Archive for Maria Cornejo

Blacking-up: The 1980s Japanese revival (The Guardian)

Posted in Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2011 by markcoflaherty

While a nineties fashion revival can only be a few blogs away, there’s one last eighties one about to take place – and it might actually be worth having. Buried within a decade of fluoro-new wave and shoulder pads is the on-trend-again Japanese minimalist movement that radicalised, as well as democratised, high fashion. It dispensed with all status symbols, throwing reams of black cloth over the glitz of Studio 54 and the colourful frills of new romanticism. Early adopters, from Basquiat to the students at St Martins, ‘blacked-up’ like a witchy post-apocalyptic communist cult at a time when nausea-inducing candy-colours and grey were the norm. It quickly trickled down and soon everything had to be matt black.


When Yohji Yamamoto (pictured) and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons joined Paris-veteran Issey Miyake at the prêt a porter at the start of the 1980s, their relentlessly monochrome, unstructured, asymmetric, intellectual assault on the catwalk was a revelation. In 2011, with an ongoing overview of their archives on display at the Barbican, a definitive retrospective of Yamamoto’s work scheduled to open at the V&A in March, and even M&S citing their seminal collections thirty years ago as an influence for spring, their 80s output is going to be reshaping wardrobes once again.

For many, the look forged by the Japanese in the 1980s has never lost its allure. A whole generation of modernist architects and artists, attracted by its raw, unbranded, anti-fashion status, wear little else. It is a chic alternative to ‘suit or sportswear?’, and it destroyed dress codes to create a violently expensive but logo and regulation-free democracy of style. ‘I will never ever wear a tie,’ says Yohji Yamamoto. ‘Not even if I am invited to see my emperor! I made that decision long ago.’

There are also appealing practicalities: before Karl Lagerfeld’s Diet Coke epiphany and 90lb of weight loss, he was perpetually swathed in billowing black Yamamoto rayon. As Professor Wendy Dagworthy, head of fashion as the Royal College of Art says: ‘It wasn’t until the 80s, and the Japanese, that people really wore black. Before that it just had beatnik connotations. Now it makes you feel safe, and of course look thinner.’

For every trippy piece of frilled lycra Bodymap on the 80s guest list there was an ankle length black duster coat, whether it was from Comme or Kensington Market. While much of twenty-something east London continues to dress up in retro Wag-club era polka-dots and Breton stripes, the flowing, monastic, oriental garb that ran in tandem with it back in the day is reappearing. Crotches have dropped and trouser hems have raised and widened. ‘The high street has been a blaze of colour,’ says Neil Hendy, creative director at M&S. ‘But the Japanese look is very versatile. You can wear an oversized black jacket with opaque tights and Dr Martens or in a more sophisticated way, over a tube dress. What we’ve been doing at M&S is look at the fluidity of form.’

The designer Maria Cornejo, who began her career in the 1980s in London as one half of feted – but commercially doomed – duo Richmond Cornejo, now has a slavish following for her beautiful, architectural, frequently subversively-volumed dresses in tune with the Japanese revival. She also employs a sympathetically stark approach to styling. ‘If you don’t put bells and whistles on the clothes,’ she says, ‘they don’t have a lifespan.’ This isn’t a look for vertiginous high heels and fake tan. As Cornejo says: ‘I make clothes for real working women.’

A simple version of the Japanese 80s redux look is also appealingly easy to pull off at a lower price point. It’s where the no-frills aesthetic of Muji came from (Yamamoto has designed for Muji in Japan). And it’s why the Alexander Wang T line of T-shirts is becoming such a cult phenomenon. Take one high quality, loose, black jersey T with a raw seam, mix with wide legged black trousers, and you’re done: soft; loose; layered… 100% noir.

