Photograph by Hiroshi Sugimoto, 2007. Dress by Junya Watanabe for Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons, Spring/Summer 1999. Cotton-polyester, metal rods. Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute.

Hiroshi Sugimoto Curates Master Couture from Kyoto Costume Institute

Photograph by Hiroshi Sugimoto, 2007. Dress by Issey Miyake, Spring/Summer 1994. Pleated polyester. Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute.

Photograph by Hiroshi Sugimoto, 2007. Dress by Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons Noir, Autumn/Winter 1995. Acrylic, nylon. Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute.

Photograph by Hiroshi Sugimoto, 2007. Dress by Yohji Yamamoto, Autumn/Winter 1996. Wool felt, wool knit. Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute.


Asian Art Museum
200 Larkin St.
San Francisco

Stylized Sculpture: Contemporary Japanese Fashion from the Kyoto Costume Institute
October 12, 2007-January 6, 2008

Japanese fashion: There's more to it than meets the eye. Stylized Sculpture: Contemporary Japanese Fashion from the Kyoto Costume Institute combines the collective talents of leading Japanese fashion designers with new work by Hiroshi Sugimoto, one of today’s most compelling artists. This special exhibition — conceived by Sugimoto — spotlights the extraordinary sculptural nature of contemporary Japanese fashion through 21 seminal masterworks by Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, Junya Watanabe, and Tao Kurihara. The presentation also features four new, large-scale photographs by Sugimoto — never-before-seen pieces from a forthcoming body of work—which capture the garments’ shadows, lines, and fullness of form, alongside the innovative creations that inspired them. The garments — borrowed from the Kyoto Costume Institute, one of the world’s leading repositories of haute couture — date from 1983 to 2007, and include a range of materials and methods from various seasons. The exhibition is o-curated by Kyoto Costume Institute chief curator Akiko Fukai, Sugimoto, and Asian Art Museum.

In conceiving of Stylized Sculpture, Sugimoto says that he “looks at the human body and the man-made skins that envelop it as contemporary sculpture. Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, and other Japanese designers have defiantly challenged the elegance of European mainstream fashion, expanding the concept of artificial skin … and they have incarnated these creations with textures, colors, and shapes worthy of definition as sculpture.” In an effort to respect the sculptural aesthetic of the garments on view, the Asian Art Museum’s installation will be sleek and minimal, with lighting that heightens the effect of the shadows, as in Sugimoto’s photographs. The garments are presented on mannequins alongside the photographs, in galleries uncluttered by wall text or object labels. A complimentary brochure provides didactic information on the exhibition, garments, and designers, and includes more examples of Sugimoto’s new photography not included in the exhibition.

In the early 1980s, Japanese designers Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, and Yohji Yamamoto took Paris by storm with avant-garde styles that overturned traditional Western conceptions of chic. Informed in part, perhaps, by traditional forms of Japanese clothing such as the kimono, the designers produced radical shapes and textures that didn’t necessarily respond to contours of the human body. Though they work independently, Miyake, Kawakubo, and Yamamoto share an interest in integrating Japanese tradition and tailoring with contemporary ideologies and technologies, resulting in exaggerated, voluminous pieces made from unexpected materials. The creations on view in Stylized Sculpture reflect the broad aesthetic of Japanese fashion over the past years, pinpointing features for which each designer is known.

Issey Miyake, born in Hiroshima in 1938, founded Miyake Design Studio in 1970 after early couture training in Paris and New York. By the end of the 1980s, in an effort to increase mobility of the wearer, flexibility of fabric, and ease of production, Miyake had begun to develop an innovative technique he called “Garment Pleating,” that evolved into his iconic 1993 “Pleats Please” line. Miyake’s pleated garments, lying flat and folded like origami, expand dramatically on a body. Since turning over the design of his signature label to his understudy in the late 1990s, Miyake now focuses on special projects. One of the most important of these projects has been the “A-POC” collection (the acronym refers to “A Piece of Cloth,” a concept Miyake conceived early in his career), developed together with textile engineer Dai Fujiwara in 1999. A-POC garments come off the loom as single flat tubes of fabric that can be transformed into clothing by cutting along faint outlines on the cloth—requiring no sewing. Along with three key examples of Miyake’s earlier work, the exhibition will feature an A-POC garment that alternately covers the human body and serves as “upholstery” for an Italian chair by renowned product designer Ron Arad.

Rei Kawakubo, born in Tokyo in 1942, is the head and sole owner of Comme des Garçons, the fashion house she founded in 1973. Comme des Garçons gained international recognition in the early 1980s for its achromatic palette, asymmetry, and deconstructed, frayed edges. The exhibition will feature six original Kawakubo designs, including signature distressed looks from her early career, as well as more playful examples from the 1990s, such as a baby pink sweater and skirt ensemble with pronounced bustle and petticoat from the 1995 “Sweeter Than Sweet” line and a stretch nylon dress with a huge Quasimodo-like protuberance, which radically distorts the female figure, from the famed Spring/Summer 1997 collection, popularily known as “lumps and bumps.”

Yohji Yamamoto, born in Tokyo in 1943, launched his own collection in 1977 and debuted in Paris in 1981. While throughout his career Yamamoto has exhibited a great amount of loyalty to the fabric and structured planes of traditional Japanese clothing, the kimono in particular, in the past decade he has moved to incorporate more aspects of traditional Western tailoring. Stylized Sculpture will present four original Yamototo designs, including a highly formal, wool felt dress from the 1996 Autumn/Winter collection that recalls in its refinement the work of the great post-World War II couturier Christobal Balenciaga; at the same time it evokes the appeal of the Japanese kimono with its sculptural back. Stylized Sculpture will also feature a Yamamoto creation from 1998 that demonstrates the designer’s method of twisting and wrapping the fabric around the body, in a way sculpting the shape of the female figure without extensive cutting of the cloth—another characteristic of traditional Japanese clothing.

While Miyake, Kawakubo, and Yamamoto continue to design, they also mentor younger designers, and ensure the future of their respective fashion houses, through an age-old, and uniquely Japanese, apprenticeship system. The presentation will contain five pieces by Junya Watanabe, who, under Kawakubo’s tutelage, has come to design under his own name at Comme des Garçons. Born in Fukushima in 1961, Watanabe is often referred to as a “techno couture” designer, utilizing industrial or technologically advanced materials in his creations. An ensemble from Watanabe’s 1998 line, which incorporates wire and wool serge to create a capacious structure around the waist of the wearer, will be on view. Also included in the exhibition is a striking new 2007 work by Watanabe’s 33-year-old protégé Tao Kurihara. Considered one of the hottest new talents on the Paris runway circuit, Kurihara now designs under her own name for Comme des Garçons.

Founded in 1978, the Kyoto Costume Institute (KCI) is one of the world’s leading repositories of historical costumes and contemporary fashion with a collection of more than eleven thousand original works. Under the leadership of chief curator Akiko Fukai, who has been with the Institute since its inception, KCI has organized numerous critically acclaimed fashion exhibitions in Japan and throughout the world, including Ancien Regime and Japonism in Fashion, and generated important publications such as Fashion: A History from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Century; Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute (Taschen, 2002). In recent years, the Institute has placed greater emphasis on Japanese contemporary fashion and its position within the global context.

Photograph by Hiroshi Sugimoto, 2007. Dress by Issey Miyake, Autumn/Winter 1989. Pleated polyester. Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute.