Shockwave: Japanese Fashion Design 1980s–90s

Recently I visited the Denver Art Museum, or part of it, because it was huge. What a fantastic experience! Everything is great, especially their native people’s collections that mix traditional and contemporary art pieces.


They had several great shows on view, but the one I was most interested in was, “Shockwave: Japanese Fashion Design 1980’s – 1990’s. I have to reiterate that until I began to make my own clothes I never paid much attention to fashion. My sculpture background means that I am most interested in how things are constructed and the shapes they create.


Issey Miyake, 1980’s

From what I gathered from the show text there was not a long history of haute couture in Japan. In the 80’s and 90’s Japanese designers created looks for Paris fashion week that were revolutionary and shocking to the viewer. The show features 6 main Japanese designers; Kasai Yamamoto, Kenzo Takada, Issey Miyaku, Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, and Junya Watanabe.


Martin Margiela

This exhibition also featured some Western designers, like Martin Margiela and Helmut Lang that were inspired by Japanese fashion of the 80’s and 90’s. They played with asymmetry,  distorting and exaggerating body shapes, and structural deconstruction.


Martin Margiela

I just love this crushed velvet dress, but I don’t know that could I really see the influence of the Japanese designers on this piece.


Martin Margiela and Dries Von Norton

The influence is a little more clear in these pieces in the embroidered sleeves and the constructed jacket.


Issey Miyake and Kansai, left to right

Some of these piece paid homage to tradition in color and pattern and married them with more modern shapes.


Issey Miyake and Kosuga Shochikudo, Corest and Rattan Bodice, featured on the cover of ArtForum 1982.

This rattan bodice is the most stunning piece in real life. I wish my photo did it justice, but it was behind glass.


There was a wide range of really distorted pieces and regular couture pieces.


I loved these weird bodysuits and that big drapey, poncho thing. I didn’t get the name cards on these but that polka dot looks very much Yayoi Kusama-inspired.


The Japanese fashion designers really let the fabric inform the cut and shape of the garment, which was the opposite of Western designers at the time.




Rei Kawakubo, Coat, from the 1980’s collection popularly referred to as “Hiroshima”

There is a lot to read about Rei Kawakubo. She is a visionary and really brought some shocking looks to the runway. There is a collection from 1981 that was branded “post-atomic” and “Hiroshima chic”, referring to the bombing of Hiroshima. The jackets are uniform-ish and masculine. They also look faded and like they have been through a lot. These are really interesting pieces, especially if you know some of the post WWII art history of Japan. The Japanese were inundated with soldiers from the victorious countries after the war. Western consumerism was adopted by many of the Japanese as they struggled to rebuild and modernize. In the 1950’s and 60’s many Japanese artists began to push back against western consumerism that they believed contributed to the loss of traditional Japanese culture and morals.


Issey Miyake, pleated chair and dress

My complete favorite part of this exhibition was the Issey Misayake pleated dress and chair. Misayake invented “permanent pleats” and they are so fantastic in person. This is another example of reinventing traditional techniques and using modern processes to create a couture collection.


This was just a little sampling of the collection that was showing. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.


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