While V&A curator Ligaya Salagazar has been careful to incorporate colour and print within the 90 outfits in the forthcoming Yamamoto exhibition, it’s not the florals worn by Elton John – perhaps surprisingly a close friend of Yohji – or the psychedelics languishing on sale rails that we know the Japanese for. It’s the black stuff. ‘Yamamoto believes that black is the only genuine colour,’ says Salagazar. ‘It’s what everything else plays off; it’s his essence.’

When the Tokyo dark wave first crashed across Paris in the 1980s, it was a formative phenomenon for many of today’s western designers. The stripped down aesthetic, the layering, the drained colour, black and asymmetry are significant elements in the work of Ann Demeulemeester, Rick Owens and countless others. Demeulemeester believes that the Japanese revolution was a turning point for fashion. ‘It was disappointing that fashion then went backwards in the 90s,’ she says. Owens – whose work is consistently watered down for the suburbs by the omni-awful All Saints and other pretenders – celebrated their outsider status. ‘For a 19 year-old art student goth, it was illuminating to see that the uptight fashion world could accommodate a weirdo,’ he says.

The Japanese triumvirate threw fashion off balance, literally. ‘Symmetry – the symbol of perfection – is not sufficiently human,’ said Yamamoto at the time. Asymmetry, arguably born of the kimono, will be ever more visible in 2011, from a simple white silk Autograph blouse at M&S with asymmetric buttoning, to the leather jackets on the high street originally catwalked in purer forms by the likes of Owens and Todd Lynn. ‘I love how it throws things off-balance, or can throw attention to something,’ says Philip Stephens of Unconditional, another label which acts as unwilling consultant to the high street. ‘I like things that wrap, which finish in an asymmetric way, which is often seen as Japanese.’

The great 80s Japanese designers don’t subscribe to being ‘Japanese designers’, or even see many similarities in their fellows’ work, but Yamamoto is passionate about his traditional culture, and abhors its westernisation. ‘The kimono could never compete with western clothes because they are convenient and allow you to be active,’ he says. ‘But from the early 80s all of the strong looking women around my store in Omotesando in Tokyo became more Americanised and I hated it. Sometimes I’m flying and I’m sat next to a fat American guy in shorts and a T-shirt and I just can’t believe it.’

Fashion is, of course, a great cultural signifier, whether at 30,000 feet or on the ground, east or west. And these are hard times, in tune with the uncompromising and dour looks of Japanese fashion in the 80s. ‘I think that these emerging trends will take us beyond minimalism,’ says Bradley Quinn, author of the forthcoming book Design Futures. ‘There’ll be an aesthetic of primitivism. Rei Kawakubo’s early collections of shapeless knitwear crafted with gaping holes will be influential, as will Junya Watanabe’s later “unconstructed” garments bound to the body with string and wire rather than stitched or sewn.’ Certainly there’s an identifiable art school ‘hobo’ tendency there that lends itself to charity shop DIY, which is what many fashion students opted for in the 80s when they couldn’t afford four figure Yamamoto, even with full grants and (gasp!) housing benefit.

Even if things don’t get so extreme, 2011 is bound to be a year of lower, rougher, hemlines in fashion. ‘The current recession is pivotal to this revival,’ says Andrew Groves, course director of BA Fashion at the University of Westminster. ‘It’s a fundamental realignment of fashion’s core values and a reaction to wearing short sexy and symmetrical clothing. In times of recession skirt lengths lengthen – women don’t want to appear sexually available and end up conceiving at a time of economic uncertainty.’

Dark times ahead perhaps, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be aesthetically exciting. And anything that gets rid of striped tops, bow ties and coloured-rimmed Wayfarers once and for all has to be a good thing.


Androgynous tailoring (Financial Times Weekend)

Posted in Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2010 by markcoflaherty

There’s a sophisticated, masculine tendency developing within women’s tailoring. It’s partly linked to the pared down mood in fashion as a whole, partly a reaction against the extreme body consciousness of recent seasons. Celine, Jil Sander and Balmain are among several labels with winter collections that have reinterpreted the male suit, while the classic brogue has eclipsed many heels as the shoe of choice. Paul Smith features a particularly chic buffalino tan pair as part of his Men Only capsule collection for women, a tailoring range he created in response to the demand from women who had been buying his menswear in smaller sizes.

