Towards Sustainable Design in New York Fashion Week: Titania Inglis

Titania Inglis, AW 2011

A "new" designer Titania Inglis is developing a well-thought and consistent language, which explores the possibilities of modular designs in tandem with the use of recycled and organic material. Trained at the well-known Design Academy Eindhoven, she is presenting her fourth collection, which includes some incredibly well-constructed modular jackets.

Inglis developed the fall 2011 collection in the spirit of pairing down: "draping garments with fewer seams, including a skirt made all in one piece; slitting open seams, as with the slash back top; and literally cutting away the back of last fall's wrap jacket to create the arc jacket, with its removable back panel." This experimental, yet functional, construction techiniques were paired with an intelligent fabric sourcing: "a mix of dead stock wool and cotton from New York's garment district, and organic cotton from Japan's famed denim mills."

Below is a video of Inglis' first collection featuring members of the Merce Cunningham's Dance Company!

Japanese Fashion - Past, Present, Future?

by Sarah Scaturro

Issey Miyake's new 132 5 collection as displayed in the Barbican Art Gallery's exhibition "Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion." Photo by Barbican Art Gallery.

We all know that fashion is an expression of the zeitgeist – a style or trend can explode out of seemingly nowhere, with disparate tribes and geographies adopting it simultaneously. Fashion exhibitions are no different. The past few years have seen many exhibitions mounted on similar topics (colors, sustainability, glamour, etc). Currently there are two very different exhibitions on display about Japanese fashion. The first is “Japan Fashion Now” at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT) in New York City, and the second is “Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion” at the Barbican Art Gallery in London.

There are some obvious similarities between these exhibitions – both are curated by top curators in the field (Valerie Steele at MFIT and the Kyoto Costume Institute’s Akiko Fukai at the Barbican). Both focus on Japanese fashion designers and celebrate their contributions to the Western fashion system. Both show looks dating back to 30 years ago and pay attention to contemporary Japanese sub-cultures. But that’s it. Their interpretations, exhibition design and overall approaches are radically different. I first visited the MFIT exhibition “Japan Fashion Now” when it opened - having seen almost all MFIT exhibitions over the past 6 years, I figured I knew what to expect. I was happily surprised to see that the first gallery of the show had been enlarged and was dedicated exclusively to early works by the groundbreaking designers who were the first to put Japanese fashion on the map: Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, Hanae Mori, and Yohji Yamamoto were among this group. This immediately made a lot of sense, since the thesis of the show was about what is happening now in Japan, rather than in the 1980/90s. I asked a close friend of mine what she thought about this first room after visiting it on her own. “They look like dead, headless corpses in a cemetery” she replied, citing the dark room, low ceilings and headless white mannequins wearing somber colored garments as the main issue. Now, she isn’t familiar with the challenges of the introductory gallery space and fashion exhibition display in general (low ceilings, low light levels, stiff mannequins, etc.), but she did have a point, especially when contrasted to the main exhibition space with its J-Pop music, vibrant colors, and soaring walls vinyled in a Tokyo-like cityscape. She also could have been reacting to the severity and deconstructed qualities of the garments on display in the first gallery – I could only imagine how shocking they must have seemed at the time when they were first shown decades ago. I personally thought the first gallery was a meditative moment, and was a nice contrast to the main exhibition space.

The first gallery in the "Japan Fashion Now" exhibition at MFIT. Photo by MFIT.

