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Yohji Yamamoto at the V&A A Playful Retrospective from Friday 12th March 2011

Image:Photography Nick Knight, Art Direction Peter Saville

The V&A’s Yohji Yamamoto solo show opens on Friday 12th March and runs until 10th July 2011. The spring show celebrates the life and work of the mysterious and inspirational Japanese fashion designer who infamously challenged the conventions of fashion.

“You can say that designing is quite easy; the difficulty lies in finding a new way to explore beauty” – Yamamoto

It is no coincidence that when I open Caroline Evans’ compelling book that examines fashion during the 90’s and the turn of the century in terms of its cultural and symbolic meanings, the page falls on an image of a Yohji Yamamoto dress, because, just as the very title of the book denotes, his designs, are truly Fashion at the Edge.

During this period fashion imagery developed a much more sinister aesthetic. A new type of fashion designer, fired up by the social and political anxieties of the time, was knocking on the somewhat traditional door of fashion. These designers had visions of innovating this symbolic ‘door’: changing its materials and feel; reinventing its
technologies; transforming its processes and its look; altering its purposes and its future. But more seductively, they wanted to unbolt the ‘door’, and open people’s eyes to the darker side of fashion.

“When I started making clothes all I wanted was for women to wear men’s clothes” – Yamamoto

The dress in question is the Secret Dress from Yamamoto’s Spring/Summer 1999 ‘Wedding Collection’. Androgyny is a major theme in Yamamoto’s work. The collection played with the traditional wedding stereotypes – for example, some of the brides wore black suits. The skirt of the Secret Dress was inspired by the crinoline skirt but instead the hoop joins were customised with zips, which, when opened by the model, uncovered pockets holding an array of props.

The model wittily and theatrically revealed the contents to an amused audience. This, and other intriguing video pieces and images of Yamamoto’s career in fashion, are cleanly displayed along a mixed media timeline (designed by his long-time collaborator Maseo Nihel) in a
single, but, impressive gallery space.

The main area is beautifully installed with a maze of 60 Yamamoto pieces. The selected garments on display show that black was
not the only colour used by the designer and that his innovative asymmetric cuts could create a glamorous and sensational garment.

“Chanel, Vionnet, Schiaparelli. These are geniuses you can’t beat” – Yamamoto

It wasn’t just the fashions of the past but also their female fashion designers that Yamamoto admired. He originally trained as a lawyer and then followed his seamstress mother’s footsteps and in 1969 graduated from the Bunka Fashion College.

The exhibition is simple in its approach and minimalist in its design but it wondrously and efficiently encompasses the Yamamoto aesthetic. Neat details, such as the mannequins being displayed at eye-level, graciously acquaint the visitor with the designer’s work, thus making the exhibition feel accessible. Bright show lamps light the installations effectively. The scaffolding infrastructure perhaps suggests that
Yamamoto is still building his career and with its red highlights, above the timeline, implying that is still active.

The exhibition feels current, it feels fresh and it feels dynamic. Perhaps Yamamoto, renowned for his sense of humour, is challenging the traditional fashion exhibition and giving the visitor a warm bow, rather than the usual cold handshake possibly saying ‘Konnichiwa, nice to meet you, remember me now’.

Tory Turk

Yohji Yamamoto 12th March-10th July, 2011. Admission £7 (concessions available), Yamamoto dressed mannequins can also be found in other galleries in the museum.



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