Archive for Yohji Yamamoto

Scents and sensibilities (FT Weekend)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design with tags , , , , on June 27, 2013 by markcoflaherty

“You know, I can’t actually remember what it smells like, but I just LOVE that bottle.” It is the opening Saturday of the No.5 Culture Chanel exhibition at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and two young women – looking trés bon chic bon genre – are wandering through rows of perfect, transparent Lucite cases housing a vast archive of Chanel No.5 related art and ephemera. Like Dior’s New Look and the revolution of pret a porter, the modernist salvo of Chanel No.5 – which launched in 1921 – changed the world of fashion forever. The design of any new fragrance would become significantly more important than the product inside.

Chanel No.5 by Andy Warhol

Chanel No.5 by Andy Warhol

“N°5 is not a fragrance, but a cultural artifact,” says Jean Louis-Froment, the curator of the Palais de Tokyo show. “It has a unique aura. It is a manifesto.” Fragrances come and go, but the best become icons. Few achieve the landmark status that Chanel No.5, with its own Warhol silkscreen, has. Still, every year, designers spend fortunes and weeks on designs for new bottles. Each has to sum up the brand, and trigger an emotional response as strong as anything they put on the catwalk. They are miniature mass-produced sculptures. This spring, Yohji Yamamoto and Dries van Noten – two of fashions most renowned intellectuals – launched new product.

Yamamoto’s fragrances – both ‘homme’ and ‘femme’ – are essentially a re-release of a range that vanished due to licensing issues in 2005, but with a new bottle design in addition to the original test-tubes which Yamamoto selected because it was “the simplest bottle on earth.” For many, the idea of esoteric Yamamoto doing anything as commercial as a fragrance seemed outlandish. He would, of course, do it his way. A new version has been designed by Vonsung, with an architectural curve reminiscent of Richard Serra, but in glass rather than metal. “The box is origami-inspired,” says Yulia Livne of Yohji Yamamoto Parfums. The bottle itself might be seen to echo the wrap of a kimono, something repeatedly evident in Yamamoto’s own designs.

Several designers have working relationships with big name architects and artists to create their product. Zaha Hadid created a typically amorphous bottle for Donna Karan Woman last year. “Her vision is uniquely graceful and strong,” says Karan. “There’s always a sense of lyricism and fluidity to her shape.”

Dries van Noten’s fragrance is in collaboration with parfumier Frédéric Malle, renowned for the minimalism of his presentation. It comes in the simplest of circular bottles, in an orange fabric-texture box. “It’s a modern aesthetic,” says Malle. “We avoided unnecessary details, very much like Dries’ fashion. It’s crisp and clean, not old fashioned or fussy.”

A stark, modernist approach to bottle design continues to be popular. It’s something that stems from Chanel’s original intention for No.5. At a time when fragrance was presented in the most ornate, rarefied crystal vessels, she commissioned a simple, stark, modernist flacon, and subsequently added a stopper based on the layout of the Place Vendome. “What Coco Chanel wanted was an invisible bottle,” says historian Tilar J. Mazzeo, in her book The Secret of Chanel No. 5.

There are still some dubious visual puns around in the world of bottle design. One might consider the gold bullion container of ‘1 Million’ from Paco Rabanne, or ‘Konvict’, which comes in two chained-together bottles in the shape of handcuffs, as witty and ironic. Or one might not. One of the sole successful and stylish examples of the visual pun is the Bond No.9 range. Each fragrance is based on a different New York neighbourhood, with a visual motif to match. “We use silk screening and engraving and metallization techniques with the theme of the New York subway token,” says founder Laurice Rahmé.

Sometimes, the sweeping iconoclastic visual statement is still the biggest success. Last year Lady Gaga became the latest in a long line of celebrities to put their name to a mid-market fragrance. ‘Fame’ comes in a bottle that looks like something Thierry Mugler sketched late at night and thought better of in the morning; regardless, it sold six million bottles in its launch week. It still has a long way to go to rival Mugler’s own ‘Angel’, which continues to be one of the five best selling fragrances in the world, 21 years after it first appeared. The crystal futurist star-shape of the bottle – produced by Normandy glassmaker Brosse, who were also responsible for early Chanel No.5 – is one of Mugler’s greatest visual achievements. A Mugler-esque sci-fi looking silver stand is now available to buy which displays the fragrance as an artwork.

Parfumier and fragrance historian Roja Dove has his own line of fiercely high-end perfumes which come in bottles adorned with gold and Swarovski crystals. They are some of the most highly priced and successful in the world. He believes that maximalist French glass designer René Lalique has been at least as influential as Gabrielle Chanel in terms of the look of fragrances. “He was the first person to create what we would call today an holistic conceptual package,” says Dove. “Bottle, label and box reflected the intellectual idea of the scent it contained. ‘Nilang’ has two gilded, fantasy lotus blossoms suspended above the bottle as if floating on invisible water. It has inspired many commercial creations since.”

