Japanese fashion in the 90s - PART 1
The 1980s represented for Japan both the entry on the scene in the world panorama of fashion and the economy, and the construction of a new identity, its own and a complete break with all Western stylistic codes (here the entire in-depth study).
The transition from the golden decade to the "lost decade" of the 90s was marked by a continuity of formal integrity, respect for traditions and, at the same time, a search for escape dictated by Western musical influences.
However, there is a fundamental fact to underline, namely that after almost ten years from the 1982 Destroy collection by Rei Kawakubo in Paris, Westerners have managed to digest deconstructivism and have drawn from it heavily.
The beginning of the 90s in the West was therefore represented by a host of designers who appealed to the punk choices of Japanese designers to standardize a new way of interpreting their own identity. Fashion in the United States and Europe of the early 1990s was called minimalist.
Minimalism, of which the Japanese were trend setters in the early 1980s, is an artistic current that developed in the United States from the 1960s and 1970s. This term was coined by the art philosopher Richard Wollheim in the article "Minimal Art" for Art Magazine, in which he analyzed the change in art in that period: reduction of reality, spherical shapes derived from geometry, coldness, emphasis on objectivity , modular structures, pure shapes, neutral colors and materials taken from industrial technology. Also in that period, the architect Mies Van Der Rohe coined the slogan: Less is more.
The first great interpreter in the fashion of this current was the designer Helmut Lang who with his severe silhouette, technical and synthetic fabrics, eliminated the gender division by proposing an androgynous style. He removed the superfluous and romanticism, merging for the first time the bourgeois fashion with the street style of the most disadvantaged classes.
On the other hand, reconnecting in a more visceral way to Kawakubo's deconstructivism was the avant-garde Martin Margiela, who destroyed and reassembled clothes, taking back a sartorial freedom typical of the 70s and kintsugi. His vision, like the Japanese one, was one of subtraction and recovery instead of luxury and ostentation, values of the hedonism of the 1980s. He took up the concept of material break typical of punk, as demonstrated by jeans and cut T-shirts. He took away the colors from the clothes and the shapes of the body, reducing the erotic charge to the bone.
These were the foundations of a new conception of the dress, which for the first time was objectively considered ugly and which represents a series of disturbing and unsightly values. It was therefore no coincidence that these designers were not understood from the beginning, but rather that they were fiercely criticized and opposed.
The French and Italian style of the 1980s had been regarded as the pinnacle of luxury and social and economic well-being. Giorgio Armani was the first great interpreter of the transition towards a more comfortable and androgynous style, with his soft dresses an ode to the bourgeoisie and respectability and in total contrast to the colorful and intriguing seduction of classic inspiration by Gianni Versace. Armani revived the values of male and female power, which monotonous clothes were devoid of erotic charge. It is no coincidence that one of his most iconic collections of 1981-82 was inspired by Japan.
The further leap, which in Italy led to the inauguration of a new era, was made by Miuccia Prada.
Having become the owner in 1978 of the initial Fratelli Prada leather goods (founded in 1913 with headquarters in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele), Miuccia proposed in 1988 her first pret-à-porter fashion show that critics did not like. With it, however, he instituted for the first time the ugly in fashion, the "ugly chic" characterized by motifs from the 60s and 70s, "unacceptable" colors such as brown, unconventional materials such as nylon and the production of it bags. with an anonymous design (like the 1985 backpack in Pocono, a material she patented).
Miuccia had the ability to draw from her feminist and counter-current past (she was a sixty-eight in her youth) and to define the style of the Milanese bourgeoisie by combining the strongly tailored cut of clothes with feminine quirks.
A great lover and collector of modern art (Observatory and Fondazione Prada), Miuccia has always had a very strong bond with Japan. In fact, she is famous for the Prada building in Aoyama, Tokyo, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, as well as the numerous references to Nipponism in the fashion shows - such as the SS 2013 collection.