Entering into the main exhibition gallery, I was dynamically swept into a miniature city landscape. MFIT really used the gallery’s too-high ceiling to their advantage, creating a sort of mini-Harujuku by stitching together photos of Tokyo buildings and enlarging them to cover all the gallery walls. This mise-en-scène held more recent looks from designers also shown in the first gallery, but focused mainly on the contemporary generation of Japanese fashion designers. The platform featuring menswear designers was especially insightful, as it succinctly displayed a lot of what Japanese fashion is known for: technology, heritage, authenticity, gender-bending, punk, deconstruction, playfulness, elegance, etc. I really wanted to like the section on subcultures and street fashion, but it just didn’t resonate with me. The scary teenage girl mannequins were one problem, but the main reason was that part of the success of the subculture movement is that it is about a fantastical (and powerful) sense of individualism and performance. Without seeing the actual girl wearing the clothes, with her movements, voice, hair, shoes, etc, I just didn’t buy it – they looked more like costumes for Halloween than street-fashion. Although, maybe that was the point. It was nice to see MFIT touch upon the tribal, or “zoku,” subcultures (I remember being infatuated with the style of the Bosozoku [motorcycle gangs] when I lived in Japan a decade ago) as well as the never-ending search for “authenticity,” particularly concerning Japanese denim.

View of the first floor gallery from the second floor of the "Future Beauty" exhibition. Photo by Sarah Scaturro

The joyful cacophony of color, styles and sound at the MFIT exhibition contrasts sharply with the white, almost Zen-like design of the Barbican show. “Future Beauty” is broken up into two floors, with the second floor essentially a square with an open center, looking down onto the first floor gallery. Just like MFIT exploited the high ceilings of their main gallery, the Barbican used the high ceilings of the first floor to hang sheer white silk-like panels of fabric. As a design element, these fabric panels served several purposes - they made a pathway through the exhibition, they delineated themes, and they created small, intimate moments in which to view the garments, sometimes only a single look. The show itself was broken into several themes, with the first floor exploring “In Praise of Shadows,” “Flatness,” “Tradition and Innovation,” and “Cool Japan.” My favorite section on the first floor was “Flatness,” which displayed Miyake’s A Piece of Cloth and Pleats concepts in a dynamic and inventive way, and also included a separate display of Kawakubo’s garments shown on mannequins coupled with Naoya Hatakeyama’s photos of the same garments flattened out. As Fukai in the Gallery Guide points out, “the interstices between fabric and figure…represent an expression of ‘ma’ – the Japanese concept which views the void between objects as a rich, energized space.” The “Cool Japan” section was the only nod to street fashion and sub-cultural styles in the exhibition. Interestingly, whereas MFIT showed actual street fashion garments, the Barbican displayed only high fashion garments inspired by street fashion, anime and “zoku” style (designers included Ohya, Zucca, Jun Takahashi and Tao Kurihara). Fukai mentions that these designers were “eschew[ing] the visual overload common to Tokyo street fashion in favor of a simpler, more iconic use of manga characters.” I think this comment can be extended to describe the two exhibition design approaches in general – one is about visual overload, while the other is about restraint.

The second floor featured small vignettes of the work by the most well-known (and presumably most important) Japanese designers, including Miyake, Yamamoto, Takahashi, Kurihara, Watanabe, and Kawakubo. It also included a section on Mintdesigns, a duo who use print and graphics in an almost “fetishistic” manner, as well as another section on “The Next Generation,” which included work by Chitose Abe, Tamae Hirokawa and Akira Naka. Honestly, after seeing all other sections before, I was underwhelmed by the choices included in “The Next Generation” – they seemed a lot like rehashings of ideas already expressed by earlier generations of Japanese designers. The section on Kawakubo was especially touching, as it showed several looks from her revered 1997 Spring/Summer collection Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body, as well as a video showing the actual runway show. I had never actually seen the runway show, so I had no idea that the audience was rapturously clapping as each model appeared and walked down the runway.

The titles to the two exhibitions give the most overt clue to their fundamental difference – the MFIT show focuses on celebrating the here and now of Japanese style, whereas the Barbican show leaves a distinct feeling that the glory years of Japanese fashion are mostly in the past (even though its title ironically includes the phrase "Future Beauty.") I left the MFIT show with a sense that Japanese fashion was fun, quirky, youth-oriented and democratic, whereas the Barbican show seemed to elevate all of Japanese fashion into the cerebral realm of art (I think the fact that the MFIT exhibit was free whereas the Barbican show cost around $18 also contributed to that mindset.)