Thom Browne – celebrated for his accomplished reworking of mid century modern men’s tailoring, with shrunken proportions and a meticulous fit – has just launched a capsule women’s collection. The new line echoes elements of the women’s suits he’s already been creating for the high end Black Fleece label at Brooks Brothers: a little bit Mad Men, with a lot of grey flannel. ‘I like the idea of men’s tailoring on girls,’ says Browne. ‘It’s very strong and sexy in a non-overt way.’

Flannel is also one of the most popular fabric choices at hip, modernist London tailors Pokit, which attracts an increasing number of women clients. ‘They initially look to our men’s suits,’ says Pokit’s Bayode Oduwole. ‘But we show them that our women’s styles have more elegant proportions and are truer to the “garconne” style they are trying to achieve.’ One of Pokit’s biggest selling items is the unisex slip-on Horace brogue, bench made and Goodyear Welted in Northampton.

Traditional Mayfair tailors Gieves & Hawkes collaborated with Preen this season to create eight garments, all crisply tailored in a loose silhouette, with oversized lapels and strong shoulders. They were created using specially adapted menswear blocks and catwalked unbuttoned and voluminous with high heels – a look reminiscent of Giorgio Armani’s early, radical forays into women’s suiting.

More experimental designers are consistently blurring the line between men’s tailoring and womenswear. Philip Stephens of Unconditional reports that much of his men’s tuxedo-redux tailoring was selling to women, ‘so we resized it all and slightly feminised it for them’, while rock-star couturier Todd Lynn has had requests from stores for women’s versions of his men’s line. His is an aggressive but insouciant style. ‘The whole basis of my collection is set in menswear,’ he says. ‘And many of my female clientele want suits and the strictness of menswear  – Courtney Love says that when she wears my clothes she feels like David Bowie.’

Maria Cornejo’s work is similarly directional, and her label, Zero + Maria Cornejo, exhibits a frequently avant garde approach to proportions, but in a fluid, relaxed way. Last year she railed against high heels and constrictive womenswear trends, saying ‘it’s boys dressing women – my client is an independent, intelligent woman, she’s not arm candy.’ Tellingly, when she launched an androgynous capsule menswear line at the start of this year (pictured above), many of her female staff preordered items for themselves, in small sizes, and much of the range has sold to her regular female customers. ‘I design for myself,’ says Cornejo. ‘I’m a mother and I have a career. I don’t want to look like someone has dressed me up. Sometimes I just want to wear a white shirt and a pair of boy’s trousers. It can still be interesting and it can still look sexy.’

Photo finish (Blueprint)

Posted in Art, Fashion with tags , , , , on February 26, 2010 by markcoflaherty

This years Spring/Summer collections point directly at something of a nouvelle vague turning point for fashion. The digital photo prints that were catwalked at the prêt a porter last autumn were more numerous and infinitely more accomplished than anything seen before – from the stark and restrained pictures of the late Pina Bausch on the ankle length drifts of silk gazar at Chado Ralph Rucci in New York City to the Rorschach-like abstract techno fantasia of Alexander McQueen’s Atlantis Reborn collection in Paris.

While the aesthetics of audio visual media are constantly changing, from the hand held cameras and faster film speeds that liberated 60s French art cinema to the renaissance of 3D in the multiplex, things don’t tend to change so quickly in fashion beyond the cyclical (hems up… hems down… Jackie O…. Out of Africa…). They certainly don’t change as radically. Odd perhaps, given that it’s the only industry that reinvents its product twice yearly.

The technological advances in digital textile printing over the last couple of years invite parallels with the rise of the pixel in film and photography. Originally developed for flat panel exhibits in museums and galleries, a growing interest in its potential for garment adornment has fuelled development. The Japanese Mimaki-built machinery has become more sophisticated as well as cheaper, and the designers using the technology have brought their expertise to the table and helped expand the range of what fabrics can be printed on.

