Japanese fashion worth trip to Seattle

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August 24, 2013

Future Beauty: Thirty Years of Japanese Fashion

Until September 8 at Seattle Art Museum Simonyi Special Exhibition Galleries

Wednesday: 10 am–5 pm
Thursday: 10 am–9 pm
Friday–Sunday: 10 am–5

Tickets: 17$, includes admission to special exhibit and rest of gallery

More Information: http://seattleartmuseum.org/


Reviewed by Candace Fertile


Anyone contemplating an end-of-summer dash to Seattle should consider the current special exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), Future Beauty: Thirty Years of Japanese Fashion, in which thirty-one designers and almost 100 dresses are included.

The exhibit features clothes that work as sculpture or architecture. Many of the pieces are more about what is possible with various materials rather than what is wearable, but the development of the shapes over the last few decades by Japanese designers has had a huge impact on what women do wear.

The big names are represented, in particular the seismic game changers of  Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto, whose 1983 summer launch in Paris shifted gown design form the fitted to garments that skimmed the female body, often with asymmetric lines. And colour was reduced to black and white, which ironically opened up the visual field.

The exhibit is from the Kyoto Costume Institute and is curated by its director, Akiko Fukai. While many of the pieces look like something to hang on a wall or perhaps on Lady Gaga, the idea of the playful shapes is intriguing for clothing in general. And some of the pieces, while art, are definitely elegant and flattering to the female form. Others, such as a plastic tent dress or the insanely high heelless platform shoes (making the foot look like a hoof) appear to mock themselves.

The rooms of SAM are spacious enough so that even when full of people, sufficient space exits to view the dresses. Accompanying the clothes are numerous videos of fashion shows, and they are as extreme as the exhibits. One has Orff’s Carmina Burana as the background music;  watching models sidle down the runway to “O Fortuna” gives a sense of the hype surrounding this often magical and often equally pretentious world of fashion.

The most amazing pieces for are those that use the tradition of origami. The ethereal gowns are shown twice—once on mannequins and once folded into exquisite flat patterns. Either way they are marvels of precision.  Such beauty contrasts with the excesses of Hello Kitty kitsch and dresses that look as if they have sprouted massive tumours.

Clothing is not neutral. It always announces something:  this exhibit says  that there’s a wide range of possibility in human garb, from the ridiculous to the sublime.



Candace Fertile is a local art-loving writer and reviewer



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