A large part of the disconnect between the two exhibitions has to do with the fact that the Barbican exhibit was curated by a Japanese fashion insider, whereas the MFIT show was organized by an outsider looking in at contemporary Japanese culture. This inside/outside dichotomy can’t be overstressed, as it plays into every aspect of interaction Japan has with outside cultures – even fashion. (As someone who has lived in Japan, I am very aware of having always been considered a “gaijin,” which means “alien.”) Fukai even presented a run of fashion show invitations from Miyake that she had actually received, further emphasizing her own inclusion, and by extension authority, in the realm of Japanese fashion. Precise and tightly-edited, “Future Beauty” is the exact vision and message of Japanese fashion that Fukai wants the rest of the world to know – no more and no less. Steele, perhaps cognizant of her American audience (as well as the FIT student body), has presented her own interpretation of Japanese fashion that is in many ways more in-line with American values and tastes through its emphasis on youth, democracy and individuality. Ideally, a visit to the MFIT exhibition would be coupled with a visit to the Barbican exhibition. The two exhibitions, with their disparate foci and approaches actually complement each other, bringing a fuller understanding of just how revolutionary and influential Japanese fashion was, and still is, both inside and outside of Japan.

Japan Fashion Now is on display until April 2, 2011.

Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion is on display until February 6, 2011.

Sarah Scaturro

Wrestling for Attention

Wrestlers' Performance in conjunction with Fashion Night Out at Project 8. Photo CK.

It has been interesting to notice how far fashion and the fashion week/show phenomenon has seeped into popular culture and public awareness. Fashion Night Out and the public show at the Lincoln Center seem to have aided the frenzied attention. Sometimes, the interest in the phenomenon is such that the spectacle is greater than the work on show, as commented by fashion critics such as Cathy Horyn in the New York Times. Hopefully, in the end all the frenzy will aid the awareness of fashion as an important socio-cultural phenomenon which mediates contemporary cultural anxieties and aspirations, in part specifically because of how central fashion is to the progressive spectacularizationof contemporary society.

As fashion theorist Caroline Evans writes: “In periods in which ideas about the self seem to be unstable, or rapidly shifting, fashion itself can shift to centre stage and play a leading role in constructing images and meaning , as well as articulating anxieties and ideals.” Evans, Fashion at the Edge, London: Yale University Press, 1993

My very favourite event/performance this fashion week was one at Project 8 in the Lower East Side. An ambiguous spectacle of male virility and physical bonding, it showed young wrestlers holding artfully choreographed wrestling poses. It seemed an ironic take on the choreographed and synchronized female dancers, such as the Tiller Girls, which Siegfried Kracauer placed at the center of the spectacle of modernity, or perhaps more simply an ironic reference to the fashion show as a carefully choreographed spectacle of bodies in space.


Wrestlers' Performance in conjunction with Fashion Night Out at Project 8. Photo CK.

Fashion and the Humanities: Exploring New Angles

by Rizvana Bradley

I am currently completing my sixth year of Ph.D. work in the Literature Program at Duke University, and am working to develop a variety of critical approaches to theorizing fashion and the body. I have taught courses at Duke that are intended to enable students to recognize how various literary, filmic and artistic texts continue to richly shape fashion culture, and highlight the complex theoretical and social issues contemporary fashion thematizes.

Having greatly admired the academic work coming out of Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, I was excited to introduce students at Duke to the field now referred to as critical fashion studies. Initially I was at a loss as to how to design such a course, as some four years ago there was nothing like the CSM model being taught in US universities. Typically courses would mention fashion incidentally, or as an object of inquiry. With respect to the latter approach, fashion is constructed either purely as an anthropological object, proposing an analysis of historical dress, or as a sociological phenomenon, providing a detailed account of subcultural styles, for example. I knew that content-wise, the course I wanted to develop would incorporate the best of these strategies, but be less a fashion history course. I was most interested in concentrating on aesthetics, and spotlighting the visionary photography and runway productions happening in fashion since the late 1980s.

