Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Yohji Yamamoto


Yohji Yamamoto

Fabric in the raw defines Juste des Vêtements, a major retrospective of work by Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto presented at the Musée de la Mode et du Textile in Paris April 13–August 28, 2005. The exhibition entrance set the tone: countless bolts of fabric lined the walls, and display information was pinned to swatches—even glossy runway photographs were reprinted on fabric. Then there were the clothes themselves. Over eighty examples of Yamamoto’s work confirm this feted designer’s regard for the innate qualities of cloth. It billows in skirts, tumbles from cloaks and coats, and frays, in what has become known as his signature “ragged” (“boro” in Japanese) look, to create its own decorative edge.

Designed by Yamamoto’s longtime collaborator Masao Nihei, the exhibition was packed with clever details that offered insight into the relentless thirst for experiment and exploration that drives this designer. Yamamoto’s own Tokyo studio was carefully recreated for the exhibition, and garments (including trials that never made it into collections) appeared in various stages of completion. A selection of publications discussing Yamamoto’s work were cleverly laid out on ironing boards and scattered on chairs as though discarded at the end of a fashion show. And strewn across a studio floor, scissors and cloth gave the impression that the designer had only just departed from the space.

The retrospective portion of the exhibition was conveyed through a series of videos of catwalk shows—from Yamamoto’s Paris debut in 1981 right through to his recent collections for 2005—which played in a continuous loop at the end of the first floor. On the second floor, a sizable display of garments situated the designer’s work somewhere between the deconstructive techniques embraced by European designers in the 1980s and an aesthetic reflecting a Japanese sensibility. The first-floor atmosphere of a work in progress and the use of video, coupled with the decision to allow the second floor to be drenched in sunlight, successfully avoided the eerie stasis that so often haunts dimly lit, mannequin-filled exhibitions.

The garments, representing Yamamoto’s most memorable designs, were clustered according to color rather than chronology. Highlights included an absolutely giant skirt and hat held up by bamboo rods from autumn/winter 1998/1999. In person, the ensemble is even more enchanting than the video of its awkward journey down the catwalk, where, ironically, it bumped and pushed aside those with the luxury of first-row seating. This type of innocent subversion, if subversion can be innocent, is apparent throughout the exhibition. Also on display was a video clip of the designer carefully writing his world-famous signature in chalk on a sign at a store opening. He returns to the scribbled gesture again and again: erasing, consulting with assistants, reworking. The snippet is an insightful one. Anything in the exhibition that looks thrown together is more likely the result of excruciating consideration than a happy accident. It is an utter regard for fabric and its endlessly expressive qualities of texture, colour and hand that had the last say here.

Fiberarts Magazine (Jan./Feb. 2006: 58)