The Japanese Fashion Mafia of the 80s

2 years ago

Fashion has often looked to the west for inspiration, Europe, the United States, all that was civilized and informed. In the 1980s, a wave of Japanese designers including Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Comme des Garcons’ Rei Kawakubo descended upon the international runways. This Japanese mafia provided a much needed sense of relief to the beauty and femininity of western designs. Japanese designers do not view beauty or visual appeal as the end goal, for them fashion is more than an art, it’s a craft.

Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake

A breeding ground for talent, Comme des Garcons was also where Chitose Abe got her start years before she began her own label, Sacai. Abe actually stepped down from a more senior role with another company to become a pattern cutter for eight years with the fashion incubator. This is perhaps where the Japanese designers differ from others, their skills lie in the basics, the technical details behind fashion rather than trends and seasons. The idea of originality and kachikan or sense of values are pillars upon which the company stands. “If you’re really going to believe in originality,” says Abe when asked about creativity, “what’s the point of doing something that’s just what Comme des Garçons would do?”

Japanese designers tend to defy categorization when it comes to garments, they are less trend-driven and sometimes quite abstract. Kawakubo considers not just the human form when looking at clothes but the space in which the body resides, around the body. Rather than trends based on yachting in Cannes and the Amazon jungle, Kawakubo has cited things like loss, mourning and homelessness among her inspirations. Kawakubo has shredded sweaters and called the remnants lace, her clothes tickle the mind as much as they attract the eye. There is a certain disdain for the provocativeness and sexuality of the west when you look at Japanese design, a certain purity in the relationship to the female form.

Photographs by Nobuyashi Araki

Abe does not sketch. She begins creating a garment by taking another one apart. The deconstruction and reconstruction of garments is a theme we’ve seen to be prevalent throughout seasons this year. Abe’s work is never done, her mind revolves around demolition and reformation. Her philosophy is clear, “It’s about taking something familiar and making it into something unfamiliar,” Abe says. She enjoys playing with silhouettes and believes that your clothes represent a part of your public identity- something the Japanese are experts at. “A lot of the pieces come from menswear,” Abe explains. “They’re things that have been spliced together.”

Abe doesn’t view her clothes as unique to Japanese design but more a reference to an urban way of life that is hectic and utilitarian. In a city like Bombay, we are more than familiar with the many personas and avatars one needs to take on within the day. From home to gym to work to lunch to shops and everything in between. Abe understands the modern woman and says “You dress for work and take the train to work, and you don’t have time to change for every function.” Her take on urban movement goes beyond seasons, trends and fashion to bring us clothes that are real, beautiful and informed.

Tokyo Street Style