“Are you listening? The fabric has much to teach us.”

“Are you listening? The fabric has much to teach us.”

2010.03.27_yyva_06-045_v2 The Yohji Yamamoto quote in the title may sound like a cliched line from a Japanese film where the sensei teaches his disciple about the theories of tailoring, but the truth of the matter is that Yamamoto's philosophy towards clothing design, whether you are a fan of the resulting clothes or not, still has much both designers and fashion lovers can learn from, thus warranting sensei lofty one-liners.  This was impressed upon me in the Yamamoto exhibition at the Antwerp exhibition a couple of years ago but the V&A in London has served up another potent reminder.  Some seminal fashion exhibitions may not need repeat visits when it does its global tour but I was glad to experience deja vu with Yamamoto in the environment of the Victoria & Albert Museum. 

Turns out that it wasn't deja vu at all.  The wonderful thing about this exhibition is that beyond the gallery 38 where most of the exhibition is housed, there are several 'satellite' installations dotted around the V&A, placing Yamamoto in a juxtaposing context.  The V&A's lead marketing image produced by Nick Knight and Peter Saville best sums up the gist of the exhibition – Yamamoto's work living and breathing in amongst V&A space.  It's worth checking out all of the satellite sites, plus you get to see the vastness of the V&A.  I thought I had seen pretty much all of it.  Nope, there's always more‚Ķ

This S/S 1992 dress made in homage to choreographer Pina Bausch was particularly arresting.  It was almost like a real woman's back was turned to me and you can see why Yamamoto repeatedly expresses his love of a woman's back and its curvature "This is my idea for a woman's body.  I like the curve of a woman's back.  I always watch her silhouette in the streets."


Into the core gallery and it's pretty much a wide body of Yamamoto's work condensed into a space along with video screens of show footage and printed memorabilia on one side separated by metal scaffolding.  The layout is almost overly simplistic but when you can see the entire exhibition with one sweeping gaze, it actually encourages you to go around it a few times to re-investigate the bits that intrigue you (some of V&A's other extensive exhibitions can feel like a theme park on busy days when you're shuffling along, following the flow of people traffic). 

The first thing of course that is immediately obvious and expected is the dominance of black, a colour that Yamamoto repeatedly turns to.  Here turquoise neoprene is sheathed in black netting in this A/W 96-97 dress, the colour effect of sheer black over a bright being something I never seme to tire of…


The thing about discovering Yamamoto's pieces up close is that the colour black becomes a shade embedded with layers and intricacies.  I may not be devoted to this eternal fashion fave shade but if I was, Yamamato's archive pieces spanning over a decade and demonstrating the almost infinitive ways black can convey depth, silhouette and a sense of surprise would be my fantasy go-to ensembles of choice…



I especially love this homage to Madame Gres in this S/S 05 top and trousers.  I think ASOS Black's S/S 11 collection has utilised this method of pleat draping… yup, fashion wheels go chug chug chugging back…


I also found it interesting to see Yamamoto's not-so-black work gathered here, which shows the wide breadth of Yamamoto's influences.  This quilted, fur-trimmed paisley bolero and skirt from A/W 00-01 seem to throw a curveball, recalling a blend of Victorian parlour dress and Eskimo attire all in one go…


Yamamoto, who never wanted to stand out as a culture-defined "Japanese" designer, did manage to look to his heritage to incorporate shibori and yuzen-dyed fabrics in these pieces which is part and parcel of the different methodologies of nostalgia that Yamamoto often practises…



It's only when you get to the top end of the room where a lot of very recongisable Yamamoto pieces are displayed do you see that Yamamoto consistently looks back in order to look forward in his work.  Lumping him in a loose category of avant-garde can be a bit pointless when you look at pieces like a long buttoned down dress which could have been a 1930s tea dress or a grey boucle tweed jacket and gathered waist skirt that could have been Edwardian.  His homages to the likes of Dior, Balenciaga and Chanel are also displayed here.  Yet you can't call it retrogading.  The past informs his work and pushes the lines to go in a direction that's either exaggerated or minimised. 





Late Victorian/Edwardian tinges continually touch his work as seen in this broderie anglaise backed S/S 05 shirt dress.  His visual references to annonymous faces in photographs from the late 19th/early 20th century in Wim Wenders' Notebooks on Cities and Clothes is down to his fascination with the way they wore their clothes rather than the exacting aethetics, which again emphasises why there's only ever a vague historical backdrop to his work rather than anything that is exactly replicated. 

The back is also once again revealed here and actually seeing Yamamoto's work this time round for me emphasised the sensual qualities of his work.  I know "quiet seduction" is a hammy phrase but there it is.  The dip of a back, the nape of the neck and the reveal of the ankles are areas that can seduce albeit with a whisper rather than a roar.  Perhaps in the last few years, as I've grown up, the notion of trying to find "my kind of sexy" has been increasingly pushed to the forefront of my mind and I suppose Yamamoto's subtle and precise ways of cutting left a lot to the imagination and suddenly I'm cheesily recalling 19th century novels where allusions to sex are read inbetween the llines. 