Maria Cornejo has been celebrated for her strong use of prints since she was one half of the feted Richmond Cornejo label in the 80s, working with then partner John Richmond. Now based in New York, the last two collections of her decade-old Zero label have relied heavily on photo print. For spring 2010 the artfully skewed volumes of her dresses come printed with shots of the Bosphorus that Cornejo shot on her iPhone during a ferry journey. ‘This collection began by looking at architecture, and how nature always finds a way to emerge in any environment,’ says Cornejo. This is fashion as intensely personal art project, made possible by leaps in technology: ‘To do this used to cost us around $100 a yard,’ says Cornejo. ‘Now it’s much cheaper.’ Cornejo’s operation is high end but, as an independent, relatively small in scale. Accessibility has made digital print possible for limited production runs, and even students. Previously, labour-intensive screen-printing would require the commitment of something like a 1000 metre minimum order at a factory.

‘Essentially it’s a bigger version of the kind of laser printer you might have at home,’ explains Andrew Groves, the head of the University of Westminster’s BA fashion course. ‘The fabric is coated, then it goes through the rollers back and forth at the speed of about a metre every 10 minutes and then it’s steamed to fix it. Then it can be washed like any other garment.’

Students at Westminster are being taught digital print as a potential alternative to silkscreen. ‘To do four or six colour printing with screens would take forever,’ explains Groves. ‘With this process you can print half a metre and put 40 different samples on it.’

The digital aesthetic is still very much in its infancy. James Bosley has worked on prints for Diana von Furstenberg and Louis Vuitton and teaches students on the Westminster course. ‘Many designers are using the process to achieve a screen-print aesthetic, effectively ignoring the traits of the new process. It’s a common early use of digital technology – assuming the look of a previous, highly skilled process, with less craft skill, time and money. But there are designers who are exploiting the new possibilities: Dries van Noten has produced numerous multi coloured highly detailed prints within the same garment. Marc Jacobs has printed on both sides of the same dress fabric in a way that could not be done by hand and Prada have produced impossibly airbrushed looking prints.’

London based design duo Basso & Brooke are the masters of digital textiles. Bruno Basso focuses on print, and Christopher Brooke on cut. Groves describes their influence on print in fashion as being similar to Gilbert & George in the art world: ‘When they started working five years ago it was a really hard thing to do, like Gilbert & George creating their really large scale pieces. Now the technology is accessible and everyone can do it, but Basso & Brooke are still more sophisticated – they aren’t just using the printer as a photocopier.’ Bruno Basso’s imagery, in terms of colour and graphic impact, is modern and suitably maximalist, but determinedly focused. With less skill it could teeter into kitsch, but it never does, and as a fashion house they are taking things to the next level. ‘We can alter any element of a garment and make it special,’ says Basso. ‘When we created our flower dress for our Japanese collection last year, we printed the same flower four times in different parts of the dress, angled in different directions, so that when the parts were sewn together, it became a three dimensional flower. And we printed different flowers everywhere, we didn’t just repeat it.’

As well as exploring the possibilities by manipulating cut and dimensions alongside their prints, Basso & Brooke are pushing the boundaries of print. ‘We still can’t print on textured surfaces, but when we work in Lycra, we work with our printers so that we expand it to its full extent, glue it down and then print, taking into account the expansion. Then when it relaxes, and is worn, and stretched again, there are no white gaps visible, as there would be with a high street version of the same piece. It’s a very precious way to work, but this is high fashion.’

For Bruno Basso, the key appeal of digital print is in that high fashion preciousness, something that sure to fuel appetite for the aesthetic: ‘Digital print is about the necessity of exclusivity. The era where you want to wear the same clothes as me, of everyone wearing D&G, and mass production, is over. This technology allows for a totally new kind of exclusivity.’ Digital print might well be the 21st century answer to haute couture. The pixel marches on.

