This week the Japanese provocateur hits 75 – we trace his work in the designs of Simone Rocha, Christopher Kane, Alexander McQueen and more
Despite the fact he turned a three-quarters of a century old this week, Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki’s influence shows no sign of waning. This year, the prolific artist – regarded as a pervert, provocateur and national treasure all at once – has already shaken up Amsterdam’s FOAM photography museum with a retrospective, and was a starring attraction of Somerset House’s Photo London exhibition this weekend, which brought together work created by the world’s most renowned photographers from over 70 galleries.
While fashion has long flirted with fetishism (bondage elements now ubiquitous – see Balmain’s rope dresses that cage the body, or Tom Ford’s ‘bondage boots’), it has never done it quite so unflinchingly as Araki, most famed for his images of kinbaku, the ancient Japanese art of rope bondage currently enjoying a surge of public interest (some thanks to FKA twigs, who appeared rigged up in black rope in the recent video for “Pendulum”). His kinbaku images are intimately linked to fashion – with women wearing elaborate kimono, their bodies often hoisted up to reveal what lies between their parted legs, Araki’s kinbaku images use explicit sexuality to interrogate ideas of tradition, challenging the hypocrisy of Japan’s erotic culture and conservative moralism.
An icon as celebrated as he is controversial, it’s no surprise that his subversive influence can be traced in the world of fashion. Here are four designers with their own ties to his work.
London designer Simone Rocha took inspiration from an exhibition of Araki’s bondage work at the Michael Hoppen Contemporary gallery for her SS14 show, arguing that she wanted her collection to “be more erotic this season”. Although to the untrained eye the collection felt like an exploration of typical femininity, the clothes thrummed with an undercurrent of sexuality, Rocha perverting pearls by fashioning them into chokers and pairing virginal veils with sheer tops and dresses. For the finale looks, black flowers lay in a lattice over sheer tops and skirts – recalling carefully coiled knots of rope.
With the coloured ropes that criss-crossed and knotted over models’ bodies, encircling waists and snaking across breasts in his SS15 show, it shouldn’t come as any huge surprise that Christopher Kane cited the photographer as a reference point for his collection – and counts Araki’s Tokyo Lucky Hole – a documentation the boom of the city’s underground sex clubs between 1983 and 1985 – as his favourite book. Araki’s is an inspiration you can trace through his work – like in the games of conceal and reveal he plays with fabrics, and his AW13 collection’s rigid rope dresses and the bands of looped of thread that ran across shoulders and around waists.
Riccardo Tisci is a designer whose work thrives on the darker side of sex appeal, often incorporating bondage elements – see Givenchy’s SS15 lace up corsets, bodysuits and thigh high boots, inspired by a time when fashion was “all about sexuality”. Last year he paired up with Araki to creative direct a shoot with him for Vogue Japan’s July 2014 issue, bringing model muse Naomi Campbell along. While she didn’t get all tied up, Campbell did pose in the house’s AW14 collection in the traditional Japanese setting often favoured by Araki – Tisci himself even joining her and some geisha girls for one shot.
SARAH BURTON AT MCQUEEN
For SS15, Sarah Burton’s collection for Alexander McQueen returned both to her own research trips to Japan and to the darker sexuality that both McQueen and Araki explored in their work. Models, their faces half concealed with PVC masks, filed past two large orchid sculptures (a flower heavily documented by Araki) in leather harnesses that crossed the body, graphic blooms decorating python skins and a group of kimono-inspired dresses. Legs were laced into shoes with cords that wrapped around the calf. Burton’s women were beautiful but inaccessible, and, to the mind of Dazed editor Isabella Burley, recalled one Araki quote in particular: “Women? Well they are gods...Since I can’t tie their hearts up, I tie their bodies up instead.”