Hajime Sorayama is renowned for his android pin-ups
While the women’s cruise collections continue to be a regular source of eye-popping spectacle, with brands flying hundreds of editors and stylists across the globe for big budget extravaganzas, menswear has largely stuck to the schedule – that is, until Kim Jones stepped into the picture at Dior Men.
For his first show back in July, Jones commissioned the artist KAWS to design a colossal and cartoonish interpretation of Monsieur Dior himself covered in roses and peonies, as Underworld’s Born Slippy boomed from the speakers and models stormed the runway in everything from pastel, loosely-cut tailoring to luxurious tracksuits – a canny reflection of the breadth of Jones’ devoted following, which ranges from high-flying businessmen to hypebeasts.
For his show on Friday, he upped the ante once again. Attendees were greeted by a 39-foot tall cyborg in slick, mercurial silver, which became the reflective centrepiece of a mind-blowing laser show. Jones’ tenure at Dior Men so far has been characterised by the creative partners he has surrounded himself with, from cult jewellery designer Yoon Ahn of Ambush to Matthew Williams of streetwear brand Alyx, so it came as little surprise that the man behind the sculpture was another carefully chosen collaborator: the celebrated Japanese illustrator Hajime Sorayama.
Across five important moments in Sorayama’s career, we look at his extraordinary influence across culture and technology – and discover why he couldn’t be a more perfect choice of collaborator for Dior’s menswear in the age of Kim Jones.
HIS ART IS A PROVOCATIVE EXPLORATION OF SEX IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Growing up in the small city of Imabari in the south of Japan, Sorayama spent his adolescence sketching Playboy models: however, it wasn’t until he graduated from art school and began working in an advertising agency that he received the unusual commission that would lead to the development of his signature style. His brief was to design a robot character based on C-3PO that was just dissimilar enough to avoid breaching copyright law, which quickly snowballed into his discovery of a new formula: the ‘sexy robot’, also the title of his seminal 1983 picture book.
Describing the style as one of ‘superrealism’, the gleaming, super-smooth fembots he conjured mimicked the poses of western archetypes of beauty like Marilyn Monroe and Jane Fonda in Barbarella, subverting this fleshy eroticism with the eeriness of their cold, metallic bodies. It’s an icy-cool cocktail that reflects both a wider Japanese talent for provocative erotic art and the country’s status as a pioneer in computer technology. At a time when anxiety about artificial intelligence was reaching fever pitch, Sorayama was asking a more prosaic question: do androids dream of electric pin-ups?
HE DESIGNED THE PROTOTYPE OF SONY’S FAMOUS ROBOT DOG
Readers of a certain age will undoubtedly remember the debut of Sony’s AIBO back in 1999, which made headlines as the world’s first AI dog: both reflecting the zeitgeist of pre-millennium technological anxieties, and at the same time repackaging it into something cute and cuddly. Designed to offer all of the joy of the human-canine relationship without the stress of actually owning a dog - as well as some more distinctly Y2K features like barking when you received an email – it was at the top of Christmas gift wish lists around the globe. Even if, when looking back at YouTube videos now, it was actually pretty creepy.
For the distinctive style of the AIBO’s first generation, you have Sorayama to thank: his intuitive ability to blend anatomy with a robot aesthetic made him the top choice for Sony when they were developing production models of their new venture. Sorayama has always been open about his willingness to balance creative and commercial work throughout his career; the irony in this case is that an AIBO prototype now sits in New York’s MoMA.
THIS ISN’T SORAYAMA’S FIRST TIME AT THE FASHION RODEO
With Sorayama’s democratic approach to art-making, it’s little surprise that his collaboration with Dior isn’t his first venture into the world of fashion. Over the years his illustrations have adorned capsule collections for brands ranging from Juun.J to Forever 21, allowing fans of his across the world to buy their very own sartorial Saroyama.
Arguably his most iconic fashion collab was a bodysuit he developed with Thierry Mugler for the iconic French designer’s AW95 show, which transplanted his cyborg armour onto an actual model. The form-fitting space age design also included a very Sorayama peek-a-boo moment, with transparent perspex revealing the model’s breasts to provide a kinky twist. 25 years later, it continues to inspire fashion’s image makers; most recently, archive pieces from Mugler’s collection were worn by Cara Delevingne on a 2017 GQ cover to promote her sci-fi flick Valerian.
THE COLLABORATION WITH DIOR MAKES PERFECT SENSE
Even if his vision for Dior Men feels decidedly contemporary, Kim Jones has been emphatic that the legacy of Christian Dior’s vision is always present: whether that’s in Dior’s famous love of flowers (this time given a Japanese twist with the inclusion of cherry blossoms) or the house’s famous motif of the bee, which he invited KAWS to reinterpret for his previous collection.
Less known, perhaps, is the couturier’s love of Japan, with some of his most iconic designs being inspired by Japanese garments: his trademark wide sashes, for example, knotted like traditional obi belts, or the gentle, seamless shoulders that drape like kimonos. It was a mutual love affair, with Dior hosting small presentations for their growing Japanese clientele as far back as 1953; later that same decade, Princess Michiko of the country's royal family would choose to wear Dior for her wedding.
While the romance of traditional Japanese life may have evolved in the time since, Japan’s status as a site of relentless innovation offers a designer like Kim Jones a whole new set of aesthetic codes to work with, reflected in the collection’s utilitarian cross-body bags and buckles, or the classic saddle bag reworked in robotic steel. But in many ways, Soryoma’s monolith that sat as the show’s centrepiece holds something of that past, offering a present-day take on Dior’s worship of the female form. It’s a vision of female sexuality that manages to be both deeply futuristic and, in the fast-moving world of fashion, completely timeless.