Sartorial Deconstruction: The Nature of Conceptualism in Postmodernist Japanese Fashion Design

By Bonnie English.

Published by The Humanities Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

For over 30 years the confrontational work of Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme Des Garcons has challenged traditional tropes and revolutionised the course of the international fashion industry. Within a postmodernist context, fashion as visual arts practice has learned to embrace notions of memory, cognitive association and feminist ideology. Previous conspicuous consumptive patterns succumbed to the new left and crossed boundaries of cultural aestheticism, offering to consumers clothing that was more than merely a “second skin”. Yohji Yamamoto’s deconstructive style, in particular, articulated the concept of imperfect beauty: dignity masked in the garb of implied poverty; and underlined the role of simplicity and perishability in Japanese aesthetics. At the same time, Rei Kawakubo questioned Western consumers’ acceptance of banal fashion that was devoid of intellectual reference or symbolism, by offering clothing that embodied individuality and humanity, closely allied to ambiguous, evocative meaning.

This paper will frame Giles Lipovetsky’s argument that identity through individualism in dress has become the primary purpose of fashion design in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In the trend towards syndication and other globalisation strategies, it will consider how this melding of contemporary cross-cultural influences set a precedent on the catwalks of Paris by embracing the strengths implicit in non-Western traditional cultures. The paper will argue that the impact of the Japanese designers was considerable in terms of changing design directions, construction and finishing techniques, presentation, distribution and marketing. Finally, it will position notions of anti-fashion and the anti-aesthetic in today’s society.

Keywords: Fashion, Contemporary, Japanese Designers, Yamamoto, Kawakubo, Comme des Garcons, Conceptualism, Deconstruction, Postmodernism, Memory, Meaning, Feminist Ideologies

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp.81-86. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 726.907KB).

Assoc. Prof. Bonnie English

Associate Professor, Art & Design Theory Department, Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

My research history has focused on an interdisciplinary study of the relationship of fashion design to society and the visual and applied arts. It specifically considered the decline of elitist practice and the rise of democratisation in fashion in the 20th century. For the past 12 years I have studied the fashion design work of the Japanese fashion designers Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of the Comme des Garcons label. I curated the first major exhibition of Japanese contemporary fashion in Australia entitled ‘Tokyo Vogue: Japanese and Australian Fashion’ (Sept –Dec 1999) at the Brisbane City Hall Gallery.Berg publishers (Oxford) contracted ‘A History of 20th Century Fashion: From the Catwalk to the Sidewalk’ which was published in 2007. “Fashion: the 50 most influential designers of all time” was published by A & C Black Publishers in London in 2009, and Barron’s Educational Books in New York in 2010. Cambridge University Press, Melbourne published “Australian Fashion Unstitched: the last 60 years” and Berg (Oxford) will publish “The Work and Influence of Japanese Fashion Designers: Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo” 2011 to correspond with the Yohji Yamamoto retrospective exhibition at the V & A Museum, London.


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