Kansai Yamamoto isn’t a title that readily journeys off the tongue when talking about Japanese style design. Yohji is the Yamamoto that leaps to thoughts, a designer who upended Western concepts of gown alongside Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons in Paris within the early 1980s.
However Kansai (maybe to keep away from confusion, he tends to be referred to by his first title, somewhat than his final) received there first: He confirmed in London in 1971, a full decade earlier than Kawakubo and the opposite Yamamoto. And his singular aesthetic — overloaded with colour, print and Asiatic artwork inspirations galore — is proving particularly influential to designers at this time.
It's possible you'll not know Kansai’s title, however you’d acknowledge his garments — from David Bowie, if no-one else. In clashing synthetics and excessive-shine silks in a cacophony of jarring shades, they're loud, even obnoxious. With sculptural, summary shapes (practicality be damned!), they’re very best to be seen from the again of a stadium — which might be what attracted Bowie to them within the first place. Bowie began sporting Kansai’s ostensibly industrial ladies’s put on on his 1972 “Ziggy Stardust” tour, subsequently collaborating with the designer to create one-off showpieces.
Born in Yokohama, on Japan’s east coast, Kansai graduated from Tokyo’s Bunka Vogue School (additionally the coaching floor for Yohji Yamamoto, in addition to Junya Watanabe and Jun Takahashi of Undercover). He based his personal enterprise, Yamamoto Kansai Firm, Ltd, at 28. The London present adopted the identical 12 months, garnering consideration and securing Kansai’s debut the quilt of British Harpers & Queen journal. “Explosion From Tokyo” ran the coverline. That first present made sufficient waves to draw Bowie’s consideration, whose Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane excursions cemented the Kansai aesthetic in widespread tradition.
Kansai allies his clothes to the Japanese idea of basara — a love of colour and flamboyance. It’s additionally immediately in distinction with the thought of wabi-sabi, the Buddhist very best of the wonder in imperfection, modesty and humble supplies. None of that's terribly Kansai. His garments, in contrast, are extra readily related to the Azuchi–Momoyama interval of Japanese artwork, a transient, opulent period between the mid-16th and early 17th centuries. The artwork of that interval was fairly basara — lavish, ornamental, typically daring, even aggressive.
Kansai’s aesthetic is, surprisingly, seldom tagged as “Japanese.” Maybe that’s as a result of we have a tendency to think about Japan as wabi-sabi somewhat than basara — the previous being readily related to the deliberately distressed output of Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo from the early 1980s, a look the style press disparagingly dubbed “Bag Woman Stylish” and which stays, even at this time, the defining look of “Japanese” style. Against this, Kansai’s designs cherry-decide from Japanese historical past — and roam by way of Asian artwork as a entire, fusing disparate visuals — irezumi tattoos, Imperial Chinese language court docket robes from the Qing dynasty, a print derived from Hokusai’s “The Nice Wave Off Kanagawa” — into single clothes. Kansai’s prints and visible therapies echo the 2-dimensional nature of a lot Asian artwork — daring and graphic, somewhat than nuanced and detailed, with the wealthy, sensible colours of porcelain or enamel. He liked a broad unfurling cape, each for its affect as a silhouette but additionally as a canvas for adornment, like a Chinese language or Japanese display screen, permitting a pictorial story to unfold. The theatricality of the general impact was additionally quintessentially early-’70s — and essentially glam.
There’s one thing of a Kansai revival occurring proper now in style — or a minimum of, a revival of his basara aesthetic. Kansai’s signature riot of colour, texture and sample is clear in Alessandro Michele’s most up-to-date Gucci collections. Some designers have caught nearer than others to the Kansai type: The said inspiration behind Valentino’s pre-fall 2016 assortment was Elio Fiorucci, however a part that paid graphic homage to Japan (Mount Fuji included) seemed pure Kansai. And Riccardo Tisci patterned his ultimate Givenchy males’s put on assortment in January with totem-pole graphics that bear uncanny similarities to Kansai’s gurning faces, with tongues protruding, impressed by the caricatured yakko (soldier) masks of Japanese theatre. Nicolas Ghesquiere at Louis Vuitton paid essentially the most overt homage in his 2018 cruise present, which was held in Kyoto: He really enlisted Kansai himself (who's now 73) to create a number of new graphics, together with reworks of these grimacing yakko faces throughout transient shifts and boxy petit malle purses.
That these up to date manufacturers are collaborating (or liberally borrowing) from Kansai’s obscure archive is much less fascinating than why. Why Kansai proper now? Kansai’s garments characterize a particular breed of 1970s escapism — into outer area, to new and imaginary cultures, to the longer term, from the previous, shedding gender when you have been at it. Glam rock — which Kansai’s designs for Bowie helped to essentially form aesthetically — was about dreaming, about providing a sure unreality as a salve to distressed instances. It was a colourful, campy distraction from terrorism, financial strife, the Yom Kippur and Vietnam Wars, and the crooked politicians of Watergate.
Ring any bells?