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Rei Kawakubo is an architect whose medium consists of fabrics and the human body, instead of building materials and space. Her creations are not merely “fashion” but are reinterpretations of the relationship between clothing and the body, choosing to use fashion as an extension to the human form, or vice versa.

Despite the fact that she owns a clothing company and still showcases her work regularly during Paris Fashion Week, she regards her work as Gesamtkunstwerk, or a “total work of art,” since the boundaries of the word “fashion” is too constrictive of Kawakubo’s creations.

Spring/Summer 1997 Collection: “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body”

Kawakubo has evolved throughout her career that spans more than 30 years. Although she began with deconstruction, her Spring/Summer 1997 collection heralded a new era for Comme des Garçons, as the succeeding collections were louder and held narratives regarding femininity, sexuality, and the female form.

The video below is a performance titled Scenario, choreographed by Merce Cunningham, who was struck upon seeing the way the clothing altered the mobility of the dancers.

Her Spring/Summer 1997 collection, “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body,” was grotesque with padded lumps that exaggerated and deformed the wearer’s silhouette. Was Kawakubo being critical of the beauty standards that society pushed onto women?

Padding is often used to attain a certain body type but Kawakubo reworked it into something that distorted the body instead. “After extensive searching and thinking out for new ideas, just before time ran out, I realised that the clothes could be the body and the body could be the clothes,” Kawakubo said when asked about the collection.

Some critics likened the lumps to tumors, and others remarked on how some pieces made the wearer look pregnant while some pieces exaggerated the breasts and bottom of the wearer. Kawakubo confronted the conventional notions of beauty and sexuality by creating clothes that deliberately changed the wearer’s silhouette in an “unflattering” form, challenging the gaze of the onlooker.

(F/W 2010-11) (c) The Met Museum
(F/W 2015-16) (c) The Met Museum
(F/W 2016-17) (c) The Met Museum

Throughout her succeeding collections, Kawakubo has gone against the notion of fashion as something that encourages vanity, choosing to let the clothes shape the body rather than the other way around.

Fall/Winter 2017-18 Collection, “The Future of Silhouette”

Perhaps one of her most perplexing collections in recent years has been her Fall/Winter 2017-18 collection which looked like an overblown version of her Spring ’97 collection. This collection was entitled “The Future of Silhouette.”

Again, she highlights the human body, but some pieces are now armless and much more bulbous. Furthermore, she has pieces that seem to be created out of lint, paper, tin foil, and recycled fabrics. Some critics have interpreted this collection to be a commentary on our society’s obsession with excess. Excess in the sense of vanity, leading to absurd plastic surgery and drastic methods of body manipulation, and excessive consumerist culture, leading to the environmental damages that are plaguing this planet.

Metabolist Architectural Movement
Nakagin Capsule Tower (c) Wikimedia

Kawakubo’s experimentation on clothing and the human body sometimes reminds me of the metabolist architectural movement during 20th Century Japan. The metabolist movement aimed to create buildings that imitated a living thing. These buildings adapt to the environment and “grow” constantly depending on the needs of the community, therefore the buildings become a part of the environment and of the society altogether. A common example would be Kisho Kurakawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo which consists of a spine-like support with individually attached habitable capsules; this allows more capsules to be added, depending on the demand for space, which consequently makes the building “grow” and adapt like a living being. Although the original plans of this movements did not flourish profoundly, it has influenced the way contemporary architects think when relating buildings in conjunction to the environment and human beings. I find it very similar to Kawakubo’s holistic outlook of clothing, believing it to be a part of the body rather than a separate entity altogether.

Blobism
Selfridge Building (c) Wikimedia

Blobism (also known as “blobitecture”) is another architectural movement that reminds me of Kawakubo’s work since buildings are designed with a rounded and fluid form instead of an angular structure. The rounded form of the building is not an addition to the exterior, but is in fact the frame in itself.  This of course reminds me of the “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body” and “The Future of Silhouette” collections. Interestingly enough, the architectural firm Future Systems, known for their blobist designs which include the iconic Selfridges building in Birmingham (above), has collaborated with Kawakubo to design the Comme des Garçons flagship store in Aoyama, Tokyo.

