The “Japan Fashion Now!” exhibit at the Museum at FIT opens with a room of rather drab suits and dresses – the high fashion runway designs of the 1980s that, apparently, were *huge* in their time and put Japanese fashion on the map.
The room is poorly lit, perhaps with the intention of being “dramatic”, but seeming to me merely gloomy, and just as dungeon-like as when they held a Goth exhibit here and intentionally aimed to create a dungeon atmosphere.
Fortunately, it opens up in the next room, which is much more colorful and more brightly lit. It makes a serious impact as soon as you walk in, the walls covered in images of the skyscrapers of Tokyo. I might have recognized certain buildings if I looked closely, but missed the fact that they were tying certain neighborhoods to certain styles and trends – Akiba for cosplay, Shibuya for girls’ street fashion, Ginza for men’s high fashion. It is in any case a beautiful installation, and I wish I could have taken photos to share with you.
The exhibition contained a great range of wonderful pieces illustrating just about as broad a range as one could hope for of Japanese street fashions. There were goth-lolita pieces donated by my friend / former coworker Kristen Sollee (incl. pieces by h.NAOTO, Baby the Stars Shine Bright, and Alice Auaa), black with tons of buckles and ties, a motif of crosses printed onto the garments, and spiderwebs…
You can see Kristen, who works for Japan Society, and her coverage of the exhibit in this official Japan Society / Nihon New York segment:
More videos relating to the exhibit can be found at the Museum at FIT official YouTube channel.
The band hANGRY & ANGRY, above, who I must admit I had never heard of, donated or loaned outfits they wore onstage, mixing punk and goth-loli, black with bright electric blues and pinks, the hard, tough, dark goth-punk look with super cute, yet somewhat creepy, goth-punk teddy bears. The word “kowa kawaii,” literally something like “scary cute,” which I had never heard used before as an explicit term, came up in the Yoshitomo Nara exhibit which I saw later in the day, and I think it fits really well here.
The exhibit also featured bôsôzoku (“speed tribes”) outfits, the tough-guy boots and military slacks and shirts, and extensively embroidered long coats of Japan’s biker gangs. A huge deal in the 1980s-90s, I get the impression they’ve declined these days, but the fashion is still really something. Eschewing the leather jackets of American biker gangs, the bôsôzoku wore coats that went down below their ankles, embroidered with majorly tough guy images (such as tigers) and nationalistic, militaristic or just plain tough phrases, as well as their names, gang names, position (such as “gang leader”), and the like. Their helmets and bikes are no less interesting, and the groups would go so far as to fly large flags from the backs of their bikes too.
School uniforms are tucked away in a corner – though hardly anything that their wearers invented or experiment with, hardly anything that should be considered “fashion” in the sense of something new or trendy, these uniforms are certainly everpresent in Japan, and in Japanese youth culture. I myself considered for awhile trying to get my hands on one of those black boys’ uniforms with the gold buttons and high collars. I thought it’d look cool, as a sort of cosplay meets Japanese fashion sort of thing. But, alas, they are really quite expensive, and besides, I’d actually probably look more or less pretty ridiculous in it, whether in Japan or in the US.
Though the curator explicitly says it doesn’t count as fashion (why not?), the show also includes a few marvelously well-done examples of cosplay costumes, including a pink catgirl maid costume, one of Tycho Science (who I’d never heard of, but which makes for a cool costume), and an excellent costume of Oscar from The Rose of Versailles. (Wish I could have taken a picture of this for you; I was most pleasantly surprised to see it!)
Pieces from formal fashion designer Issey Miyake included several outfits (whole outfits, down to the shoes!) covered in bright colored prints of designs by Murakami Takashi – one a huge, baggy blue raincoat, very street style, and another, a men’s outfit in green, also very baggy, reminding me of a street tough/thug/gangster sort of style, pants hanging down, underwear showing sort of thing. Next to these was a more subdued, beautiful elegant dress in a light blue, patterned after Aya Takano’s piece “Moon.” (Something like this but not quite.)
The use of video screens to display the section text was an interesting choice, but ultimately, somehow, it just didn’t work for me. I can’t put my finger on quite why, but I really would have preferred to see regular printed labels. As it was, the printed labels only covered collections database-style data – materials, year, etc. – with no explanation whatsoever of each sub-culture, description of themes or motifs or inspirations.
Inevitably, the exhibit lacks the dynamism of actually walking the streets of Tokyo, seeing people moving and interacting and living their lives in these fashions. But, given the limitations inherent in staging an exhibition rather than a walking tour of Tokyo, I think this exhibition represents more or less the best one could possibly expect. It’s colorful, bright, dynamic [to an extent], and diverse, reflecting not just high fashion and not just those certain things most widely talked about, e.g. goth-loli, but actually a rather wide swath of elements or aspects of the Japanese fashion scene. I wonder how these works would have functioned as a runway show. In motion, on real people, but still artificially elevated from street fashion to a high fashion context…. Hm…
Japan Fashion Now! is up through April 2, at the Museum at FIT, Seventh Avenue at 27th St., New York NY