Following on from our general round-up of the latest and greatest to keep your eye out for next season from rooms 27, today we thought we would take a look at the current wave of specifically Japanese design, something that was actually supposed to be the main theme of the entire trade show. On that note it is worth noting that rooms is quite remarkable in that regard, in that trade shows that place traditional Japanese design and craft next to the modern are very very thin on the ground, despite Japanese media in particular having a rather romanticized, but none the less consistent interest in the maintenance, and within limits, evolution of tradition. But that in turn leads to an even more difficult question of identity that we are likely to see argued to death in the run-up to the Olympics – just what is the face of Japanese design? Does one represent Japanese fashion as Yohji or Spank? Are the arts those of the geisha of the otaku? The obvious fact of the matter is that it is comes down to conveying everything proportionally, and giving the appropriate space to all that “Japan” encompasses, but walking around the hundreds of booths and exhibits of rooms 27 it occurs just how much context you need to see the big picture. Personally I am not sure whether that is something to despair over, or draw optimism from, but I will do my bit, and I will be (nervously) looking forward to seeing what the public face of Japan is at the Olympics.
We kick off with the face that the West loved to consume through the 80s and 90s, Japan as the innovator and engineer, exemplified by the ongoing work of Maywa Denki who create this fantastic musical instruments, in this case a wearable backpack hooked up to the various machines behind. For those interested Maywa make some of the coolest instruments you have never seen as well as producing an idol group, a fashion line, tokusatsu DVDs and live shows. It is the kind of entertainment with substance that people are all too quick to group into the wacky category, but take the time to understand it and the rewards are yours.
The traditional craft side of things was well represented, but what caught my eye was the amount of East meets West designers who went beyond that cliche and produced work that actually challenged perceptions of their craft.
The brilliantly named “highcalorieotome” was without a doubt the best example of that last point, with graffitied wall scrolls and kimono peppered with subversive details.
Here a band uniform meets kimono,
The Japanese randoseru turns up on an obi, the position on the back is very witty and the fact that this has become a new Japanese tradition, albeit descended from the West and with a Dutch name just adds another layer to what is at first glance a novelty piece.
Here an American baseball destroys a Japanese vase – again on an obi.
Western symbols of excess leading to rotten teeth.
If it is not the West, then it is the idea of modernism that is fun to splice with the traditional, next it is the modern quintessentially Japanese aesthetic – kawaii’s turn to take centre stage.
Subverted school uniforms via “Neb aaran do”, taking the sailor collars, showa-era hats and ribbons to pastures new.
I love this riff on the Japanese sailor ribbon.
Next is the turn of the outright new, as displayed here by Ai Madonna in collaboration with “Dress and Tights”.
This is arguably the most difficult aspect of Japanese culture to package for easy consumption, as readers of this site will know I love how Mikio Sakabe challenges these ideas so confrontationally, but communicating to the layman without misunderstanding is something many designers quite rightly steer clear of.
A good example of that is new brand Hokuro, the designs being right on the edge even in Japan – you might well have already seen their underwear hats that have been doing the rounds online:
So there you have it, a brief selection of Japonica that just goes to show the avenues still being explored in Japanese design. Stand by for one final look at rooms 27 and from there, the looming specter of Tokyo Fashion Week that is on the horizon.