The complete contrast to the already established fashion system,

The concept of destruction in fashion is something that has been a
source of inspiration for two of the world’s most influential Japanese
avant-garde (anti-fashion) fashion designers, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo
for Comme des Garçons. Both of whom have been raised in post-war Japan. This
essay will examine the origin of this destructive, imperfect aesthetic. I will
be looking at how the impact of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki of 1945,
and the bombing of Tokyo have deeply affected the works of Yohji Yamamoto and
Rei Kawakubo from 1981 to present day. This essay will examine the importance
of the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic, and will argue that it is evident in
almost all of their works.  


Anti-fashion in fashion emerged in the early years of 1980’s and
since then has continued to inspire a whole generation of designers and
artists. Anti-fashion was a complete contrast to the already established fashion
system, it was – dark, violent, conceptual and involved. This new fashion was
inspired by the current political and cultural situations of the era. The
movement was baptized ‘anti-fashion’ because it annihilated the glamorous
aspect that has triumphed up until then. This veritable aesthetic manifesto
that shocked and provoked fashion up with its deconstruction, asymmetry,
disproportion, recycling and performance, made a permanently lasting mark on
the style of the end of the 20th-century. The pioneers of this
anti-fashion avant-garde movement were two Japanese designers Yohji Yamamoto
and Rei Kawakubo, who have arrived at the same time to Paris in the beginning
of 1980’s taking a complete opposite direction to the style of designers like
Mugler and Montana. Yohji and Rei advocated a very radical style, which initially
provoked the fashion industry and caused a revolution. Rei Kawakubo and Yohji
Yamamoto are designers who simply do not follow the trend. People wear their
clothes to “make a statement” (Baudot, 1997) explained Yohji Yamamoto. For
their work is not the opulence of the Haute Couture nor the shinny, sexy and
tight prèt-à-porter. The work of Yamamoto and Kawakubo is deeply rooted in his
choice of neutral vocabulary and their adoption of a simplified palette.

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Yohji Yamamoto was born
in Tokyo on October the 3rd 1943 right in the middle of the Second
World War. Two years later on the night of the 9th of March 1945,
Yamamoto survived the Bombing of Tokyo. Operation called ‘Meetinghouse’ which
is regarded as the single most “deadliest air raid in history ” (Reichhardt, 2015) with an estimated one hundred
thousand civilian death. (Figure 1)  The
early memories of his childhood was seeing a “world in reconstruction, peopled
by grieving silhouettes clothed in black” (Yamamoto, Yamamoto & Yohji, 2014) an experience
which has marked Yamamoto’s design aesthetic. Yamamoto has lost his father at
the age of two and was the only son of a war widow. In a conversation with
Yohji Yamamoto for SHOWstudio, Yamamoto talks about how that affected his view
on society, “I was naturally pushed to look at society through my mother. It
means I looked at society through women.” (Yamamoto, In Conversation with Yohji Yamamoto, 2011)  Yamamoto’s mother as Yohji recalls wore
“nothing but black mourning clothes and I would watch as the hem of her skirt
fluttered.” (Yamamoto, 2014, p. 30) it could be
argued that his grieving mother was the first who “awakened him to sobriety” (Yamamoto, 2014, p. 37) and the woman
who most influenced his aesthetic.  Similar
to that of Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo born on October the 11th 1942 in
Tokyo Japan has a lot of things in common with Yamamoto. Both designers are
products of post-war Japan and grew up in a country during its economic depression.

During their upbringing Japan was regarded as one of the “poorest countries in
Asia” (English, 2011) a time in Japan’s history, which
is referred to as ‘kuraitani’ also known as the valley of darkness. It is
during these years that the Japanese have been rebuilding their homes, cities
and their culture after the catastrophic destruction of war. These events have
had a lasting impact on the works of Rei Kawakubo. These tragic events offered
the two designers a unique opportunity to make most of the situation, in
enabled Japan to look at the outside world “in a more objective terms” (English, 2011) and make its own unique creative
contribution, and in doing so they claimed their own identity.