photographs by Shoji Ueda
“Compared with the other Japanese designers, I have the least Japanese mentality. Of course I was born in Tokyo, live in Tokyo, and am Japanese. But I am not trying to put emphasis on “Japaneseness” in my design concepts like the other designers.”
– Takeo Kikuchi
In the early 80’s Japanese designers defined a totally new outlook on fashion and challenged Western ideas of dress and the body. Informed by their own costume history and textile traditions, the “Japanese Invasion” revolutionized contemporary fashion. Japan Fashion Now, an exhibit by Valerie Steele at the museum at FIT, seeks to define this dynamic as it exists today.
Takeo Kikuchi, the designer who initially ran the label Men’s Bigi and (after losing it to his wife in a nasty divorce) an eponymous line, is one of few designers whose supposed Japanese-ness comes completely from his immersion in contemporary European dress. Unlike Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, or Rei Kawakubo, Takeo did not use traditional Japanese clothes-making as a means of reworking Western attitudes towards the body and aesthetics. Instead, Kikuchi assimilated them and interpreted them for what he perceived to be a universally appealing classicism. To a Japanese audience, subtly subverted looks of Saville Row tailoring and western masculine archetypes were just as exciting as Kawakubo’s “Hiroshima Chic” in Paris. Kikuchi is not present in Japan Fashion Now along with other designers whose work seem to defy conventions of Japanese-ness rooted in kimonos and “Kawaii” culture. But, his way of designing into Japanese tastes with a strictly Western vocabulary has laid the groundwork for many designers, Japanese or otherwise, in an increasingly global world.