’
attitude and their philosophy. This was influenced by their similar experience
of growing up in post-war Japan and their heritage. Although the designers
would not admit this but they have been together as partners for over 10 years,
they lived together in Paris. Therefore it would seem impossible to talk about
just one designer, without referencing the other. It is extremely hard to tell
their work apart especially the work created in 1980’s when they were both
showing in Paris. The designers used fashion as a method of commenting on the
social changes that were taking place in post-war Japan. When watching the
footage of Yohji Yamamoto’s fashion show in the 1981 (Figure. 2) one can make
out the silhouette however due to the quality not the details. The silhouette
initially strikes, as it is extremely oversized. Yamamoto has dropped the
sleeves and sewn them into an oversized armhole. There are garments that
have been clearly designed by being manipulated on the stand, the proportions
and disproportions of the panels the asymmetric

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hemlines. The wrapping and twisting of fabric around the body with
what seems like a random gather or pinch but what in reality has been carefully
designed and planned feature. Models in flat shoes, messy hair and no make-up
wore the clothes. Even the way the models walked was revolutionary; they
paraded themselves down the catwalk with a robotic way of walking.

An important part of the work of Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo is
the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi. I will look at how these two designers
have been influence and have incorporated the essence of this aesthetic into
their work. In order to understand the aesthetic it is important to understand
its characteristic features and its background. In the book ‘Wabi-Sabi for
Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers author Leonard Koren describes it as
“beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It is the beauty of
things modest and humble. It is the beauty of things unconventional….” (Koren, 2008, p. 7).  Koren’s first introduction to the wabi-sabi
was on one of his spiritual quests in the late 1960’s at which time Japan was
the source of many of life’s toughest questions. Wabi-Sabi to him seemed to
have many of the answers he was looking for amongst resolving many of his
artistic dilemmas. The philosophy of wabi-sabi is believed to be one of the
core concepts of Japanese culture, almost every Japanese person claims to
“understand the feeling” (Koren, 2008)
however only few can articulate it. In many ways Wabi-Sabi could be understood
as the Zen of things. The most revealing aspect of wabi-sabi is it’s hard to
define qualities, many Japanese critics believe that wabi-sabi needs to “maintain
its mysterious and elusive qualities” (Koren, 2008, p. 17) an end in itself that can never
be fully realized. Wabi-Sabi is also considered as the key characteristic
feature of “traditional Japanese beauty” (Koren, 2008, p. 21) Wabi-Sabi could in its fullest
expression be a “way of life”.