Another outdoors pyjamas spotting in this white satin suspender suit from S/S 99…


I want a beanie and I want it THIS big…


I talk about the presence of history, gravitas and subtlety to Yamamoto's work but pieces like this red pleated dress from A/W 90-91 also shows his more experimental side.  I feel like his latest collection is also of that ilk… like I said though, I'm personally a fan of his more romantic work…


The printed lookbooks and catalogues on display show what an impressive roster of photographers and art directors Yamamoto has worked with including Craig McDean, Nick Knight, Inez and Vinoodh, M/M (Paris), Marc Ascoli and Peter Saville…

It's also a little saddening to see that lookbook images produced in-house that interpret a collection, beyond run of show images and advertising campaign images are on the decline…





I'm omitting a lot of the mesnwear but obviously it's an equally rich display too as seen in this tartan trio…


… and this jumper embroidered with the manga character Candy.  Overall I feel like there's more of a dishevelled and eclectic character than in the womenswear and perhaps even more of a sense of humour. 


What of the man himself though?  I bought the new autobiography 'Yohji Yamamoto: My Dear Bomb' and I pretty much devoured it in a day.  Thank god it didn't run in the conventional style of an autobiography because Yamamoto leaves a substantial amount of mystery to his life and his work processes.  Chronological narrative is secondary to atmospheric and descriptive passages that read like fiction.  Actually in some instances the point is you're not supposed to be able to tell whether Yamamoto is recalling his life or not.  Where he does start to delve into his work and his thought process behind his work is probably where it becomes more revealing though I'm also now quite fascinated with his relationship with a mysterious female figure (presumably Limi Feu's mother Toshiko?). 

Actually just reminding myself of the fact that Yohji Yamamoto is straight, gave the enusing text a lot more significance.  His view of women for instance seems to be informed by a position which places him as seducer and fervent admirer of a woman's spirit and mind as well as body.  I've just lifted a few choice quotes but reading the entire book itself is actually a weirdly self-assertive experience precisely because of Yamamoto's holds the view that women who think are attractive to him.  Or women who conceal their flesh rather than expose are more alluring.  Or that women who use their career/status as a housewife to define them.  I suppose these are obvious things that we somehow expect men to think about women but from a fashion perspective, in the recent bout of fetishist fantasies and pre-conceived ideals of the glamourous women on the catwalks, it somehow makes Yamamoto's statements even more pertinent. 

'The morning after a man and woman have spent the night together, she might say, "I'm going to jump in the shower.  Let me borrow this for a minute, okay?" She may throw on one of his white shirts made of broadcloth, and though it is too big for her, it will conform to her shape.  The brightness of the shirt will flow to the peak of her breasts, the pleats will gather at her elbow, and the shadows will stretch across her chest.  I have made clothing entirely in hopes of recreating such bewitching, totally unexpected visions.'

'The obsession with the overall proportions at the expense of everything else is proof of how extensively western aesthetics have poisoned our sensibilities.  Japanese culture of long ago found beauty in the nape of the neck and in the curve of the back.  At some point the sensitivity to the beauty in these things withered, and both men and women became blind to them.  I have personally always found the greatest charm in the long, sweeping curve from the ribcage past the waist and down to the hips.  It is the most subtle line, curving like a serpent.'

'A woman wearing clothing of austere colours emanates a certain aroma.  Her hidden grace, fragrant almost, is vaguely dangerous in the lust it invokes.  It is a wonderful thing.  There is not much to be said for exposing the flesh as if in some blatant offering.'

'No matter how elegant the evening dress, I want very much to attach a pocket.  If it has no pocket, it means that the woman will have to carry a handbag.  And with that handbag comes the silly concern that it might be stolen.  An inconvenience is there from the very start.

And so come to me with them in your pockets, everything important to you in your pockets.'

I'll end with a quote from Wim Wenders from the book that I guess sums up the appeal of Yamamoto's clothing that is still enduring despite the financial instability of the company (which I believe is well on the mend now…).  "I bought a shirt and jacket.  Usually, when I look at my new clothes in the mirror i get excited over what i see as a new skin, but it was different with this shirt and jacket.  Though they were new, it felt as if I had been wearing them for years."




Leave a comment
  1. salomé

    2011-03-19 at 10:11 PM

    Wooooooow amazing & beautiful pics…… ;D
    STREET STYLE: http://magmoiselle.fr

  2. plusG

    2011-03-19 at 10:25 PM

    gorgeus post!!!Very beautiful!

  3. saigon

    2011-03-19 at 10:28 PM

    geee. such a good report.
    the beginning does it really.
    and japan suffers now.

  4. Miss Mignardise

    2011-03-19 at 10:55 PM

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I love Yohji Yamamoto’s philosophy.. very inspiring!

  5. masha

    2011-03-19 at 11:05 PM

    I like him so much!
    the knitted hat is great!

  6. yve

    2011-03-20 at 12:13 AM

    Yamamoto is such an inspiration.
    I’ve always associated red, black and white as his favourite colour palette – nice to see there’ll be such an interesting variety in the exhibition!
    Can’t wait to go see the exhibition when my Easter hols start!

