Japanese fashion in the 80s
More than any other decade, the 1980s in Japan represented the turning point for the entire country from a commercial point of view, reaching the apex of economic well-being and becoming a de facto world power. From the difficult times of post-World War II hard times, the Rising Sun proved to excel in a multitude of sectors, first of all that of technology.
The Universal Exposition held in Osaka prefecture in 1970 was one of the most crowded events in the world, thus putting Japan in a new light: it was no longer a distant country sacrificed by war debts, but a new protagonist and competitor on a global scale.
Japan therefore put itself in competition with the West: on the one hand it absorbed its uses and customs, on the other it began to propose a new and own identity through artistic forms.
During the early 1970s, the stylistic foundations were laid of what was then defined as "conceptual" during the boom of the 1980s and which, moreover, was the creative and philosophical basis of for Martin Margiela starting in 1979 and the 'following year for the "six of Antwerp".
The first very successful designer was Kenzō Takada: after studying fashion in Tokyo, he moved to Paris and in 1970 he presented his first collection at the Vivienne Gallery which was a huge success, allowing him to open his first Jungle Jap boutique. The following year his works appeared in Vogue America and the world appreciated his playful flair, a contrasting fusion between East and West composed of animal prints and voluminous shapes.
Kenzō was a reference point for Japanese fashion in Europe until 1999, the year of its exit from the scene, shortly after launching the successful perfume line (the brand still exists today).
Kansai Yamamoto became famous between 1972 and 1973 for the costumes designed for David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust Tour.
In 1975 he made his debut in Paris, where he opened his boutique two years later. He continued his collaboration with Bowie over time, for which he made numerous kimonos. In 2018 he worked with Louis Vuitton for the creation of prints and patterns inspired by the Kabuki theater.
Issey Miyake was probably the first designer to have expressed a new way of conceiving clothes, in a deconstructed way.
After studying graphic design, he worked in New York and Paris. Returning to Tokyo in 1970, he founded the Miyake Design Studio. The following year he presented his first collection in New York, which was followed by the Paris fashion shows.
His deeply innovative style of him, characterized by dark colors and technological materials (such as his famous pleated fabric), was fundamental for the development of the new artistic current, first Japanese and then Belgian of the 80s.
Junichi Arai was the first great innovator and experimenter in the textile field.
He studied computers, films and metals starting at the age of 18 from the family business where kimonos, obi and American cocktail dresses were made with metallic and synthetic fabrics. Over the next few years he designed fabrics never made before with extravagant names like Titanium Poison and Driving Rain.
His incredible genius was noticed by Issey Miyake and Rei Kawabuko who started using his inventions as early as the 1970s.
Deconstructivism and minimalism
Until the early 1980s, the focus of high fashion was essentially concentrated on the "big four": Paris, Milan, London and New York were the only cities that dictated the aesthetic standards and the whole world was turned to those catwalks to understand what to wear. The prevailing style was Western in style and had never before been questioned, changed or tampered with.
If on the one hand Kenzō Takada had the merit of being the first great Japanese designer to have expressed his flair made of poetry and lightness on the Parisian catwalks, it was however the triad composed by Issey Miyake (mentioned above), Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto to totally break with the past and definitely change direction. Thanks to them, the "big four" rule came to an end and both Tokyo and Antwerp became centers of enormous interest for high fashion.
Rei Kawakubo, after a degree in literature at Keio Private University (the same one attended by mangaka Naoko Takeuchi), began working as a freelance stylist in 1967. Two years later she founded her fashion house Comme des Garçons and in 1973 she opened her first boutique in Tokyo.
Yohji Yamamoto, after graduating in law at Keio University, studied fashion design at Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo and in 1977 presented his first ready to wear collection.
In 1981 Yamamoto presented his first collection in Paris. The following year it was Kawakubo's turn, completely displacing the critics. Journalists called his Kawakubo collection "Hiroshima chic".
Their clothes, unlike all those made in the West, failed to comply with all the rules of composition pursued up to that moment because they no longer simply served to cover the body but had to express a concept. The clothes were different in the fabrics (often worn), in the asymmetrical cuts, in the absence of decorations, in the shapes and colors (austere, mainly white, black and gray).
The term "deconstructivism" began to be used to indicate those garments with unusual volumes: traditional garments were unmade and reassembled giving a sense of independence and not of Western reasoning.
