Ambushed

After all the lush haute-ness of couture shows, my last stop in Paris was in Ambush’s showroom where unexpected bling meets the grounds of Palais Royal.  As streetwear’s convergence with high fashion shows no signs of abating, this Japanese jewellery label, created by rapper Verbal and his wife Yoon, finds itself in a niche of its own.  Garnering celebrity fans, prestigious stockists like Dover Street Market and colette and scoring collaborations with fellow Japanese giants Sacai and Undercover as well as Kim Jones for Louis Vuitton, Ambush has made a success out of exporting what they call a “Tokyo aesthetic.”

It’s easy though to look at the surface of Ambush’s jewellery and label it as mere surface-driven pop-bling.  Especially when you’re viewing their stuff through the prism of blogs and social media.  Verbal and Yoon pride themselves on creating a quality product and so for the first time, they decided to show their wares in Paris, debuting their A/W 15-6 “Dreamcatchers” collection.  Stockists have put faith in them by buying in their pieces based on digital linesheets alone but they were able to come and take a peek and feel the heft and weight of their signature gold and silver coated chains, fit for anyone – guy or girl – with the mettle to don Ambush.  The trick me thinks is to be fearless about loading it up in multiple quantities.

Their seasonal collection for A/W 15-6 takes a turn for the desert and the Native American insignia, which they have re-appropriated in such a way so as to avoid any cliches.  A beaded breastplate comes coated in silver or gold.  Turquoise stones are replaced with vivid red and blue stones, dyed intensely to achieve Ambush’s signature colour palette.  Iridescent powder coating also adds a steeliness to words like Love and Peace rendered on pendants and chunky rings.  Their foundation of clothes that compliment the jewellery grows in range with patchwork denim jumpsuits and military parka jackets with exaggerated pockets.  Tommy Ton, Youngjun Koo and I found ourselves slightly obsessed with trying everything on.

Verbal and Yoon are keen to stress the quality and source of manufacture of their pieces.  Everything is made in Japan and no shortcuts are taken.  The denim pieces for example are made in Kojima, Okayama – dubbed the denim city of Japan.  Their burgeoning range of skull bags, vaguely similar to Aitor Throup’s own skull creations, were created in collaboration with Kyoto-based shoe and leather craftsman Kushino Masayo.

Just as Made in Japan is once again making ears perk up – see leather label Blackmeans’ recent installation at Selfridges and the recent success of labels like Kolor and Sacai – Ambush fits into this narrative as they seek to prove that quality and eyeball-grabbing designs don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

IMG_2075Do we make a good girl/boy band?

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18 Replies to “Ambushed”

  1. Honestly I was a fan of Yoon and Verbal, however too many of their collections are steeped in what seems to be cultural appropriation to me. The influence of jewelry associated with Indigenous Americans is quite obvious here. Just because they rendered that influence is a different manner doesn’t make it less insulting to me.

    1. But where do we draw the lines and what cultures can we deem off/no limits? This is a subject that crops up time and time again. When Sarah Burton uses kimono sleeves and Japanese insignia in a McQueen collection, do we cry cultural appropriation? Specifically, use of Native American symbols gets called on time and time again… is it therefore that some cultures are a no-go zone and why is that? Who has deemed it that way? Have they objected to the cultural appropriation themselves? Do we apply the same logic to every culture that has been appropriated in fashion? I’m not being facetious but the more and more we have these conversations, the more circles we create with no real conclusion.

      1. Yes, absolutely they have objected to this appropriation! This kind of appropriation is a persistent problem for Native Americans and especially for Native American designers. I suggest you do a segment on issue and would be happy to make introductions for you within that community.

      2. Why? Because it is offensive. A kimono sleeve is a shape of sleeve, not a means of expressing your cultures spiritual beliefs. We all know it is appropriation, rather than celebration, which is where fashion should draw the line. If it was more derivative it might be less crass but as it is, it is merely a continuation of a rather colonial attitude of cherry picking aesthetically without bothering to understand the significance of a object within the context of the culture that created it. Fashion is always at risk of being accused of operating a “lowest common denominator ” policy; that is, using something that looks cute but has no intellectual rigour to back it up. You demonstrate time and again on this blog that for many designers that this is not true, and then, bam! Here is some gold coloured jewellery that looks like American Indian breast plate. Not cool.

        1. Point taken but I do believe that Ambush aren’t “culture-cherry picking” for the sake of it. They are crediting their sources appropriately (especially when you meet them in person) and were keen to explain the significance behind ever symbol they had borrowed and used. I do think they have the intellectual nous to understand the symbols they have appropriated. If it felt empty and hollow, I wouldn’t have featured it in the first place. I do honestly think they have taken these symbols and evolved them in a way that is interesting and more to the point, I’m interested in Ambush as a pop-cultural phenomenon in the scheme of the Made in Japan aesthetic. It’s not my intention to promote needless cultural appropriation and in this case, I maintain that it isn’t so…
          The problem comes is where we draw the lines as to what symbols and objects are no-go zones and what are. That I think is a dangerous thing to be drawing barriers arbitrarily – dreamcatcher jewellery (Ann Sofie Back a while back?), Church-derived crosses and iconography (hello Riccardo Tisci and Jean Paul Gaultier), various takes on hijabs (too many collections to recount), keffiyeh scarves (Balenciaga) – would we then rather that designers don’t probe these motifs and subjects at all, even if they are doing it in an intelligent, nuanced and celebratory way? I’m against brainless appropriation for the sake of things to look “cute” as you said. But how can we write off every instance of appropriation as such? It’s by knowing the designers personally and knowing their motives that prompts me to think otherwise…

  2. Fashion is ART and ART has no limits. Rarely do we come to find something that is really unique and original, why refrain designers to express what they really want even if it is about the so-called “Politically correct”? Fashion is about freedom, about expressing who you really are, how you envision the world through clothes and accesories. Why put a leash on it?

    http://www.daintyandchic.com

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