By Jennifer Liu
In her article, "The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion," Yuniya Kawamura focuses on the occupation of designer as the focal point of the fashion system, under the argument that France offers the model of the fashion system that legitimizes designers on a worldwide platform. The author analyzes the entry of Japanese designers into the French fashion system from 1970 to 2003. She discusses three different relationships that designers have with the system: a complete assimilation with the French system and style ("frenchification"), the exoticism of the avant-garde, and the infusion tradition japanese designs with haute couture.
Japanese Avant-Garde Fashion
Beginning of the 1980s was when a new generation of Japanese designers became key players in the Paris fashion scene. Issey Miyake (considered the founding father of avant-garde fashion), Rei Kawakubo, and Yohji Yamamoto, known as "The Big Three," brought in a new style that Europe hadn't seen before. The style was characterized by monochromatic, asymmetrical, and baggy looks that set the stage for the beginning of postmodern interpretation of "clothes that break the boundary between the West and the East, fashion and anti-fashion, and modern and anti-modern." The three designers had already started careers in fashion in Japan but only after their planned entry into the French fashion system were they well known by the fashion world outside of Japan.
The author, Kawamura, gives the history behind the emergence of the three designers and explains how their emergence in the French fashion system was more powerful and gave such an enormous impact to the French because they had all come out at around the same time. She also points out that establishing a presence in France, opening a store in Paris, and being able to have a label that reads "Made in France," contributed to put these designers firmly on the fashion industry's map.
Acceptance by the French System
Unlike the works of Kenzo, who more or less completely assimilated his designs to fit that of the French fashion style, this new Japanese avant-garde style stretched the boundaries of fashion, destroying previous definitions of clothing and fashion, and the clothes have even been accused of attempting to destroy the concept of fashion itself by being challenging to wear. However, the Japanese designers were considered artists rather than just designers. They worked with painters, sculptors, opera, theatre, photographers, and through their social contracts in the prestigious art world, the mutual influence contributed to an increase in the status of the fashion designer (a tactic that had developed in the fashion world in Paris after WWI).The Japanese designers have benefited from the idea that designers are image-makers and their images are carefully crafted like an artists work, seeing that being regarded as artists helped them become a part of the french fashion system.
The author goes on to state that being approved in the French fashion system helps gain international respect and recognition more so than had they stayed in the fashion world of Japan.
Hanae Mori: The Ultimate Designer Status in Paris
Hanae Mori is the first and only Asian couturier in the history of French Haute Couture. Her style however, is far from avant-garde. She did not make as big an impact on the world of fashion in the same sense that The Big Three have, but she provides impeccable dressmaking and tailoring techniques to her clothing and through her fame, was probably the first person to create an occupation called "a designer" in Japan. As the only non-western haute couture designer, she did infuse Japanese high culture and style and applied them to Western aesthetics. Unlike the avant-garde designers, Mori plays out her role as a Japanese couturiere by applying Japanese cultural heritage in French fashion and therefore legitimating it as a high fashion taste to the rest of the fashion world.
These Japanese designers took advantage of the changes in the structures of fashion institutions and the French system of fashion to incorporate themselves within it, make an impact, and become internationally recognized. Sometimes the presence of the Japanese designers in Paris, especially with the new avant-garde fashion, appeared to be destroying the traditional senses of fashion, but they have actually reinforced the French supremacy and power fashion. Kawamura writes that "participating in French fashion earned [the Japanese designers] the social, economic and symbolic capital that they are able to differentiate themselves from other Japanese designers without these resources."
Kawamura, Yuniya. "The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion." Fashion Theory, Volume 8, Issue 2. May 2004. Print.