(S/S 1997) (c) The Met Museum
(S/S 2015) (c) The Met Museum
(S/S 2012) (c) The Met Museum

Rei Kawakubo’s work is very architectural and defies the limitations of what clothing “should” be and dares to challenge notions of fashion’s role in our society. In each collection, she allows her creativity to flow freely and continues to present something new every season. Every collection is provocative and forces viewers to think, which is why I consider her such a great artist.

Issey Miyake doesn’t consider himself solely as a fashion designer. True enough, Miyake’s work encompasses various fields of design. His contributions to design don’t come from his concepts and ideas alone, but also in his innovative use of textiles and materials.

Image grab from Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/744217 (1987; synthetic, metal)
Image grab from Met Museum
http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/80663 (S/S 1994; polyester)
Image grab from Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/698832 (1984; cotton, nylon, metal)

Miyake’s design philosophy lies in the principle of a “‘Piece of Cloth,’ a concept which explores not only the relationship between the body and clothing, but also the space that is born between them.” He constantly experimented on the way the clothes moved in relation to the human body. The silhouettes of his clothing can often shape the wearer or be shaped by the wearer. Some pieces have drapey silhouettes with fluid fabrics that bounce, crease, or stretch depending on the wearer, making each piece look different on various body types; some take on the shapes of cocoons or thorns  (among other things), and can be further manipulated depending on how the wearer fancies it to look. The fluidity and freedom he gives to his clothing makes them unique because it requires a collaboration with the imagination of the wearer to further highlight Miyake’s creativity.

Image grab from Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/124785 (S/S 1991; silk)
Image grab from Met Museum
http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/124782 (F/W 1992-93; synthetic)
Image grab from Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/112860 (F/W 1994-95; synthetic)

Miyake was known for experimenting with various types of materials including silk, rattan, cotton, paper, wool, and polyester for his clothing. He used cutting edge technology to playfully shape, pleat, and crease these unconventional materials. His most famous innovation was the pleated polyester fabric, which he and his team mastered in 1988 and patented in 1993.  The popularity behind this product branched into a separate line altogether, Pleats Please Issey Miyake.

The clothes are created first, then they are layered between paper and heated, creating pleats on the fabric. This technique is done so masterfully that it never flattens, crumples, or becomes deformed, making it incredibly easy to store and care for.

Another groundbreaking innovation was the A-POC manufacturing method which uses “computer technology to create clothing from a single piece of thread in a single process,” resulting in a piece of clothing consisting of one fabric with no seams.

Image grab from Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/112871 (creased synthetic dress; 1993)
Image grab from Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/112865 (pleated polyester dress; F/W 1989-90)
Image grab from Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/87948 (triangular protrusion wool dress; 1989)

Miyake and Iittala

Two of Miyake’s forays into homeware design were his collaborations with Finnish homeware brand Iittala and Italian lighting design brand Artemide.

Miyake’s collaboration with Iittala includes tableware such as placemats, plates, and table napkins, but also includes glass vases, tote bags, and pillowcases. All of them have a distinct Issey Miyake look, with geometric patterns and pleats dominating the collection. The color palette was inspired by the “colors of nature” and consists mostly of neutrals but also has a muted pink shade and a rich green shade to add some life into the collection; the two hues they chose are also very versatile and complementary to the rest of the pieces. The design theme is “blossom,” probably referring to the white and pink sakura of Japan.

Both Nordic and Japanese design have similar principles such as minimalism and timelessness, which is why I think this collaboration became so successful.