  7. amalie

    2011-03-20 at 12:51 AM

    wow. gorgeous! love the dresses.

  8. Monica // Crossthat

    2011-03-20 at 1:34 AM

    Ahh… thanks for the photos, I really wanted to see this.
    There is so much romance in his creations. So in love.

  9. Ingrid

    2011-03-20 at 1:45 AM

    I love a woman in her boyfriend’s shirt. Knowing more about Yamamoto’s purpose truly brings more thoughtfulness to his designs! Thanks for taking the time to write Susie!

  10. Fiorella

    2011-03-20 at 2:33 AM
  11. Floz

    2011-03-20 at 8:43 AM

    I’m going to see this exhibition – i am really rather excited and this post has just excelled my excitement even more!

  12. Min It

    2011-03-20 at 9:25 AM

    Amazing post!!!

  13. Caroline

    2011-03-20 at 9:30 AM
  14. Rejane

    2011-03-20 at 10:23 AM
  15. shabby

    2011-03-20 at 10:52 AM

    I went the other day and really enjoyed it myself. How did you get to take photos, though? I tried drawing and got scolded for even doing that…
    Did you listen to the CD’s from his music career? I can’t believe he once toured Japan!
    Those lookbooks were so wonderful! I really pored over each of them, taking in the story, because they’re so much more than just displaying the garments.
    I have a lot of respect for Yohji, I wish I knew more about him. Maybe it’s time for me to invest in My Dear Bomb, I’ve only heard wonderful things about it.

  16. susie_bubble

    2011-03-20 at 11:05 AM

    Shabby: Yup, I did listen to some of them – a lot of his lyrics are dotted around the book – really really worth buying!
    I fortunately had a press pass for the exhibition so was given permission to take photos…

  17. MaufLondon

    2011-03-20 at 12:31 PM

    Really want one of those beanie hats too!
    Great post

  18. margie

    2011-03-20 at 1:56 PM

    There is so much romance in his creations. So in love.
    i am really rather excited and this post has just excelled my excitement even more!
    http://www.laptop-battery-store.ca/sony.html sony laptop battery
    dell studio 1535 battery

  19. Emily

    2011-03-20 at 2:22 PM

    Wow, great!
    I bought Grazia magazine the other day and saw an advert in the exhibition and now I have to go! Especially can’t wait to see the S/S 1992 silk dress in real life…
    I loved to see you fully dressed in Gucci in the last post! There was a Glamour issue with the exact same clothes in winter which is pinned on my wall 😀 AWESOME 😀 haha…
    Have a nice Sunday,

  20. oana

    2011-03-20 at 4:58 PM

    I recently visited London for the first time and when i found out about the Yohji Yamamoto exhibition i was very excited. I love his work and seeing it so close was a memorable experience. If only i could have touched the clothes…and take some picture. Thanks to your post i was able to “re-visit” the exhibition. Anyway, congratulations to the curator for the intelligent setting which made the aesthetic experience an unforgettable one.

  21. edoardo

    2011-03-20 at 7:30 PM

    Thank you for these pics, they gvie us a very clear idea of Yamamoto style (taht sometimes is not so clear on catwalk…) ;D

  22. Anna

    2011-03-20 at 9:30 PM

    This looks like such an amazing exhibition and you did a beautiful job highlighting it for those of us who most likely won’t be able to see it. Yohji is such a creative force and visionary and his clothes are even more brilliant up close in person. Thank you for giving us the next best thing 🙂

  23. Simen

    2011-03-20 at 10:15 PM

    So many great fabrics. That red dress, what a unique shape!

  24. Kerry

    2011-03-20 at 10:23 PM

    saw you wander by in the V&A to this, I was drawing on stairs and you glided by and I wanted to say hello. Big fan? cliche? Anyway the exhibition was Amazing, so so good, it made me feel the most underdressed I’ve ever felt.

  25. Onyxsta

    2011-03-20 at 11:16 PM

    http://say-bleurgh.blogspot.com Love the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th pieces the best! Fabric can create so much and tell tales….love this post 🙂

  26. Nicole

    2011-03-21 at 2:59 AM

    I love your outfits, they look gorgeous!
    XOXO Nicole, VPV Team Member
    Check us out & follow @ http://www.shopvpv.com/

  27. escalante blogger

    2011-03-21 at 5:19 AM

    I like the style. Look so great.

  28. BillHoss

    2011-03-21 at 3:29 PM

    The black dress with the braid down the side is absolutely stunning!

  29. Ainhoa

    2011-03-24 at 7:26 PM

    So amazing all these dress…i really like the structure of it!!

  30. Online Fashion Boutique

    2011-03-25 at 7:36 PM

    Stunning Red Dress! Amazing stylish blog!

  31. Melissa

    2012-04-19 at 6:49 PM

    I visited this exhibition. Your blog post is much better than mine…

  32. jane

    2014-01-31 at 6:44 PM

    I think he’s an angel…

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.