Tokyo-based designer Tomo Koizumi stole the spotlight with his New York Fashion Week 2019 debut featuring extravagant, colourful, carnation-like gowns that filled the stage with magic last week. Koizumi represents today's emerging talents that Japan has never ceased to offer to the industry. With their reputation for creativity and innovation, designers from the East have revolutionized the runway by presenting art-inspired, traditional-meets-modern creations that have greatly influenced the West and dramatically transformed the world of fashion.
Meet the most prominent Japanese designers behind the revolution:
The 70s was a decade of economic growth for Japan which triggered the rise of Japanese influence on global fashion. The year was 1970 when Issey Miyaki established his fashion house, the Miyaki Design Studio in Tokyo. Having worked as an assistant at two fashion houses in Paris and designed under Geoffrey Beane in New York, Miyaki incorporated the cultures of East and West in his creative process by combining traditional handcrafts with modern technology. His innovative pieces were featured in Paris Fashion Week which paved way for a number of collaborations and the ultimate development of his trademark concept, “a piece of cloth”. In 1993, his famous Pleats Please line was born which offered elegant, practical, easy-to-wear clothing fit for the modern woman.
The same decade gave birth to Kenzo Takada’s pioneering force that fuelled the takeover of Japanese fashion in Paris. The founding of the House of Kenzo in 1970 led to the opening of his first boutique, Jungle Jap, where he started out with handmade women’s clothing that quickly became popular among consumers of the time. As his work continued to dominate the catwalk, he ultimately expanded into men’s fashion, fragrance and skincare, while maintaining his signature style of unconventional delicateness.
Hanae Mori's contribution to couture and womenswear represents a fusion of Asian-inspired print fabrics and luxurious Western tailoring. In 1975, she moved to Paris where she presented her first collection and opened a haute couture salon. She became the first Asian designer to be admitted as an official haute couture design house by La Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, the governing body of French fashion. Mori designed costumes for international ballet, film and opera productions such as the Madame Butterfly (1985) in Milan where she earned the butterfly symbol as her own trademark.
Japan is home to one of the original avant-garde fashion designers, Rei Kawakubo. Since her Paris debut in 1981, her work has strongly expressed her conceptualist notion of fashion as a form of art. Her roughly distressed fabrics stitched together in helter-skelter ways were branded by critics as "post-atomic." Bravely deviating from the norms with her radical techniques, Kawakubo has inspired various designers such as Lang, Margiela and Demeulemeester. Her widely-followed iconic label, Comme des Garçons, continues to carry the revolution she started.
Like Kawakubo, Yamamoto has always been a creator of both fashion and the art. His Paris debut, also presented in 1981, showcased the role of shapes and asymmetry in his oversized, all-black, playfully tailored clothes which featured avant-garde silhouettes in various textures. His rebellious designs were initially described as “Hiroshima chic,” but were ultimately held in high esteem in the fashion industry until today. Yamamoto’s label is famous for having collaborated with huge brands such as Hermès and Adidas, and personalities such as Elton John.
His apprenticeship to Rei Kawakubo in the Comme des Garçons house marks the beginning of Junya Watanabe’s auspicious fashion career. Following the launch of his namesake label under CdG in 1992, Watanabe quickly gained international critical acclaim for his dexterous use of textiles and innovative pattern manipulation. His futuristic conceptual designs earned him partnerships with big brands like Levi’s, Converse and Puma.