Nozomi Ishiguro remains one of Japanese fashion’s true enigmas, even though his work, and indeed his shows, exist very much out in the open for all to consume without ceremony, that does not mean his world is an accessible one.  Whether it is in the case of buyers or media, the amount of conversations that have begun with a plea for me to provide the keys to understanding him as designer are really too numerous to count, and I am afraid that each and every time I have had to disappoint them.  This is not a designer I can work through look by look like Mikio Sakabe, or tell the story of such as Yoshikazu Yamagata, neither is he one that lends himself to a glib label – although probably everything I am about to write about can be reduced to the principles of jazz – but then again, given the incongruity of each collection, that may well be deliberate ploy.

It must be said from the outset that one of the most distracting pieces of the Nozomi Ishiguro puzzle is the very superficial visual similarities to Comme des Garcons, and seeing as the man himself worked in CDG during the 80s glory years and right through the 90s, there might be a little weight to that observation, but ultimately even though I would be happy to say he is of the same school of thought, it would be unfair to reduce Ishiguro to that.

So where to begin?  If in doubt when faced with slightly bewildering fashion my first port of call is to look at the overall context for the fashion, either literally or figuratively.  Nozomi Ishiguro is kind in that respect, often given very literal clues in either the staging, setting or music to explain his direction for the given season.  Taking his most recent AW 2014-15 collection, set to hit shops relatively soon, as an example, we find him in his element at LaForet Harajuku, where coincidentally his best stockist “Wall” is located, with a sprawling show just shy of 30 minutes in which his models were joined by musicians from the jazz collective Shibusa-Shirazu Orchestra, as well as their accompanying dancers and butoh performance artists in a structured performance that segmented the looks by the sections of the music.

You could not ask for a more appropriate explanation in process to the world of Ishiguro, his models became confused with the performers, who too were mostly wearing his label, and the celebration of the improvised and intoxicating sense of incongruity it created was a perfect mirror for the clothes themselves.  Not necessarily immediately aesthetically pleasing as such, nor necessarily flattering, but if you can’t move beyond those values as qualifiers for the success or otherwise of fashion I have a feeling you might want to stop reading now.

For those intrigued, start with the video of the show here, start at the 20 minute mark if time is against you and I will see you back here for the view from the front row.

As a brand Nozomi Ishiguro usually takes pride in inserting deliberate flaws into their collections, setting the tension incorrectly on sewing machines, leaving hems unfinished, and avoiding the curves and contours of the body with absolute abandon.  Still, not unlike the jazz accompaniment there are moments of form and clarity as you can see above:

Leopard print and camouflage featured prominently this season, which again served as a focal point against the more abstract textiles, reiterating the theme of flashes of clarity within the chaos.

Nozomi Ishiguro ironically names his mainline “haute couture” which rather embarrassingly some take at face value, when in actual fact it is a stark middle finger to the Paris system.  However, one could take it seriously, arguing that in the age of cheap labor abroad, what might once have been considered haute couture is now rather mundane, the romance of the skilled embroiderer working in a beautiful Parisienne atelier is long gone, replaced instead with images of (no less skilled) workers abroad churning out society lady cocktail dresses for an insulting wage.  The idea of precise spade work constituting quality is rather less relevant in a world where buying into culture has more value than the materials of the garment itself, and in that sense Ishiguro offers people true “haute couture” value via improvised art, its imperfections are part of the value, but not in a stoic sense, rather with a hint of humorous satire, or to let my British roots show – he is taking the piss.

I really hope you watched the video above, as if you did no doubt the wonderful soundtrack is still reverberating in your ears.  At the show I almost got swept up in the performance and let my photos suffer somewhat!

The butoh dancers were particularly mesmerizing in the show, wearing as they did outfits faintly reminiscent of the kawaii culture sold down the road from LaForet on Takashita doori.

The styling was another contrast, this time bouncing off the heart motifs and implying a sense of disconnect from the frivolity of the Shibusa-Shirazu Orchestra.

There was a pleasant parallel to be drawn between the beauty of the randomly strung rags some of the dancers wore and the clothes themselves – again a sense of finding forms in chaos.

For me on a personal level it invokes the sense of freedom a fashion student has when first approaching the bodyform – the thrill of finding your way, and making mistakes that designers are perhaps too quick to abandon when one “knows better”.

It goes without saying that improvisation and imperfection are core sensibilities within classical Japanese aesthetics, but there are few designers who indulge them in fashion.  I say “designers” specifically because the streets of Tokyo are possibly pulsing with fashion participants experimenting and remaking fashion, to the point where it feels as if the streets are more capable of creativity as a whole than individual labels, but on the other hand, why shouldn’t that be the case?

In the finale the models stopped moving for long enough to grab some details:

And the man himself.

For past collections and sub-brands you can head to the homepage here and hopefully I have managed to unpack the world of Nozomi Ishiguro a little for you, but if you are still mystified I for one am not going to blame you.  I think it took me about 4-5 seasons of seeing it up close on the runway and in the showroom to “get it”, and now I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

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