From an economic point of view these collections were simply a disaster. In Europe they shocked the critics, who did not understand them, but had an enormous success of fame: this style, which at first was defined as "minimal", became the anti-hedonistic philosophy adopted in Belgium by designers such as Martin Margiela (defined at times by the French "la mode Destroy") and later by the "Six of Antwerp" (Dries van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Van Saene, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee).
The reference to Japan (especially to that of Rei Kawakubo) can be found in the entire conceptual philosophy of Margiela starting with her first collection in 1988 in which he presented the iconic Tabi shoes, which in many ways denoted the symbol of the maison.
Tabi are actually a Japanese invention dating back to the 15th century, a time when cotton was imported from China and the Japanese began to make socks in this material by dividing the big toe from the rest of the toes, so that you can wear traditional sandals.
Rei Kawakubo advocated for a new generation of emerging designers who embraced that unconventional approach, sponsoring Junya Watanabe and Undercover.
Her merit was also that of approaching fashion photography in the first person: from 1988 to 1991 she published in the magazine SIX, conceived and edited by her collaborator Atsuko Kozasu. The magazine published black and white photographs that represented the aesthetic of the brand without the use of words. The shots were taken by illustrious photographers such as Peter Lindbergh, Bruce Weber and Kishin Shinoyama. Some of them also immortalized Kawakubo's dresses in timeless portraits.
Deconstructivism can be interpreted as a counterculture of high fashion. It has had a huge impact not only in Europe but has challenged aesthetic (and ethical) values in Japan as well. This aspect was evident after the Parisian fashion shows of Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo in the Omotesandō district, where a current that developed throughout the decade took hold: karasu zoku (literally "group of crows"). Not surprisingly, on the cover of the issue 4 of SIX of 1989 there was just a crow.
It was mainly women, who walked the streets dressed in oversized and total black dresses (in different shades) that created an androgynous silhouette. To complete the look, new wave-inspired make-up (smokey eyes) and straight hair, possibly with short bangs.
The idea was to recreate the outfits proposed by Yamamoto and Kawakubo in every detail and, who could afford it, sported original pieces by Comme de Garçons.
This trend, precisely because it was mainly interpreted by women, was intended as a revolt against the stereotypical conception of the Japanese housewife devoted to her husband. Karasu zoku has been compared by critics to the English punk movement: in the 80s the new wave differed from post punk (always of those years, of which dark- punk Siouxsie and the Banshees) for sounds closer to pop and a refined and refined look, represented by numerous bands such as New Order, XTC, The Stranglers, The Cure.
During the 80s the foundations were also laid for the development of what in the 90s will be referred to as visual kei, or belonging to the Japanese rock music scene. Kote kei was its forerunner style: on the wave of the new wave and dark music of the 80s, those belonging to this situation sported a look with references to punk,glam rock and dark. They wore leather clothes, studs, buckles and wore their hair backcombed, referring to hair metal (Bon Jovi, Europe and Aerosmith) and Robert Smith.
Otome, Kawaii, Idol
The styles of the 1980s in Japan were influenced by both music and fashion magazines.
In 1982 Magazine House publishing house launched Olive magazine in which it defined the otome style thanks to the proposals of the Japanese stylist Tsumori Chisato - after attending Bunka Fashion College, Chisato in 1977 worked for Issey Miyake before launching her personal brand in 1990. Her style is famous for colorful prints inspired by the world of manga and contemporary art.
The otome style (translatable as "maiden"), mainly represented by the Pink House brand (whose style will later be defined natural kei), referred to an ancient and simple, made of lace, bows and laces, soft colors like pastel shades, vintage references, long skirts and Oxford or Mary Jane shoes. It was a huge hit among high school girls.
All the motifs of the otome represent the basis of the lolita style of the 90s and of the kawaii - Japanese term that means "cute", "adorable" and that starting from the 80s becomes a real sub-culture concerning ways to talk and dress children but also characters from manga, anime and video games.
It is no coincidence, therefore, that the 80s are considered the golden years of idols, or incredibly popular teenagers in the entertainment world. The idols are singers, dancers, actresses, have a sweet and kawaii appearance and have a predominantly male audience.
