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Moment 53: The Japanese Arrive in Paris

WWD editors were fascinated by the collections shown by avant-garde Japanese designers to Paris in 1981, though their reviews were not always kind.

Yamamoto spring 2011

Yamamoto, spring 2011

Photo By Giovanni Giannoni

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 11/01/2010

Under John Fairchild, WWD was unabashedly Francophile in its fashion coverage. When the ultra avant-garde Japanese designers Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons brought their collections to Paris in 1981, the paper was fascinated if nonplussed, especially when, led by the experimental New York specialty store Charivari, broader retail support took off. On March 16, 1983, the paper noted from Paris that “the contingent of Japanese designers…have relinquished neither their favored colors, black and white, nor their unconventional shapes for fall…they have maintained their high level of innovation and creativity in textiles.” Such apparent enthusiasm did not temper a post-shows admonition. It featured runway shots of several Japanese designers (Kawakubo had recently told WWD that she considered classification by ethnicity insulting) marked with a huge X under the headline “Intellectual Bag Ladies.” Said the copy, the look was “inspired by the residents of railroad stations and bus depots. WWD calls it ‘Terminal Fashion.’”

 

Two years later came a report that mainstream retail interest in Japanese fashion, which the paper attributed to one of the stores’ “periodic fits of fashion hysteria,” was on the wane while remaining fans were frustrated. “We take two Tylenol when we walk in the door,” said Macy’s fashion director Chris Matthews. “Nobody speaks English, and they never put outfits together. We have to do it ourselves.”

 

Perhaps so. Yet the Japanese remained at the forefront of creative influence, and Yamamoto and Kawakubo continue to elicit shock, awe and wonder. Cases in point: Kawakubo’s lumpy-bumpy Quasimodo collection of spring 1997 and her military musings of fall 2009; Yamamoto’s stunning Nineties riffs on the haute couture and bridal culture, and his most recent collection, which played couture influences against those of the street.