First Look: ‘Japan Fashion Now’ at the Museum at F.I.T.

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Photo: Melissa Hom

When you're privy to the seat-assignment squabbling that takes place during Fashion Week, either because of your job or because you just love reading gossip blogs, here's a nice reminder that fashion is actually an art form, worthy of museum exhibits and history books. On September 17, the Museum at FIT will open a new exhibit on modern Japanese fashion, spanning from old-school pioneers like Issey Miyake to today's avant-garde-ists like N. Hoolywood (who showed earlier today) and Chitose Abe. Exhibit curator Dr. Valerie Steele notes gleefully that many of the exhibit’s looks — slouchy knitwear, military-inspired jackets, and underwear-as-outerwear — were big on fall runways. “We've been working on this for several years, so we didn't plan it, but I was thrilled when I discovered that so many designers had been looking at this stuff,” she said.

One piece, a mid-eighties Comme des Garçons ensemble with slouchy, oversized knits in black and charcoal, looked straight out of Alexander Wang’s fall collection, a point that made Steele throw her arms in the air with excitement. “Um, hello!” she exclaimed, gesturing wildly towards the outfit. “We have many designers who come in and use our museum collection for inspiration. I can't give you names, obviously, but many designers have been looking at eighties Comme des Garçons and eighties Yohji,”
The exhibit begins with the pioneers of modern Japanese fashion, who spent the eighties draping models in dark, body-concealing garments while Americans were busy squeezing themselves into neon spandex. “Most fashion then was really body-fitting and colorful, and this brought in large, body-concealing clothing, often in black or very dark indigo, and destroyed-looking…it was really radical,” explained Steele. “You read letters in Vogue and people were like, 'What's this ripped up old rag that you're showing? This is not pretty!’”

It wasn’t all just arty-fashion, though: Kansai Yamamoto dressed David Bowie in his trademark baggy double-breasted suits, and Issey Miyake used Takashi Murakami prints long before Marc Jacobs put his prints on Louis Vuitton bags. And while some of the designs are Muji-esque in their Zen-like functionality, others are awesomely weird. Designer Jun Takahashi embroidered his dresses with hair weaves and google-y eyes, and crazy fabric prints like skeletons and brains. “From a distance, this blouse looks like it’s printed with purple flowers, but if you look closer, you realize they’re little vampire mouths with fangs and purple lips,” said Steele. “They’re so cool!” Click ahead to see a very early sneak peak at what the exhibit has in store.

"Japan Fashion Now" runs from September 17 to January 8 at the Museum at FIT.