Newfields, Indianapolis’ own nature haven and art museum, is celebrating Step Into Seasons of Japan this year. As a collaboration between multiple departments at the institution, this showcase of Japanese artistry, landscape, culture and tradition is the first of its kind for Indy. On April 28, doors opened to Fashion Redefined: Miyake, Kawakubo, Yamamoto. This celebration of Japanese fashion design and aesthetic spans two rooms of mannequins draped, wrapped, concealed and cloaked in multi-textural decadence.
Niloo Paydar, curator of Textile and Fashion Arts, saw an inherent need to diversify the museum’s fashion collection. “We had Indiana designers and European couturiers, but there was no representation of these cutting-edge and revolutionary Japanese designers.”
Beginning in 2009, the museum began gradually acquiring these pieces. This year posed the perfect opportunity to display the collection to the public. “Not too many people are familiar with these extraordinary designers… It was a timely thing to do with all the other Japanese exhibitions going on here,” Paydar says.
Entering into the dimly lit exhibition space surrounded by dark walls and hanging Japanese textiles, the work of Issey Miyake greets visitors with its signature pleats. An informational placard details the process of manufacturing the fabric and offers a stretch of material to experience its exemplary tactile excellence. One of the most unique Miyake pieces of the exhibition stands boldly to one corner: a pleated black bodysuit, complete with a sculptural hood, red fingertips and white details on the feet to simulate shoes. This avant-garde work of art, designed by Naoki Takizawa for Issey Miyake in 2006, challenges how visitors think about fashion, suggesting that pieces like this serve as more than just function, but as fuel for conversation around the purpose of clothing the body.
Some of Miyake’s designs have an emphasis on not only wearable structure, but the ability to maintain beauty when laid flat to store. Taking on unusual forms, these pieces are seemingly fluid in design. Despite an untamed appearance, the ability to mathematically fold down into 2D, origami-like shapes for storage is a true tribute to Miyake’s detail-driven mind.
On the far-right wall, pieces by Yohji Yamamoto are lined up one-by-one. His designs may seem like the simplest in the exhibition, but the multi-layered fabric and impeccable tailoring state otherwise. Yamamoto places high value on breaking traditional norms around fashion design, as seen through the trousers, jackets and dresses on display. He reimagines silhouettes in an alternative way that truly revolutionizes dress in the 20th and 21st centuries. A pinafore dress from Spring/Summer 2001, with suspenders as mock-straps for a kiss clasp pouch merged with billowy skirting, showcases Yamamoto’s thinking around bringing utilitarianism into an everyday wardrobe staple.
Passing into a bright room with black circular graphics painted atop crisp white walls, Rei Kawakubo’s work for her label, Comme des Garçons, fills the space. Bold colors and shapes take form with perfectly mismatched fabrics of different weights and textures strewn about. Facing front, a can’t-miss dress hailing from the Spring 2015 Roses and Blood collection bursts with red textiles attached every which way. The piece instantly draws visitors in for a closer look at its extraordinary craftsmanship.
The Comme des Garçons, Spring/Summer 1997 bodice and skirt from the Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body collection (also known colloquially as “Lumps and Bumps”) is what Paydar deems the most important ensemble in the entire exhibition. With this set, Kawakubo questions how women have dressed for centuries with bustles and padding, interpreting the style in a controversial way while positioning the enlarged portions in unconventional places on the female form.
Paydar says of the collection, “When it came out, all the critics were bashing it, but it just happened to become one of the most important lines.”
Overall, the exhibition brings to light how Japanese fashion can expand the minds of westerners who otherwise would be siloed into knowing only culturally-accepted clothing. This exhibition allows audiences to think beyond traditional, contemporary silhouettes and into what could be when getting dressed for the day.