The ugly, the bad taste and the tailoring are also found in the first fashion shows of Alexander McQueen, whose theatrical genius took fashion to another level, that of the state of the art. McQueen's fashion was disturbing, sick, incomprehensible and grotesque. His first collections went back to the Middle Ages, to car accidents, to the theme of death and rape. Many of his shows did not please anyone, some even made those present escape. He was even forced to leave Givenchy after John Galliano (another English subversive). Defined as a "fashion hooligan", McQueen took full advantage of Savile Row's English couture and tailoring, merging them with the subcultures of the street, creating veritable tableaux vivants and museum representations.
The culture of "sick" was also what allowed Tom Ford to save the Gucci brand in those years, offering a languid style with glamorous connotations typical of the American 70s.
Staying in the US, another designer changed the way Westerners dress as well as the way they perceive their bodies: Calvin Klein became famous for revolutionizing underwear, introducing women's boxers and eliminating any frivolity from clothes and underwear.
His "sick" and minimalist style caused a huge sensation when he reached the pinnacle of stardom in 1995 with the advertising campaign for the Obsession perfume, created by photographer Herb Ritts and what was an unknown model at the time: Kate Moss. Totally different from the aesthetic standards of that period, Moss was short, extremely thin and with a child's face. Her still immature body caused a scream of pedophilia scandal and the campaign was withdrawn only three weeks after launch. It was the "heroin chic" aesthetic that went hand in hand with Klein's proposal for the new uniform for New Yorkers: the office suit and evening aperitif. Comfortable, versatile and glam, the men and women of New York dressed alike giving a successful image - a modern interpretation of the suit that for the first time undermined the strict office uniform typical of New York but which instead it remained in Japan and defined the aesthetics of the Tokyo salaryman.
Among the various reasons that led the Japanese to seek an identity in the street there was precisely the rebellion against the uniform, both school and office. In the 90s a costume revolution was defined that had already begun to take hold a short time before with the disco bodikon version.
Kawakubo herself, who in the 1980s had undermined any certainty of Western customs, continued her philosophical discourse on the catwalk in the 1990s, anticipating the times and destroying any type of convention.
In 1992 she presented the Unfinished collection, emblem of her intellectual pursuit of her: primitive clothes that brought back to a beginning that was both the goal and the landing point of her reflection on the creative process.
1993 was the year of Synergy: Six months earlier Kawakubo anticipated the Marc Jacobs collection for Perry Ellis (after which Jacob's fashion show will be fired by the brand - remember the editorial for Vogue America by Steven Meisel and Grace Coddington) : two collections that defined the grunge aesthetic, a subculture of Seattle's early 90s music scene and embodied by Nirvana's Kurt Cobain.
The grunge style was represented by flannel shirts, slip dresses, Doc Martens, worn jeans and oversized garments.
In 1995 he presented the Trascending Gender collection, in which the male wardrobe was deconstructed, enriched with rouches and worn by women.
The stylistic summa of Comme des Garçons can probably be found in the 1997 collection Dress Meets Body, Body Meets Dress: there is no limit to the silhouette and the boundaries of the shapes of the human body, which is enlarged, pumped, carried to excess and deformed. in grotesque anatomical sculptures.
Although Japan has once again presented a conception of the body so alien to the West, and despite the latter at the beginning of the 90's has learned to express itself with fashion, cinema, photography and music in a conceptual and minimal sense , at that first moment the Rising Sun still appeared in the eyes of the rest of the world as a curious hybrid characterized by an incredibly large group of salarymen who spent their time in the office and by absurd and unattainable technological inventions. The Japanese seemed to be strange, standardized, mechanized creatures, without a soul, capable of creating something inhuman and destabilizing in art.
The first half of the 90s in Japan saw the foundations for changes that will be epoch-making for the land of the Rising Sun itself.
Emperor Hirohito died in 1989, whose name is still closely linked to the 1980s boom in the real estate market (in Tokyo alone the value of real estate increased by over 60% in just one year - Ryu Murakami described a lot well the late 80s in Japan in his book Tokyo Decadence and in the film of the same name). His successor was Akihito: in 1991 the end of the "speculative bubble" in Japan was marked and a slow decline in economic stagnation began. However, at first there was still a deep desire to remain anchored to the glories of the 1980s and the younger generations adhered to the style of the old European hedonism by reinterpreting it in a more natural way. This was the case of shibukaji (Shibuya casual - a Japanese interpretation in a certain sense fusion of Bon Chic Bon Genre, bodikon and Preppy of young people of the wealthiest classes) and of French casual, a style born on the wave of brands like Agnès b, inspired by to a vintage French fashion consisting of beige trench coats, striped T-shirts, berets and colors taken from the French national flag.
