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LONDON — Thirty years after Yohji Yamamoto first presented his collection in Paris, the designer is having a moment in London.
On Saturday, Yamamoto’s first solo exhibition in the U.K. will open at the Victoria and Albert Museum, along with two smaller shows dedicated to his work at the Wapping Project and the Wapping Project Bankside galleries in South London. In addition, Thursday night saw the opening of the first London flagship for Y-3, Yamamoto’s collaboration with Adidas, on Mayfair’s Conduit Street.
While the show at the V&A has been officially dubbed a retrospective, the 80 pieces on display aren’t arranged in a regular chronology. Instead, they’re shown — without explanatory notes — on clusters of mannequins that are dotted around a cavernous white space in the museum. Details of the different pieces, such as what season they are from, are only given in the accompanying exhibition booklet. “[Yamamoto] said to me…that he wanted people to keep wearing his clothes for at least 10 years or more, hence it would not have made sense to try and force his work into a chronology,” said Ligaya Salazar, the exhibition’s curator. “Essentially his design philosophy has remained the same — he loves making clothes, he loves designing clothes and he loves fabrics. That’s what it all comes down to in a way.”
The exhibition has been designed by Yamamoto’s long-time collaborator Masao Nihei, and places the clothes amid stark silver and red scaffolding, while sketches of nudes appear at intervals on the white walls. Among the most striking looks in the collection is a sculpted and draped canary yellow silk gown from spring 1997, worn with a huge wide-brimmed yellow hat stiffened with wire, along with men’s velvet suits covered with floral prints from the designer’s fall 2003 collection. Indeed, the show marks the first time Yamamoto’s men’s wear has been exhibited in a museum. Another display of mannequins is arranged to show off the backs of a series of dresses, such as one with a pleated chiffon train. “It’s been said that [Yamamoto] started designing his clothes by designing them from the back,” noted Salazar, who has also arranged looks that exemplify Yamamoto’s use of rare Japanese dyeing techniques.
To put the clothes into context, videos of Yamamoto’s most notable shows are displayed on the walls of the space, along with videos, images and text detailing Yamamoto’s collaborations over his career.
At a cocktail party to celebrate the opening of the Y-3 store, Yamamoto mused on the “unique” nature of the V&A exhibition. “I’d already done some exhibitions,” said the designer, referring to the exhibitions he’d had in Florence, Paris and Antwerp, Belgium, over the past few years. “But London, that’s different. English people’s creativity is always very unique. So I knew this time I could make a very unique installation.”
Yamamoto was joined at the new Y-3 store by guests including French soccer legend Zinédine Zidane and singer Estelle. The 2,100-square-foot, two-story space is done out with slate floors, mirrored walls and sleek metal fittings, and carries Y-3’s men’s, women’s and children’s collection.