The 1980s Japanese Designer: Yohji Yamamoto vs Rei Kawakubo

Topics: Fashion design, Keio University, Yohji Yamamoto Pages: 8 (2003 words) Published: November 15, 2010
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Valerie Steele (2000, pp.121) states, “The 1980s were characterized by a pronounced emphasis on physical fitness, which had a significant impact on the culture of fashion”. 1980s fashion is obsessed with the body. We see evidences of how designers rethink the shape of women’s body in power dressing, the Madonna look or Azzedine Alaia’s body reveal dresses. In contrast to these loud, dazzling 80s norms, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto share the same point of view to propose a new geography of the body and move away from the conventional. This new geography of the body was known as the deconstructionism. In fashion, deconstructionism rejects customary rules and breaks all conventions. It questions aesthetic norms about bodily proportion and the criteria of beauty, emphasizes the adding on details and garment elements, or discovery of, an irrational moment that shock the acceptance of the public, and reveals the processes of tailoring in clothing. Design elements in a garment such as shape and constructions are more important than colors. This deconstructionism process determines Kawakubo and Yamamoto’s designs in the 80s and this influence their identity as an ‘anti-fashion’ designer.

Rei Kawakubo was dramatically influenced by the western perspective on body adornment and the meaning of clothes, as well as the Japanese conception of what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated society. Kawakubo’s mission has been from the outset to create forms that no one has ever seen before and to produce optical stimulus that are completely contrary Wong 2/13

to our normal modes of perception. For her 1997 collection (figure 1,, she created clothes with asymmetrical bulges and bumps, which created a fictitious body and presented themselves as sculptures in motion. This collection was a shock at this period of time due to it radical ideas of adding lumps on various parts of the dress. Dresses traditionally designed to focus on the eminency zones of women. Azzedine Alaia’s body hugging dresses (figure 2, define feminine strength and power by emphasize women’s body shape, in which, it contrary to Kawakubo’s distortion of women’s body.

[pic] [pic]
Figure 1 (Left): “Lumps and humps”, Comme des Garçons Spring Summer 1997 Collection. Figure 2 (Right): Alaia’s body hugging dress that contour and emphasize on the shape of women’s body. Wong 3/13

Similarly, Yohji Yamamoto has helped to redefine clothing and the use of colors, shape and form in relation to the figure. He has also helped to redirect and question the Western ideals of beauty and what it means to be a woman in today’s society. Yamamoto’s spring 1998 (figure 3, referred to the past and paid homage to Madeleine Vionnet is made unique by his interpretation. He adds fabrics to the front and back that threatens to overwhelm the model, perhaps as a metaphor for a bride’s impending new life.

Figure 3: Dress of Yohji Yamamoto Spring 1998 collection.

Akiko Fukai (2002, pp.514) says, “Japanese designers have greatly influenced the world’s young fashion designers by expressing, consciously or unconsciously, their Japanese aesthetic sense”. But how Rei Kawakubo and Wong 4/13

Yohji Yamamoto’s fashions and collections influenced by the events occurring within their time and by the past decades while retaining their truly individual identity?

Placed against the background of mainstream of the period, characterized on the one hand by exaggerated female silhouettes created by padded shoulders and nipped waists, and on the other of being swamped in outsize masculine jackets, Kawakubo’s designs were radically unique. She challenged the unfamiliar silhouettes present to the body shaping tradition...

References: Figure 1: thefashionspot, 2008. Comme des Garçons: Lump and Bump collection S/S 97. [Online] (Updated 15 March 2008)
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Figure 2: Noh Way, 2009. WHERE WAS PAT CLEVERLAND. [Online] (Updated 06 May 2009)
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Figure 3: Fashion Lifestyle Magazine, issue 14, 2008. JAPANESE LEGEND FOR THE COSTUME. [Online] (Updated September 2008)
Available at:
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Figure 4 & 5:, 2007
[Accessed 21 September 2010]
Figure 6:, 2006
[Accessed 21 September 2010]
Figure 7:, 2010
[Accessed 21 September 2010]
Figure 8:, 2010
Boudot, F., ed., 2005
Brenton, J., ed., 1998. Comme des Garçons. London: Thames & Hudson.
Fukai, A., ed., 2002. Fashion: A History from 18th to the 20th century. Koln: Taschen.
Jones, T., ed., 2005. Fashion Now 2. Cologne: Taschen.
Welters, L. & Lillethun, A. eds., 2007. The Fashion Reader. Oxford: Berg, pp.77.
Shimizu, S. & NHK. eds., 2005. Unlimited: Comme des Garçons. Japan: Heibonsha.
Steel, V., 2000. Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now. New York: Schriberner/ Thomson.
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