Miyake and Artemide

The collaboration with Artemide was just as incredible, featuring origami-like lamps made out of recycled polyester fabric that can be flattened for safekeeping and unfurled to showcase the structure of the lamp. Because of its unique shape, light does not transmit outwards the same way it does in a conventional lamp. According to Miyake’s website, they were inspired by the Japanese philosophy regarding the relationship between the light and shadow. They used a quote from Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s essay In Praise of Shadows:

We find beauty not in the thing itself, but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.

Issey Miyake Today

Nowadays, Miyake no longer designs the clothes but he still plays a big role in the creative processes in his company. The current creative director of the main Issey Miyake line is Yoshiyuki Miyamae, who I believe is doing a fine job in capturing Miyake’s innovation and playfulness in his own designs.

No matter how old Miyake’s designs are, they still remain timeless up to now, and the technology and techniques that he introduced have changed the design world forever.

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Many of the things that we have now and take for granted are a result of cultural exchange.  Food, religion, and design are being transformed because of influences from one part of the world to another. Culture is a fluid concept that constantly evolves; it is not something static that strictly comes from one source. People began sharing their culture and taking from others as early as the first civilizations in the Middle East.

The post-war era of the 50s and 60s saw a re-emergence of cross-cultural influences in the arts. In the world of fashion, this was heralded by the legendary French-Algerian designer Yves Saint Laurent.

Yves Saint Laurent 2002 Haute Couture Retrospective

  • Sub-Saharan Africa

Yves Saint Laurent left the fashion world in awe after his Spring/Summer collection of 1967. Influenced by the tribes of Sub-Saharan African, he incorporated wooden beads, raffia (a type of palm tree native to Central Africa), bangles, and traditional prints with shades of gold, green, and orange into his designs. The silhouettes were made more westernized, tight and form-fitting, yet  these blended perfectly with the traditional materials. This was the first time a fashion designer had incorporated elements of a foreign culture into his own work.

Image from vogue.com | Spring 2002 Couture Saint Laurent
Image from vogue.com | Spring 2002 Couture Saint Laurent
Image from vogue.com | Spring 2002 Couture Saint Laurent

  • Eastern Europe

His Fall/Winter 1976-77 collection took inspiration from the opulence of Imperial Russia. It was a homage to Sergei Diaghilev’s Paris-based ballet company, the Ballets Russes, which introduced Western European audiences to Russian culture. Saint Laurent’s collection incorporated a lot of silks and Russian embroideries, and included the ushanka, otherwise known as the “Russian hat”. The prints and free-flowing silhouettes were taken from Eastern European Romanies. Earthy shades of brown, black, and red, and pastel shades of green, blue, and pink dominated the color palette.

Image from vogue.com | Spring 2002 Couture Saint Laurent
Image from vogue.com | Spring 2002 Couture
Image from vogue.com | Spring 2002 Couture Saint Laurent

This collection is displayed between 22:22-26:22.

  • China

This collection was shortly followed by the Fall/Winter 1977-78 Chinese collection. Cheongsam-like silhouettes, Mandarin collars, and boxy jackets from the Manchurian Qing Dynasty were notable elements used in the collection. The looks were also accessorized with the conical hat common throughout East Asia. Like the Russian collection, this one also focused on China’s imperial era and sought to capture the empire’s opulence through the use of silks and embroideries. The color palette of this collection revolved around rich shades of purple, gold, and red.

This collection is displayed between 27:00-30:00.

Image from vogue.com | Spring 2002 Couture Saint Laurent
Image from vogue.com | Spring 2002 Couture Saint Laurent
Image from vogue.com | Spring 2002 Couture Saint Laurent

  • Spain

His last collection of the decade, Fall/Winter 1979-80, was inspired by Spanish culture. One of his most iconic looks in this show is the matador look. Saint Laurent used a skirt instead of trousers and used colorful pink and purple silks for the ensemble while still keeping the boxy jacket and embellishments from the traditional matador attire. Other looks of the collection included black Spanish dresses with veils, lace, and puff shoulders. The predominant shade of the collection was bluish-black (as seen in the last few pieces)  except for the matador look.