From the start it was evident that students had little exposure to an international fashion culture, the richness and eclecticism of various fashion figures, image-makers, entrepreneurs and designers. The courses challenged them to think about designers’ creative efforts in refreshing new ways. The first course, “Contemporary Fashion: Image, Object, Idea,” I taught once. I then taught a course entitled, “Fashion, Literature and the Avant-Garde,” twice. The final course, “Art, Media and the Body,” placed fashion in dialogue with the contemporary arts more broadly. All of these courses include fashion in the context of discussions about contemporary artistic practices that are currently provoking key concerns in the humanities, specifically questions of discourse, identity, representation and subjectivity, as well as certain questions about aesthetics, materiality and difference. Students learn that some of the most innovative fashion designers explore these themes in complex, beautiful and challenging ways. For this reason, the readings for the courses draw from different disciplines, among them, philosophy, critical theory, science studies, and feminist theory.

Hussein Chalayan, Vogue, December 2008

Fashion does not exist in a vacuum, but is an art form that reflects socio-cultural mores, fears, anxieties and desires. Students are incredibly responsive to the visual material, and are required to analyze various collections by looking at detailed shots of garments, videos of runway shows, and interviews with designers. Key contemporary designers are examined against a backdrop of critical theory, feminist thought, history and philosophy. Students learn to approach fashion design with a critical (sometimes skeptical) eye and interpret the spectacle of a runway show or photographic image by relating the garments on models to such themes as trauma, modernity, gender, death and technology.

Collectively as a class, we explore the idea that the spirit of the avant-garde in fashion, runs parallel to the spirit of the artistic avant-garde in many ways, chief among them a resistance to representation, evident in a general turn toward abstraction. Increasingly fashion is partially turning away from the literal, from the tangible, and towards the ephemeral, the emotive and the affective. Students are encouraged to use a range of philosophical and critical themes to question the normative body, the virtual and figural construction of the body in time and space, and the bodily production of affect and sensation.

Studying designers as theatrical as John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, with the minimalist sensibilities of Yohji Yamamoto and Rick Owens, the different body experiments of Gareth Pugh and Walter van Beirendonck, and technological innovations of Hussein Chalayan, students were able to draw their own conclusions about today’s design practitioners, who seem to not only be working and making, but also thinking at the fringes of disciplines and design philosophies in order to expand the cultural scope of fashion today.

Elisava: Fashion, Film and Performance

Papabygote, Elisava, 2010

Another end of the year show which I visited in July was organized in conjunction with the graduation of the masters students in fashion design at Elisava, a school of design in Barcelona. It was great to witness the experimental and imaginative projects completed by the graduating class. In a testament to the multi-media nature of fashion today, the students were recquired to complete a collection, stage a performance to present their collection and produce a short video showcasing their work and the concepts behind it. Also in the spirit of collaborations, the majority of the students worked in pairs or more for the completion of the work—a system that brilliantly debunks the outdated notion of the “genius” artist (and by extension designer) for the more realistic idea of collaborative work.

The program is directed by Beatriu Malaret and Toni Miró; the year-end presentation was attended by Diana Pernet, the Parisian fashion critic and video journalist. Through Pernet, I learned that a number of different tutors from various disciplines work at Elisava (for instance, Alex Murray-Leslie of Chicks on Speed). This is probably one of the reasons for the experimental and innovative nature of the work.

One of my favourite pieces was the film and collection by Papabygote. Their short is witty and subtle and reminded me of the work of David Bestué and Marc Vives, the brilliant video artist duo, also from Barcelona.


Fuzz &, Elisava 2010