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I’ve been enjoying a two-book set I checked out from the library. It’s a fashion history survey based on the collections of the Kyoto Costume Institute.

If you’re into fashion (historic or contemporary), these books are a real treat. The collection is marvelous and the photography is splendid. Some of the more spectacular garments are also treated in detail photos, so you get a better idea of the techniques that went into creating them.

One of the features I particularly enjoy in this set is that while the collection has a vast and representative selection of iconic Western dress, there is also an emphasis on Japanese designers in the late-20th C. section and on adaptive use of Japanese textiles in the 18th through 20th C. collections. This focus sets them aside from other fashion history surveys in which “Japonisme” is ignored or given short shrift. Given the extensive influence Asian and especially Japanese aesthetics had on the Art & Crafts movement, Art Nouveau, and in the Edwardian transitional period of fashion, it is fascinating to view it “from the source” and to see what Japanese fashion historians consider key pieces.

In the more contemporary section of the book, I was particularly struck by the shoe designs of Tokio Kumagai. His “eating shoes” were made out of the ultra-realistic artificial food that Japanese restaurants and groceries use for displays. One pair, a conservative pair of oxfords, appeared to have been made of thin slices of high quality beef. Another were a pair of geta that seemed to be made of pressed beans-and-rice. Being as I am a fan of Pop Art, as well as musical covers and re-mixes, the artificial-food shoes really appealed to me. I am fascinated by individual interpretations of ordinary objects, and I love a good surrealistic bent. It seemed like something Elsa Schiaparelli might have pulled back in the 1930s if she’d had the technology.

There was a lot of coverage of Junya Watanabe, Rei Kawakubo, and Yohji Yamamoto’s designs, as well there should be, but I was somewhat surprised to see no mention whatsoever of any post-1980s designers. To me, the omission of Takuya Angel is a significant one, as Takuya Angel has produced some of the most imaginative and wearable re-imaginings of traditional Japanese style in contemporary fashion and has captured a loyal and enthusiastic following in the lucrative youth market. I wonder if it was just too late to make the cut when these books were published, or if Takuya Angel is considered to mass-market or trendy to appear in a “serious” book about fashion.

In any event, I’m way digging on this two-book survey and have put it on my “to-buy-at-a-later-date” list.


Sort of related: an article about food & surrealism in fashion

Another about unconventional fashion materials

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