The collection is displayed between 31:15-32:26.

Image from vogue.com | Spring 2002 Couture Saint Laurent
Image from vogue.com | Spring 2002 Couture Saint Laurent
Image from vogue.com | Spring 2002 Couture Saint Laurent

Like Boysen’s palette Tradition in Color Trend 2017, the colors used in the collection play an important role in their respective cultures. The designer who takes inspiration from these cultures use these colors and reinterpret them in his own personal way. It may not be seen as “authentic” for some, but culture is never authentic. It evolves and changes over time thanks to various reinterpretations by people throughout history, and this is what makes the Tradition color palette so special. It is old yet contemporary at the same time, therefore you can never go wrong with it, thanks to its incredible versatility.

The world of fashion design has been a male-dominated industry since the early 20th century. Even though women are the market, a lot of prominent designers in history have been male, and this trend still continues up to now. Ask anyone to name famous fashion designers or houses and most likely they will mention these male designers: [Christian] Dior, [Yves] Saint Laurent, [Cristobal] Balenciaga, [Hubert de] Givenchy, etc. Among women, most people can probably only think of Coco Chanel, or more often than not, they could know brands such as Lanvin but would be unaware of Jeanne Lanvin, the female designer who started the brand.

There’s nothing wrong with men designing clothes for women, but it’s quite strange that female designers have been sidelined in an industry aimed towards women. The industry has been slowly changing, with notable female designers like Diane Von Furstenburg, Donatella Versace, and Carolina Herrera making a name for themselves on par with their male contemporaries.

This article will highlight seven female fashion designers, from the 20s up to this decade, whom we believe deserve to be celebrated for their artistry.

Gabrielle Chanel

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel is inarguably the most famous female fashion designer in history. She revolutionized the way women dressed in the early 20th Century and her legacy still remains until today.

Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.

Going against gender roles, she broke the norms of traditional fashion and introduced trousers, suits, and jersey fabric to her female clientele. Her clothes did not only fuse together masculinity and feminnity, but they were comfortable, as well. She replaced restrictive corsets with easy and simple elegance. Her clothing took influences from menswear but were refined with softer, more feminine silhouettes.

You can see who Chanel was as a designer by simply looking at the little black dress. It’s simple, neutral, comfortable, and timeless. Chanel did not only change gender norms but she also liberated the female body. Women could now wear stylish clothes comfortably and were no longer limited to restrictive, traditional clothing.

Nina Ricci

Nina Ricci has sadly been long overshadowed by her contemporaries during the post-war period in the 30s and 40s. Disregarded by some fashion editors in those days, Ricci had a loyal clientele within the upper middle class in France.

Known for her superiority in tailoring, she never aimed for an upper class audience, choosing instead to make high fashion more accessible to the middle class. Her clothing was feminine and classic, and equal in quality to the clothes of the more expensive designers, yet a lot more affordable. Like Chanel, Ricci mostly worked with neutral shades but maintained the classic femininity in contrast to Chanel.

She wasn’t the typical designer who sketched; instead she worked straight on a mannequin until she became satisfied with her creation. Ricci had a talent for precision that surpasses most designers, and this was reflected in the impeccable workmanship of her creations.

Vivienne Westwood

Dame Vivienne Westwood still continues to be the punk powerhouse she once was. One of the most iconic designers of the late 20th Century, Westwood was heavily inspired by London punk culture that dominated the 70s.

She brought punk to the mainstream, using key elements like tartan fabric and bondage gear in her designs. Her clothing could be considered “deconstructed” as most of her clothes lack the fine tailoring classic designers were known for; she blurred the lines between the concepts of luxury and street, choosing instead to find influences in the British youth of the 70s with their disorderly, exaggerated clothing. Many of her collections were also inspired by history, such as pirates and pagan witches, among others.