Into the black (Financial Times Weekend)

Posted in Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2009 by markcoflaherty

When Rei Kawakubo shows the spring/summer 2010 Comme des Garçons womenswear collection in Paris today it will mark 40 years in the fashion business. Next year, Issey Miyake follows suit and in spring 2011 the V&A in London will unveil a retrospective of Yohji Yamamoto’s work, commemorating 30 years since his first show in Paris. The middle-ageing of the triumvirate of revolutionary Japanese design is as shocking as any of their more confrontational collections; to many of their modernist followers they still seem like box-fresh radical upstarts, while for the high street they have only recently come into existence through diffusion projects with the likes of H&M and Adidas. So, four decades on, have they really revolutionised the world of fashion?

Issey Miyake from West East Men

Although they were all active in Japan in the 70s (Yamamoto founded his company in 1972), it wasn’t until they all came to the prêt a porter in Paris in the 80s that they made their mark on international fashion. ‘Western fashion at the time was surprisingly conventional,’ says Claire Wilcox, one of the V&A’s key fashion curators. ‘They had a huge impact, creating a disruption of construction.’ It was the shock of the new: unstructured, deconstructed and skewed garments, the antithesis of an era defined by body hugging Alaïa and the shoulder pad. ‘Their work is about opposition to body shape,’ says Wilcox. ‘A Miyake Pleats Please dress moves in opposition to the natural form, and Kawakubo’s Bumps collection was a total distortion of the human body.’ Similarly confrontational was their absence of colour palette – everything in black.

Their arrival coincided with the formative years of some of today’s most celebrated designers. ‘I was just finishing my studies,’ recalls Ann Demeulemeester, ‘and it was a brave new step in fashion – the beginning of a new freedom for me as a designer and as a woman.’ Demeulemeester’s aesthetic has continued to work in parallel with the promise of the Japanese revolution, shunning trend, embracing the avant garde, and focusing on monochrome; ‘because like an architect, new structures are clearer in black and white.’

John Richmond and Maria Cornejo were Thatcher-era London clubland prodigies with 14 short-lived shops worldwide selling their 3D Richmond Cornejo label. Richmond continued, solo, with immense success and Cornejo recently celebrated 10 years of her New York-based Zero label, renowned for strength and purity of cut. ‘When I was growing up you couldn’t find black clothes,’ says Richmond. ‘It was only with the Japanese that black really started. I love using black because I grew up in Manchester where the light always makes colour look grim.’ For Cornejo, it was about shape and attitude: ‘They were so innovative with their cutting and they also found a way of working within the fashion system that broke new ground.’ Rick Owens, whose artful deconstruction and haute murk shares the Japanese spirit, found their outsider status as much an inspiration as their cuts: ‘For a 19 year old art student goth, it was illuminating to see that the uptight fashion world could accommodate a weirdo. If Halston gave the world the white butterfly orchid, Comme gave us black leggings.’

If they weren’t quite minimalist, their focus on volume, cut and head-to-toe black was reductionist, Zen perhaps. And there was practicality too: shove a boiled wool Comme jacket in an overhead locker for an 11 hour flight and it’ll look the same on arrival as it did on the catwalk. When Joan Burstein of Browns opened the Comme des Garçons shop in London, it attracted a loyal following of tastemakers who wanted to dress as if they were above the vulgar whimsy of fashion, and were willing to pay four figures for it. ‘It was a hard sell,’ Burstein recalls, ‘but it’s a cult.’

The Japanese sense of ‘otherness’ was accentuated by the style of their presentation – bleak catwalk shows akin to performance art. Miyake presented his ‘body sculpture’ as high art; his static Bodyworks show toured the world, and he collaborated with Irving Penn on coffee table photography books. The style world in the 80s was fascinated by the avant garde chic of all things Japanese – this was a time when David Bowie would wax lyrical about his love of sushi as if it were food from outer space – and there were clear identifiably traditional Japanese elements to Kawakubo, Miyake and Yamamoto.

