The concept of destruction in fashion is something that has been asource of inspiration for two of the world’s most influential Japaneseavant-garde (anti-fashion) fashion designers, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubofor Comme des Garçons. Both of whom have been raised in post-war Japan. Thisessay will examine the origin of this destructive, imperfect aesthetic. I willbe 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 andRei Kawakubo from 1981 to present day. This essay will examine the importanceof the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic, and will argue that it is evident inalmost all of their works.
Anti-fashion in fashion emerged in the early years of 1980’s andsince then has continued to inspire a whole generation of designers andartists. Anti-fashion was a complete contrast to the already established fashionsystem, it was – dark, violent, conceptual and involved. This new fashion wasinspired by the current political and cultural situations of the era. Themovement was baptized ‘anti-fashion’ because it annihilated the glamorousaspect that has triumphed up until then. This veritable aesthetic manifestothat shocked and provoked fashion up with its deconstruction, asymmetry,disproportion, recycling and performance, made a permanently lasting mark onthe style of the end of the 20th-century. The pioneers of thisanti-fashion avant-garde movement were two Japanese designers Yohji Yamamotoand Rei Kawakubo, who have arrived at the same time to Paris in the beginningof 1980’s taking a complete opposite direction to the style of designers likeMugler and Montana. Yohji and Rei advocated a very radical style, which initiallyprovoked the fashion industry and caused a revolution. Rei Kawakubo and YohjiYamamoto are designers who simply do not follow the trend.
People wear theirclothes to “make a statement” (Baudot, 1997) explained Yohji Yamamoto. Fortheir work is not the opulence of the Haute Couture nor the shinny, sexy andtight prèt-à-porter. The work of Yamamoto and Kawakubo is deeply rooted in hischoice of neutral vocabulary and their adoption of a simplified palette. Yohji Yamamoto was bornin Tokyo on October the 3rd 1943 right in the middle of the SecondWorld War. Two years later on the night of the 9th of March 1945,Yamamoto survived the Bombing of Tokyo. Operation called ‘Meetinghouse’ whichis regarded as the single most “deadliest air raid in history ” (Reichhardt, 2015) with an estimated one hundredthousand civilian death. (Figure 1) Theearly memories of his childhood was seeing a “world in reconstruction, peopledby grieving silhouettes clothed in black” (Yamamoto, Yamamoto & Yohji, 2014) an experiencewhich has marked Yamamoto’s design aesthetic.
Yamamoto has lost his father atthe age of two and was the only son of a war widow. In a conversation withYohji Yamamoto for SHOWstudio, Yamamoto talks about how that affected his viewon society, “I was naturally pushed to look at society through my mother. Itmeans 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 skirtfluttered.” (Yamamoto, 2014, p. 30) it could beargued that his grieving mother was the first who “awakened him to sobriety” (Yamamoto, 2014, p. 37) and the womanwho most influenced his aesthetic.
Similarto that of Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo born on October the 11th 1942 inTokyo Japan has a lot of things in common with Yamamoto. Both designers areproducts 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 inAsia” (English, 2011) a time in Japan’s history, whichis referred to as ‘kuraitani’ also known as the valley of darkness. It isduring these years that the Japanese have been rebuilding their homes, citiesand their culture after the catastrophic destruction of war. These events havehad a lasting impact on the works of Rei Kawakubo. These tragic events offeredthe two designers a unique opportunity to make most of the situation, inenabled Japan to look at the outside world “in a more objective terms” (English, 2011) and make its own unique creativecontribution, and in doing so they claimed their own identity.