Design process at work- Yōji Yamamoto

The London College of Fashion currently has an exhibition in its Fashion Space Gallery  designed to accompany the major retrospective of Yōji Yamamoto’s work at the V & A (which finished in July).

The LCF exhibition is concerned with the ‘process’ of design and making, centering around a beautiful dark navy Yamamoto dress which is displayed next to its John Princes Street entrance.  The window display is backed by a triple mirror so that the dress can be seen from different angles framed by the reflections of the crisp white lines of buildings opposite. The mirrors are slightly convex and distort the proportions of the buildings. Much fun to be had in shifting around and seeing the different curves and angles that a photo can be taken from…the shoppers sipping tea in the British Home Stores Cafe next door no doubt wondered what I was playing at.

Upstairs in the gallery it was worth  taking time to absorb the different exhibits on display.  The idea behind the curation of the exhibition was to present Yamamoto’s work in three stages and in reverse sequence. So after the dress itself, the exhibition upstairs began with catwalk videos and photos of the dress, this phase of “presentation” then followed on to the stages of “construction” and then “inspiration”.

I felt the ‘source’ of inspiration for the dress remained somewhat intangible, mood boards and the usual cues which are usually presented as a shorthand for a designers inspiration were generally absent in the exhibition, save for a collection of books on one of the tables. That’s probably partly due to the fame of Yamamoto’s work, partly because this is an accompanying exhibition to the main one at the V&A, but also maybe because Yamamoto is a designer known for a monotone palette and deconstruction. This is the serious business of fabric, corralled and seduced into being and dissolution. Rather than visual inspiration as such, it is the ‘materiality’ of design inspiration which is highlighted in this exhibition.  This seems appropriate for a designer whose career has been defined by deconstructed Edwardian silhouettes and meticulously difficult construction of fabric. Two vintage dresses (one in ethereal draped cream slipper satin, the other a gothic black crepe Edwardian dress with regimented rows of buttons) were hung simply on the wall, next to a large sculptural hank of black silk,  hung like a rolling wave suspended across two black frames. See the photo of the accompanying quote from Yamamoto. The idea of ‘listening’ to the fabric, of ‘letting it speak’ may sound a bit esoteric, but it’s a metaphor I have found some designers use to describe the design process.

The exhibition provided a great sense of the making stage of couture, with photos documenting Yamomoto’s workrooms in Japan, several toiles in various stages of (de)construction, ordered brown envelopes of patterns, a large glass display case with a pattern laid out flat, boxes of buttons and samples of trimmings…all displayed between the moving catwalk videos and the sculptural wave of black silk hung across two large frames, ending in the roll from which it had been unfurled…so here was both the end and starting point of the exhibition…

The exhibition visitor’s book was an artefact in itself. I especially loved one visitor’s heartfelt comment “clothes for women which make them look like goddesses, not freaks of nature, thank you” alongside a simple but to the point “Hello Yohji Yamamoto, I  your work“.

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