Westwood is also known for being an outspoken activist, both in her art and in her personal life. She’s an activist who fights for environmental causes and continues to speak out against issues such as climate change, fracking, and human rights.

Rei Kawakubo

Rei Kawakubo is currently the most fascinating designer in the world. Mysterious and secretive, she rarely takes interviews nor talks to the press. Her creations go beyond fashion and delve into the realm of abstract art.

Always ambiguous, her designs are open for interpretation. She never imposes her personal meaning onto her creations, allowing the audience to understand it for themselves. She creates fashion not as a means of dressing up, but as sculptural extensions of the human body. Consistently experimenting with silhouettes, proportions, fabrics, and prints, there is no way of predicting what she would do for the following season.

Asymmetry is the only constant element in her designs. Kawakubo is unpredictable, and that’s what makes her so incredible. She doesn’t stifle her creativity like many contemporary designers, choosing artistry over commerce, and this works to her advantage. Each show becomes another awe inspiring sight to behold, and critics and fans alike have a chance to marvel at her brilliance once more.

Ann Demeulemeester

Ann Demeulemeester always has a certain allure to her that sets her apart from the rest of the Antwerp Six. She exudes a certain type of cool that comes with nonchalance, and this is reflected in her clothes as well.

Ann Demeulemeester’s style is contradictory: punk yet elegant, simple yet unconventional, and masculine yet feminine. Her clothes look poetic with monotone shades of black and white paired with the tough-fragile elements in her clothing; models walk down the runway with asymmetrical biker jackets (or unbuttoned jackets) styled with willowy skirts and sheer fabrics, complimenting one another in the most unlikely way. Her clothes are angular and asymmetrical while being wispy and effortless at the same time.

The Ann Demeulemeester woman could easily fit in with punks and 18th century academes alike. She is fluid, capable of fitting in and adapting to any situation or time period. Demeulemeester’s contradicting elements are like yin and yang, enriching rather than stifling one another, and this unique strength of hers is what sets her apart from most designers.

Iris Van Herpen

Iris Van Herpen is a modern day icon in the contemporary Dutch fashion industry. Only 32 years old, she has already received acclaim from both art and fashion critics; her work has also been exhibited in various museums across the globe such as the Textil Museet in Sweden and the MET in New York.

She is a pioneer in her use of textiles, experimenting with new textile technology and 3D printing to create the sculptural pieces she is most known for. Her influences seem to come particularly from science, and that is not only evident in her choice of materials but also with the color palette she often uses, consisting mostly of metallics and glossy neutrals. Her clothes always look futuristic, almost straight out of a science fiction film.

Like the late Alexander McQueen (whom she interned for before she started her label), van Herpen continues to think outside the box and pushes boundaries, never succumbing to the pressure of commercialisation like most of her contemporaries. She never dumbs down her work, which is why her shows are always a sight to behold season after season.

Bouchra Jarrar

Bouchra Jarrar is probably the most underrated designer of the decade. Working under various fashion houses for many years, Jarrar successfully ran her own business from 2010, garnering excellent reviews from critics and gaining a small fanbase. She got better recognition in 2016 when she was appointed as the creative director of Lanvin.

She is known for her simplicity and her superiority in tailoring before anything else. Her clothing is not gimmicky, and despite her shows being seasonal, her clothes are never outdated. Stylish and impeccably chic, Jarrar’s specialties include trousers and simple jackets rarely seen in haute couture. The look is always streamlined and sleek, never excessive. Although unafraid to play with colors, when she does use them, she often uses muted variants.  Her palette usually consists of cream colors that go well with anything.

Jarrar’s stint in Lanvin is a superb one. She manages to translate Jeanne Lanvin’s style in a more contemporary context, incorporating elements from her own style into Lanvin’s feminine elegance. The new Lanvin is not for the fashionable woman, but for the stylish one.