‘The influence of the kimono was definitely apparent,’ says Professor Wendy Dagworthy of the RCA. ‘They took traditional dress and did it in a very modern way.’ Dagworthy believes that there has been as strong a Japanese attraction to the west as there has been a western attraction to the insider-cool of the Japanese: ‘They have a clear love of western fashion and culture. One of my favourite Yamamoto collections was in the 80s and shown as an homage to 60s Cardin; very molded with lots of holes cut out of it – the shapes were very beautiful.’ Conversely, designer Hussein Chalayan believes that the Japanese ‘at times caricature the west’.

While they have all taken cues from western arts (Kawakubo has produced collections in recent years inspired by the Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols), there’s perhaps a darker dynamic between west and east that gives their work its edge. When I interviewed Yohji Yamamoto in Tokyo for the Financial Times two years ago, he spoke of his hatred for the westernised youth of Japan, the mega-malls in Roppongi (‘they all look like Disneyland’) and the destruction of traditional Japanese culture at the hands of the west: ‘Until the end of the 70s there were strong looking women on the streets of Omotesando, but after the early 80s they became more Americanised. To be frank, I hate it. Sometimes I’m flying to another city and I’m sitting next to a fat American guy in shorts and a T-shirt and I just… I can’t believe it.’

Japanese designers’ often aggressive sense of detachment from the west has fuelled the west’s fascination. ‘Their work has an integrity that western fashion lacks,’ says fashion author and curator Bradley Quinn. ‘Their work is more about nature than artifice.’ Hussein Chalayan agrees: ‘The most important influence on their work is the philosophy of wabi-sabi, a thesis about the beauty of the moment and the actuality of being. It is the magic of being Japanese that could never be understood by anyone but the Japanese themselves.’ Certainly austerity and asymmetry is as integral to wabi-sabi philosophy as Japanese fashion; and there’s also a recurrent sense of the rough and the organic (particularly in Miyake’s work); the glorious imperfections of nature. It’s this ‘look’ that has, perhaps, been mistaken as nihilist.

The various forays into more typically western commercial fashion territory have sometimes been uncomfortable. When Miyake launched a fragrance in 1994, it chimed as uncharacteristic and strange, as if the Miyake customer might be above something as frivolous as a perfume, but it spawned a full line of Duty Free favourites (including the latest, a scent by issey miyake, which launched in August), while Comme’s fragrance range is ever growing. When Yamamoto showed a range of Adidas trainers in 2001, it seemed shocking – two incompatible worlds colliding, like wearing Joseph Beuys’ Felt Suit to an Essex nightclub. Then a year later he launched Y-3, an immense commercial success, and sportswear and the high street didn’t seem like such distant universes anymore. ‘It makes perfect sense,’ says Claire Wilcox. ‘The sports shoe in particular is a perfect match – the very idea of high heels with Japanese fashion is ridiculous.’

The Japanese fashion revolution, from the 80s black-on-black tsunami that rocked Paris to the artful selling out into luggage and bathroom products in recent years has paved the way for a whole new generation of eastern designers, from Jun Takashi of Undercover and Junya Watanabe to Yamamoto’s daughter Limi Feu, who now sells through her father’s London shop. Meanwhile, Kawakubo, Miyake and Yamamoto continue to embrace their ‘otherness’ in Paris, far away from gauche ‘trend’. For this autumn Miyake catwalked bold geometrically patterned and pleated womenswear on four karate players, while Comme des Garcon’s Homme Plus collection riffed on dandy tailoring, bringing together pin stripe and leopard print. Yamamoto, meanwhile, presented his men as Hasidic Jews and 19th century wild west pioneers… in pyjamas. His women’s collection was classic Yamamoto: all sleek elongated silhouettes and all black. If there’s one thing that 40 years of Japanese design has brought to the west it’s the understanding that when it comes to what shifts and what never ends up on the sale rail at the end of the season, black is always the new black.