On the future of Japan, fashion expert and curator Valerie Steele offers, "In the 80s it really looked like it was economic success, we all had to learn from Japan. At the same time you had these interesting dystopic novels that were set in some kind of neo-Tokyo of the future—much like the movie Blade Runner." "It seemed like Japan was on the cutting edge, but now it’s harder to tell because things have shaken up economically. But yes, Japan still has such advanced creativity—you see it in the arts, you see it in pop culture, you see it in fashion." Delving into such ideas and gives us some valuable insight on her newest exhibition, Japan Fashion Now, opening September 17th at the Museum at FIT.
Dazed Digital: How did the idea for this Japanese fashion exhibit come about?
Valerie Steele: Two shows ago I did “Gothic: Dark Glamour,” and there was one dress in it that was a Gothic Lolita. That got me thinking about how most of the shows that we’ve seen on Japanese fashion have been very limited. There have been several shows that have looked at the pioneers of the avant-garde—Comme des Garçons, Miyake, and Yohji—and there had been one really cool show about Japanese street style back in the 90’s that was in Australia, but nobody had done a show that looked at everything that was happening in Japan and compared it to the first Japanese fashion revolution of the 1980s.
I thought it would be interesting to try and pose the question, to have an introductory gallery about the Japanese fashion revolution, but then open it up and say, “Well what has been happening since then?”
DD: Why do you think Japanese designers such as Yohji Yamamoto etc. became so influential in the 1980s?
Valerie Steele: For complicated social and historical reasons the Japanese have a really interesting relationship with Western fashion, and they are really the first example of a country where their designers created an avant-garde development in modern fashion that transformed global fashion.
DD: The exhibit also features men’s wear. How do you think Takahiro Miyashita of Number (N)ine has influenced other Japanese men’s wear designers?
Valerie Steele: Number (N)ine is so important; it was just heartbreaking when they stopped producing. That was one of the first complete men’s wear outfits that we bought for the show. Takahiro was instrumental in beginning to introduce Westerners to all of this creativity there. There are men’s wear designers there that are inspired by everything from garage rock and grunge to Savile Row and Ivy League style—but they always twist it and end up making it as Japanese as Sony. It really comes out as something different—really chic and classic, but also something really warped and fantastically weird.
DD: I’ve been hearing a whole lot about Japanese singers Hangry and Angry…
Valerie Steele: Yes, Hangry and Angry are so cool! How do I even begin with that? There’s this designer h.NAOTO (Hiruko Naoto)—and he’s built this amazing empire doing all kinds of versions of Goth, punk and Lolita styles. His designs are really wonderful and strange.
Naoto and his company got together with a young cartoonist named Gashicon who came up with these two little “grotesque-cute” characters named Hangry and Angry—one was punk and the other was Goth. They became h.NAOTO’s mascots, and then he decided to start singing group. He found Hitomi Yoshizawa and Rika Ishikawa who became these characters, and they came out with the songs like “Kill Me Kiss Me” and all of these wild concerts. We’ve borrowed actual clothing from them, so that will be in the exhibition.
DD: The Gothic/Lolita trends have become pretty well known, but I’m not familiar with Forest Girl style–can you explain?
Valerie Steele: It’s very much a bricolage of do-it-yourself style. The Forest Girls are much more bohemian and neo-hippy-esque. The forest being referred to is the black forest, so again it’s the usual Japanese fascination with… think of all of the anime films that are set in this magical Eastern Europe that doesn’t quite exist, like “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” The style has aprons and lace and ribbons, and it has flat shoes and cloth bags instead of leather bags.
DD: Do you have a favourite piece of clothing in the exhibition?
Valerie Steele: It’s really hard to choose, it’ll be something new every day. I really love a lot of the men’s wear. This last trip to Tokyo I was just blown away by the Phenomenon runway show. The designer is a big fat guy named Big O, and his designs are very street in feeling because it’s inspired by garage rock, but its too expensive to be street wear. The lines between high fashion and street style have become very blurred.