Probably, Japan isn’t the first country that comes on mind when speaking about fashion, however, we can’t deny its influence considering major trends in the world of couture. To us, Europeans the culture of the land of the rising sun is authentic, contradictory, and timeless, so are the Japan-inspired fashion findings: having tasted an exquisite cocktail once, we wonder what it consists of. Purplehaze seems to have figured out the secret of Japanese influence. Just follow the recipe:
High society by Kitagawa Utamaro
Ingredients: Japanese National Tradition, Sense of Beauty and World Integrity, Wabi-Sabi
Description: Though seriously affected by both Chinese and Indian philosophy, Japanese culture managed to have paved its own unique way. Soaked by the Shintoism belief in the animistic beginning of nature and all things in the world, Japanese attitude is best described through careful yet distant contemplation and appreciation of life. The genre of the traditional lyric poetry Haiku, the art of flower composition Ikibana and the philosophy of finding one’s life sense Ikigai are generally about a refined taste to existence. For a long period Japan had remained loyal to its traditions, thus such items of the national costume as kimono, yukata (a casual summer kimono reminding a bathrobe) and geta (wooden sandals in the form of a bench) are widely deemed as an inherent part of the local outfit. However, all those features wouldn’t be taken as a whole, if not for the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi or impermanent beauty that emerged in the late 14th century. The core principle of Wabi-Sabi is ‘Nothing is perfect, nothing lasts, nothing is finished’. This is also true for fashion. Following the quote by Leonard Koren, guru of Wabi-Sabi, it’s all about essence in Japanese culture but with a touch of poetry.
Crest by Kitagawa Utamaro (c. 1785)
Ingredients: Japanism as an all-European craze
Description: Japan was keeping aside from international relations over the centuries being an isolated feudal country, however, things changed drastically with the arrival of the Meiji Era (1963 —1912). The government with the Emperor Meiji at the top revised the internal political course and paid much attention to the establishment of foreign communication. Stepping on the international arena, the country just hit the target and got in the global spotlight. Japanese culture ideally fitted in the new aesthetic of avant-garde, thus fascination with Japan (Japanism) became all the rage. Japanese influence could be sensed in the Impressionist paintings by Claude Monet and Henri Matisse, in the innovative, fashionable outfits by Paul Poiret, in the dancers’ costumes of the Ballet Russe. First of all, it was Kabuki theatre (which can be interpreted as bizarre or avant-garde theatre) that inspired Japanism images. The modest shape and harmonious colour of kimonos, strange makeup of Kabuki actors and the implied minimalism became the pure manifestation of modernism. The second source of the a la Japonaise infatuation was probably Japanese painting of the Edo period (1603 —1868) primarily performed on woodblocks. Ukiyo-e is one of the most prominent artistic genres which can be translated as pictures of the floating world. It’s graceful and serene landscapes based on a flat perspective made European artists reconsider the established canons of painting.
Drawing by Paul Iribe for Paul Poiret Collection (1908)
Ingredients: Tokyo Street Fashion & Culture of the 70-80s
Description: The 70s proved to be a watershed for both economic and social life of the country. Decrease in energy consumption and as a consequence rapid industrialization, trend for miniaturization and the awakening of feminist movements shaped the cultural context of the modern Japan in the way most of us see it today. The development of such subcultures and aspects of popular culture as Cosplay (costume play), Anime, Kawaii (cuteness aesthetic) and Dolly kei or Lolita fashion couldn’t but influenced Japanese street style of the decades. Apparently, the most famous street-fashion phenomenon in Japan was Harajuku style founded in the so-called district in Tokyo. The original intention was to show intransigence towards the pressure of mainstream fashion by mixing traditional clothes with some Western outfits. From 1997 to 2017 FRUiTS Magazine, edited by the prominent Japanese photographer Shoichi Aoki served as the most comprehensive archive of the youth movement. The publication closed probably because there wasn’t much else to take photographs of.
Ingredients: Japanese legendary fashion designers Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Kenzo Takada
Description: What happened on the Japanese fashion scene in the 70s might be best described through the term Neo-Japanism. The inner political changes in the country became consonant with the worldwide sociocultural revolution of the second half of the 20th century. The name for it was Postmodernism. Artists switched from figurative arts to pop art and conceptualism, philosophers elaborated deconstruction and post-structuralism — in the eyes of the thinkers, the world stopped being either an ideal homogeneous universe (classiсal mindset) or a place where human progress could make a big difference (modernists’ view). Many beliefs and realms had to be reconsidered and therefore one needed to cut off the extra and look the other way — that’s where Japanese fashion designers felt the flow. Kenzo Takada (b. 1939) just rocked Paris having presented his first East-meets-West collection in 1970 which rejected molded and fitted cuts (so popular in Europe at the time) in favor of the loose design which reminded of a kimono. In the same decade Issey Miyake (b. 1938) introduced a minimalistic sustainable collection that was made from a single piece of cloth.
By Yohji Yamamoto (2019)
The revolution was followed-up in the 80s, when Yohji Yamamoto came up with an androgynous female look saying he wanted ‘to make men’s clothes for women’ and Rei Kawakubo, the founder of Comme des Garçons represented a total-black outfit. The pioneers of Japanese Neo-Avant-Garde didn’t limit their creative quests to high fashion but also paid much attention to prêt-à-porter lines which was a right decision under the global expansion of mass production.
And a cherry on top: Needless to say, the activity of the Japanese designers in the 70-80s wasn’t left unattended. Following the example of the predecessor Paul Poiret, who generously adopted a kimono silhouette for his outfits, European couturiers seeked inspiration and new motifs in the culture & fashion of the land of the rising sun. Transformation of the female status and identity happened while playing around with the capacity of her new look — not necessarily powerful and aggressive which was deemed to be en vogue back then but just different: unconventional, exotic and fresh.
However, the most remarkable thing about the art group is that they a) never disclose who stand behind masks (as one Guerilla Girl admitted in the interview, it was just her partner who knew, her loved ones and her dog) and b) throughout the history of Guerilla’s artistic activity there have been about 50 members — they’ve changed but always stayed anonymous and belligerent and humorous at once.