Silence burns along the edge of my breath, the gleam of metal in your eyes reflects it: Down the Avenue de l’Opéra, through folds of night stitched together by electric light, we walk as if we were meant to be. Marietta, in this relentless Haussmannian order, the quiet dissymmetry of your dress moves me; in this static Apollonian perfection, the flow of your silhouette inspires me. It’s because of me, you said, this experiment with a Japanese dressmaker; it’s because of me your wardrobe no longer reflects the person you feel yourself to be.
Look! Swaying to your walk, the dynamic imbalance of black drapes its spartan elegance around your body. Slung over your shoulder, the flowing lines of your beggar’s bag are a mise en abîme of your body. Who is the man who thus imbues form with emotion, shape with idea? Strawberry red are your lips, strawberry red your ankle boots; side-swept is your hair, sheer its flaxen fall. Are you happy with the self your new dress brings to the surface, are you happy with this possibility of who you can be? Your soft boots are silent on the tarmac, no click-clack measures your stride. Now, as we wait at the intersection, what is it that sets our interlocked hands swinging? Can ideas ever be as palpable as pirouettes, mental images as immediate as movement? May dance rescue us when ideas deplete the world, may we seek refuge in the erotics of knowledge!
Onward! Look how your boots sculpt your movement, see how each step you take renews a moment of being! Behind you, your coat, your cloak, your cape—what is it?—catches the breeze. Paradox and contradiction, question answering question, the work only valid through the life it conveys: That is the message your movement relays. Who is the man who so artfully investigates your moving body, who is the man who so sensually envelopes your intimacy? Yamamoto. Yohji Yamamoto.
Irregularity, asymmetry and imperfection were important elements in traditional Japanese aesthetic philosophy. The aesthetic and conceptual meaning of the ‘rips’ in Kawakubo’s sweater differs significantly from the political and satiric meaning of the ripped and over-sized ‘poor look’ that simultaneously emerged as an element of London street style, which Vivienne Westwood made famous. Japanese designers like Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto were drawing on an entirely different tradition when they experimented with cutting asymmetrically so that, say, one side of a jacket would be longer or wider than the other.
The new Japanese clothes also tended to be oversized and loose; to a hostile viewer, big and bulky. For several years the Japanese conception of the relationship between body and clothes puzzled and annoyed many westerners; French designer Sonia Rykiel speculated that the Japanese must be ‘afraid of the body.’ In fact, they had a very different conception of sexiness. As Kawakubo told Vogue, ‘I do not find clothes that reveal the body attractive.’
By the end of the decade many people would have agreed with Vogue’s Charlotte DuCann, that avant-garde Japanese fashion was ‘the supreme modern style, the style that yanked fashion from its seventies nostalgia right into the monochrome eighties. No other country has single-handedly caused quite so much outrage and adulation in such a short time as Japan.’ Within half a decade the Japanese had succeeded in radically revising contemporary perceptions of fit and proportion, and in inaugurating the reign of black.
Earlier ideas about bohemian black and rebellious black were particularly influential, and looked back to 1950s beatniks and bikers. Black was once again ‘hip’ and ‘cool.’ ‘It’s a very peculiar sensitivity that artists seem to have about black,’ declared Rags as early as 1970. ‘Black just doesn’t pick up vibes and doesn’t send out any; it’s very protective.’ Within a few years, purple tie-dyed velvets would be traded in for studded black leather.
The popularity of black in the 1980s was overdetermined. The Japanese made the color avant garde again. They, in turn, were followed by young European designers like the Belgian Anne Demeulemeister, whose use of black evoked the ‘decadent’ poets of the nineteenth century. (In 1990 she was quoted as saying that she could not imagine a poet in any color other than black.)
Yves Saint Laurent
Models and Dogs