This phenomenon was born in the 70s starting from the film Cherchez l'Idole arrived in Japan (1963), translated with the title Aidoru or sagase (ア イ ド ル を 探 せ). Subsequently, thanks to J-Pop music and numerous television programs, the idols were the object of real fanaticism, also becoming the subject of anime and manga such as The Enchanting Creamy (1983), Magica Emi (1985) and then in many products of 90s successes such as Fancy Lala (1998), Rossana - Children's toy (1994), Sailor Moon (1991), but also films such as Suicide Club (2002) and Perfect Blue (1997).
As already pointed out in the introduction, the 1980s in Japan were characterized by economic well-being and this could and should also be emphasized through clothing. A large portion of young people, especially university students, adopted an elegant and casual American-style clothing, called preppy. In Japan it is considered a category of the macro-area amethora ("American Traditional", a term used mainly to indicate the preppy but, in general, a Japanese way of dressing that emulates the American, English or Western style in general).
In reality, the preppy was born in the United States, where it indicated the sub-culture associated with rich young people who were preparing to enter the preparatory schools to access the ancient and prestigious American universities: hence the term "prep" or "private university" or " preparatory school ". It was not just about clothing, but a privileged lifestyle made up of ways of speaking and posturing.
In USA, the origins of preppy date back to the Ivy League dress of the 1910s. From then on, the style was defined by brands such as J. Press and Brooks Brothers, whose stores were located on Ivy League campuses such as Yale, Princeton and Harvard.
In the 70s the Ivy League style was also common among young Englishmen who led an agitated and sporty life, made of boat trips and golf and lacrosse games: for this reason the style was enriched with striped and plaid motifs, clothing equestrian type and nautical themed accessories. The 80s were instead characterized by brands such as Ralph Lauren and Lacoste.
The preppy style arrived in Japan through the interpretation of Kensuke Ishizu, the real and first ferryman of Western fashion in the land of the Rising Sun. He was both the founder of the VAN brand (whose series of jackets and sweatshirts was enormously successful), and the creator of the Japanese Ivy League style.
In the 1980s, numerous foreign magazines sponsored the preppy style and which were a source of inspiration for college students began to run. Among the most read are Take Ivy (a fashion photography book by Ivy League students from the 1960s) and The Official Preppy Handbook (a humorous guide to North American culture called "prepdom"), while in 1982 the magazine Cancam became famous in Japan, as well as Popeye.
Japanese boys began to wear shirts, cardigans, elegant jackets, bombers, polo shirts and leather shoes.
The Japanese preppy style did not remain within the walls of Tokyo but also became famous among the wealthy young people of Kobe and Nagoya with the name of new tora (from the English "new traditional") thanks to the An-An magazine. The same thing happened in Yokohama where the trend was named hama tora and the reference magazine was JJ.
In these cities the preppy style was adopted in a more mature way especially by girls, who sported casual and comfortable looks (cardigans, knee-length skirts and blazers) embellished with accessories by Louis Vuitton, YSL, Fendi, Celine and Pucci scarves. Many of them also played tennis and golf.
On the wave of the adoption of the Western style, in Japan there was also the ita kaji ("Italian Casual"), the style of clothing inspired by Italy.
Italian fashion was interpreted in a casual style with shirts, whitewashed jeans and high fashion accessories. To conclude the look there was the way of posing, especially of men, as fascinating sex symbols.
The main reference magazine was Men's Club.
From the second half of the 1980s and the achievement of the maximum peak of social and economic well-being, the new generational blocks of women adopt a more mature and conscious style. This trend, which laid the foundations for the shibukaji of the 90s, can be summarized in the bodikon ("body conscious"), inspired above all by the Hervé Leger brand: choice of mono-colored dresses that emphasize the shape of the body, coordinated jackets, décolleté in leather with medium heel.
If at the beginning it was a more conservative style, with the end of the 80s the bodikon became more sensual and linked to the nightlife of clubs. Between 1991 and 1994 the Tokyo base for this change was Juliana's nightclub. Dozens of office workers gathered here during the day to dance to the sound of Italo house and hardcore techno and wearing mini spandex dresses and micro bikinis. It was an important style change, so much so that disco outfits were not worn during the day and the most extreme style choices were adopted by professional dancers.
Among the reasons that led to the closure of the Juliana's, which attracted an immeasurable amount of customers, there was precisely the fact that the women danced almost naked among the men.
Attending clubs and discos was very popular from the second half of the 1980s due to the arrival in Japan of Eurobeat imported from Italy and Germany as the soundtrack of ParaPara nightclubs.