Bottle design can be a truly inspired, and scarce and pristine pieces – including ‘Shocking’ by Schiaparelli from 1937, with its Mae West body and bouquet of flowers around its neck – are highly collectible. Perfume bottles can be as much an expression of modernism as a piece of Bauhaus or Prouvé furniture, or they can have an embellished narrative. One of Roja Dove’s favourite pieces of design is the bottle that Salvador Dali created for Schiaparelli’s ‘Le Roi Soleil’ back in the 1940s. “It’s been rereleased recently,” he says, “executed in Baccarat crystal, in the shape of clouds and a huge sunshine, with doves in flight creating a face in the centre of the sun. It represents the end of the darkness of the Second World War.” It’s a precious as well as beautiful object: originals can reach $25,000 at auction.


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.

The workwear revolution (Financial Times Weekend)

Posted in Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2010 by markcoflaherty

When Fergus Henderson (pictured) and Trevor Gulliver of the ‘nose to tail’ Michelin-starred St John restaurant in London travelled to Manhattan for a food festival recently, it wasn’t just the foodies who were excited by their arrival. ‘Trevor is compelling’, wrote fashion blogger Max Wastler on, detailing Gulliver’s ’round metal Cutler & Gross frames, French work jacket and jean-cut trousers the color of a HoneyBaked Ham at a Christmas lunch.’ Indeed. ‘The New York fashion bloggers were much taken with my navy artisan’s jacket from Le Laboureur in France,’ says Gulliver. Henderson’s recent conversion to the similarly terroir-tinged British brand, Old Town, was similarly newsworthy.

The impossibly cool middle-aged pair have long been proponents of the sartorial power of “workwear”: masculine, utilitarian garments, smarter than jeans and T-shirts, but more relaxed than structured tailoring, and often fairly literal interpretations of skilled worker’s uniforms. Think, for example, of the single-breasted uniform worn by a Bauhaus tutor or an architect; clothes to break-in and improve with age.

‘Workwear is on the high street and on the racks at Top Man, so the designers we stock are doing it in a more refined way,’ says Stephen Ayres, men’s wear buyer at Liberty. For this spring he’s introducing the rough-and-tumble German label, Acronym, to the store, as well as Ralph Lauren’s ‘authentic Americana’ RRL brand, while M Tokyo Japan returns for a second season. ‘The Japanese brands do the look particularly well,’ says Stephen. ‘Junya Watanabe has produced a wonderful waxed jacket with a corduroy collar.’

The Japanese have frequently echoed European workwear – one of Yohji Yamamoto’s most recurrent inspirations is the social documentary work of August Sander in the 20th century and his subject’s attire.  And international high fashion “workwear” remains a Western, early 20th century aesthetic. In Britain it harks back romantically to the old uniforms of the working classes, from the baker to the dustman and the railway worker, and in the US, it continues to reference western pioneers, the military and the production line.

Engineered Garments, for example, based in New York, is so named because the labels first pattern cutter claimed the items ‘weren’t designed but engineered’ due to the heft of the functional detailing, while Dickies, a functional USA tradesman’s favourite, recently produced a $200 replica of its 1922 cuffed pant that may well be the ultimate chino of all time: the stitching and fabric used is military-grade and the cut is as chic as the fit is wide.

‘Workwear is about clothes made for a purpose,’ says Margaret Howell, the British designer most linked with haute workwear, whose navy and ecru “worker’ striped shirt, indigo twill jacket, and blue cotton linen trouser for spring exemplify her words. ‘These clothes express authenticity, truth and strength. They aren’t age or trend related.’

‘It’s a reaction against the teenage ‘indie’ uniform,’ says Fraser Moss, designer of the London-based oft workwear-tinged label YMC. “The skinny jeans and willowy silhouette that washed down from Dior to the high street was a look which only suited men of a certain age and build. Workwear suits a slightly more mature man more than a younger one. It’s a more relaxed and wearable look for the sophisticated end of the market. It has an air of intrigue.’

Ironically, the shop that embodies the new workwear style best isn’t, in fact, a clothes store; rather, Labour and Wait is essentially a hardware store that sells “good old days” items for the home, from airforce-blue enamel pots for the stove to toilet brushes, couched in Festival of Britain imagery and 1920s Gill Sans typography — not to mention work gloves and gauntlets. To understand how influential the aesthetic has been, simply consider that Labour and Wait now has a branch on the top floor of Comme des Garçons’ tremd-setting Dover Street Market, a recently opened store in London’s Shoreditch, and nine outlets in Japan. Tellingly, co-owner Rachel Wythe-Moran and her partner used to work in men’s wear but changed direction because, she says, ‘we got fed up having to reinvent everything every season. We had a passion for timeless products that were classic and well made.’ Her’s is, essentially, the modern workwear ethos.

‘Fashion is usually obsessed with eternal youth, but has given way to a sort of permanence and consistency,’ says long-established menswear designer Joe Casely-Hayford, who creates the directional Casely-Hayford line with his son Charlie and whose collarless shirts and crushed jersey coats point to what Casely-Hayford calls ‘the crossing point between sartorial style and workwear. Our romantic heroes are more likely to be explorers than foppish aesthetes, and our followers appreciate a good back-story.’

Indeed, the back-stories at Old Town, a menswear label based in Nottingham that specialises in utility-inspired garments in British cottons, tweeds and corduroy, are shamelessly fictitious, but charismatic. “Our single breasted rever collar jacket is an unfaithful copy of one found in a tool locker during the demolition of Stratford locomotive works,” promises their website.

‘Fictitious provenance is an aid to the imagination,’ says Old Town’s William Brown. And again, a certain of maturity of style is central to the 50 garments a week that come out of their workshop. ‘It’s a picturesque look that allows a middle aged man to pose as an old man,” says Brown. “Dressing older is way more attractive than dressing younger.’

‘My life story is in these past blue jackets,’ says St John’s Henderson, explaining his affinity for what has become his working uniform. Meanwhile, for Gulliver, the versatility of the look is as important as its heritage. “I still wear my bleu de travail with matching high waist trousers,’ he says. ‘Believe it or not, it’s an acceptable suit under the RAC Club’s gentlemen’s dress code.’

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.

A brief history of black (Fashion Inc)

Posted in Fashion with tags , , , , , , , on September 20, 2009 by markcoflaherty

There’s a wonderful scene in the sitcom Father Ted where the eponymous Ted is telling half-witted Dougal that to be assured of genuine 100% black priests socks, you can’t buy from the high street. ‘You see,’ he warns, ‘ordinary shops sell what look like black socks, but if you look closely, you’ll see that they’re very, very, very, very, very, very, very dark blue’. Actually, he’s not far wrong. Sometimes black is just navy without a sense of humour. There are blue-blacks, red-blacks… all kinds of blacks. There’s no such thing as a true black, just a close approximation of a total absence of colour, which is what black is: Black is, technically speaking, no colour at all. Oh, it’s all so confusing. But we love it. Which is why for the last twenty years anything black never makes it to the sale rail. It’s hard to make black clash with anything, it’s slimming and it comes with an attitude: ‘I wear black, don’t fuck with me’.

Hard to imagine now, but before the 80s no one really wore black. It was reserved for funerals, or biker’s leather, or beatniks and the Velvet Underground. Both the rockers of the 50s and – in their more extreme way – the beat generation adopted black for its strangeness; to wear black looked weird and they liked it like that. Then the Japanese invaded Paris.

Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto brought their radical tandem noir visions to the French capital in 1981 and fashion has never looked back. ‘People wear my clothes to make a statement’, said Yamamoto. At the same time Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garçons’ designer, pre-empted Father Ted’s socks by telling the world’s press that she was working with no less than eight different shades of black.

Fashionistas, architects and intellectuals embraced the look, and within a few years it was no longer weird, it was just an easy way to dress. Why worry about what goes with what when you can throw on a bunch of black clothes and get on with your life. It’s instantly coordinated and professional. There was, as Yamamoto said, a kind of ‘democracy’ about black clothing, although only the very privileged indeed could afford that kind of democracy. Issey Miyake, Japanese fashion’s other grand master, also filled his collections with black and many pointed to darker reasons for this stark, modern new look: Miyake was from Hiroshima and was riding his bicycle to school as a boy when the bomb dropped.

Architects and thinkers aside, wearing all-black was also seized upon by the dreaded Goths who were nothing if not the miserablist children of the beatniks before them. Menswear designers from McQueen to Cloak have consistently borrowed from Goths ever since the 80s, but did Goths ever, we wonder, ever really look any good? Probably not.

Throughout the 90s black (invariably in shapeless and distressed forms) remained a perfectly credible option for anyone wanting to look modern. Prada minimalism and techno fabrics worked well with it while the Belgian brigade, including Martin Margiela, all managed to bring a deconstructed freshness to it. Though we’ve all taken the plunge with colour and print this side of the millennium, black has never gone away. When you look at what Hedi Slimane’s doing, with his monochrome menswear and shiny black shop interiors, it couldn’t look more contemporary, urban and smart, which is the whole point. For many, it’s worth the risk of being mistaken for a boutique hotel doorman or waiter – anything, as long as you don’t look like you drink WKD and live in the ‘burbs.