The foundations were also laid for what at the end of the millennium will be the high school trend (kogal), the paragal style (paradise girl), inspired by Californian casual that does not give up on femininity.
The expression of male homosexuality was represented by the femmi style, which drew on the fashion of the 70s-80s clubs and was characterized by flashy, tight-fitting outfits and bondage accessories. The gender boundary thinned more and more until the genders completely mixed.
It was a trend that also in the West had taken hold thanks to the electronic rock, new wave and alternative rock music scene, as evidenced by queer-looking, glamorous groups with fetishist references such as Depeche Mode and Placebo.
It is important to remember that in those days there was no internet: trends came to Japan through music, films, magazines or, for the lucky few who could travel, looks were imported home. What the Japanese did was start from a concept and develop a trend that traced all aspects of it: clothes, accessories, behavior, language and lifestyle. What Kawakubo had done (expressing a concept through fashion as an art form) starting from the 90s was also done by the boys who walked around Shibuya and Harajuku, the youth fashion centers of Tokyo.
Right near Harajuku, in the silent area of Arahara, the forge of Japanese street-style developed thanks to Hiroshi Fujiwara: in the 80s he visited New York where he came into contact with the hip hop scene - a musical genre born in the years' 70 in the Bronx and which will be well represented years later by Larry Clark in the film Kids (1995).
Fujiwara was the first to bring US musical productions to Japan, as well as graffiti culture, rap, break dance and urban clothing style that merged with the typical Japanese punk conception of those years: he was the founding father of the Ura-Harajuku scene and one of the major street-style influencers in the world (remember the HTM lines for Nike and Fenom for Levi's), founding his brand Good Enough in 1990.
Two other names made the history of fashion in those years. Tomoaki Nagao (aka Nigo) who, after studying at Bunka Fashion College (the same where Yohji Yamamoto studied), printed the first oversized t-shirts to combine with second-hand jeans, cargo pants and Nike sneakers. He worked together with Jun Takahashi (of Undercover), opening the Nowhere shop in 1993, a reference point for street artists and those who could not fit into the canons of society.
Some time later, Nigo opened the shop of his brand Bape (A Bathing Ape) not far from Nowhere, where he had the graffiti artists draw on the sheets instead of on the walls in order to bring the designs on sweatshirts and t-shirts, b-boy and b-girl (those who danced the break dance). It is no coincidence that Bape collaborated with the Supreme brand, which in those years was becoming popular in New York.
These artists also found space in the sector magazines of the time: Fujiwara in fact edited the "Last Orgy" column for Takarajima (magazine that had been dealing with subcultures since the 1970s), while Nigo wrote for Popeye (whose column was renamed "Last Orgy 2 "): both dealt with themes concerning sub-cultures, skate, DJs, urban fashion, English punk (here a discussion on this theme) and cinema.
For the first time that such a young section of Japanese society clearly rebelled against the imposed standards. The guys who wore street-style were in their twenties who couldn't find their place in an oppressive society and which had very high expectations. It is in fact known how demanding and decisive the Japanese school is for the future of students: many of them found themselves for the first time not wanting to correspond to the pre-established social ideal.
In the 1970s there were female gangs in schools (the sukebans) that wreaked havoc and caused fights, but they were isolated cases of failed students and failed girls. The phenomenon of the 90s was instead much more extensive and rooted.
During the years of the Cold War and economic paralysis, one of the fastest growing and most incredible countries in the world discovered a restless youth who wanted to find an identity outside the school or office uniform and who used the stylistic canons of the suburbs of New York to show the non-belonging to a granite order, which so fascinated and which still today intrigues the West.
What is interesting is that the Japanese have taken the American street-style, have digested it and proposed it in a completely personal way and that today, in the second decade of the '00s, Westerners (especially Europeans) take up these codes to determine with trap music (sub-genre of hip hop) the malaise caused by the economic crisis, the stagnation of consumption and the uncertainty caused by the largest global pandemic in history.