Fashion’s Ultimate Fantasist Makes a Comeback

Kansai Yamamoto isn’t a name that readily trips off the tongue when speaking about Japanese fashion design. Yohji is the Yamamoto that leaps to mind, a designer who upended Western ideas of dress alongside Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons in Paris in the early 1980s.

But Kansai (perhaps to avoid confusion, he tends to be referred to by his first name, rather than his last) got there first: He showed in London in 1971, a full decade before Kawakubo and the other Yamamoto. And his singular aesthetic — overloaded with color, print and Asiatic art inspirations galore — is proving especially influential to designers today.

You may not know Kansai’s name, but you’d recognize his clothes — from David Bowie, if no-one else. In clashing synthetics and high-shine silks in a cacophony of jarring shades, they are loud, even obnoxious. With sculptural, abstract shapes (practicality be damned!), they’re ideal to be seen from the back of a stadium — which is probably what attracted Bowie to them in the first place. Bowie started wearing Kansai’s ostensibly commercial women’s wear on his 1972 “Ziggy Stardust” tour, subsequently collaborating with the designer to create one-off showpieces.

David Bowie and Kansai Yamamoto at Kansai’s studio in April 1973, when Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust tour came to Japan. Bowie is wearing the “Space Samurai” jumpsuit, created by Yamamoto and based on the hakama, traditional Japanese men’s trousers worn with the kimono. Credit © Sukita

Born in Yokohama, on Japan’s east coast, Kansai graduated from Tokyo’s Bunka Fashion College (also the training ground for Yohji Yamamoto, as well as Junya Watanabe and Jun Takahashi of Undercover). He founded his own business, Yamamoto Kansai Company, Ltd, at 28. The London show followed the same year, garnering attention and securing Kansai’s debut the cover of British Harpers & Queen magazine. “Explosion From Tokyo” ran the coverline. That first show made enough waves to attract Bowie’s attention, whose Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane tours cemented the Kansai aesthetic in popular culture.

Kansai allies his clothing to the Japanese concept of basara — a love of color and flamboyance. It’s also directly in contrast with the idea of wabi-sabi, the Buddhist ideal of the beauty in imperfection, modesty and humble materials. None of that is terribly Kansai. His clothes, by contrast, are more readily associated with the Azuchi–Momoyama period of Japanese art, a brief, opulent era between the mid-16th and early 17th centuries. The art of that period was pretty basara — lavish, decorative, often bold, even aggressive.

From left: Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci, fall/winter 2017; Valentino pre-fall 2016; Gucci pre-fall 2017. Credit From left: Firstview; courtesy of the designers (2)

Kansai’s aesthetic is, strangely, seldom tagged as “Japanese.” Perhaps that’s because we tend to think of Japan as wabi-sabi rather than basara — the former being readily associated with the intentionally distressed output of Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo from the early 1980s, a look the fashion press disparagingly dubbed “Bag Lady Chic” and which remains, even today, the defining look of “Japanese” fashion. By contrast, Kansai’s designs cherry-pick from Japanese history — and roam through Asian art as a whole, fusing disparate visuals — irezumi tattoos, Imperial Chinese court robes from the Qing dynasty, a print derived from Hokusai’s “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” — into single garments. Kansai’s prints and visual treatments echo the two-dimensional nature of much Asian art — bold and graphic, rather than nuanced and detailed, with the rich, brilliant colors of porcelain or enamel. He loved a wide unfurling cape, both for its impact as a silhouette but also as a canvas for decoration, like a Chinese or Japanese screen, allowing a pictorial story to unfold. The theatricality of the overall effect was also quintessentially early-’70s — and fundamentally glam.

Louis Vuitton’s resort 2018 collection, shown in Kyoto, featured a number of graphic designs created in collaboration with Kansai Yamamoto — including this Petit Malle purse, left, and a dress patterned with a traditional Japanese caricature of a yakko (warrior), right. Credit Courtesy of Louis Vuitton; Firstview

There’s something of a Kansai revival happening right now in fashion — or at least, a revival of his basara aesthetic. Kansai’s signature riot of color, texture and pattern is evident in Alessandro Michele’s most recent Gucci collections. Some designers have stuck closer than others to the Kansai style: The stated inspiration behind Valentino’s pre-fall 2016 collection was Elio Fiorucci, but a section that paid graphic homage to Japan (Mount Fuji included) looked pure Kansai. And Riccardo Tisci patterned his final Givenchy men’s wear collection in January with totem-pole graphics that bear uncanny similarities to Kansai’s gurning faces, with tongues protruding, inspired by the caricatured yakko (soldier) masks of Japanese theatre. Nicolas Ghesquiere at Louis Vuitton paid the most overt homage in his 2018 cruise show, which was held in Kyoto: He actually enlisted Kansai himself (who is now 73) to create several new graphics, including reworks of those grimacing yakko faces across brief shifts and boxy petit malle handbags.

That these contemporary brands are collaborating (or liberally borrowing) from Kansai’s obscure archive is less interesting than why. Why Kansai right now? Kansai’s clothes characterize a specific breed of 1970s escapism — into outer space, to new and imaginary cultures, to the future, from the past, shedding gender while you were at it. Glam rock — which Kansai’s designs for Bowie helped to fundamentally shape aesthetically — was about dreaming, about offering a certain unreality as a salve to troubled times. It was a colorful, campy distraction from terrorism, economic strife, the Yom Kippur and Vietnam Wars, and the crooked politicians of Watergate.

Ring any bells?

Gal Gadot, Cate Blanchett, and all the Best Fashion from Comic-Con’s Superhero Stars

Forget Hollywood: this weekend, all eyes were on San Diego for Comic-Con. Every year, actors from Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and assorted mega-franchises make their way to the event–and bring a wealth of designer looks with them. Showing up for panels, autograph signings, and photo ops means looking great and–spoiler alert–paying attention to the runways’ biggest trends.

Given their comfort level with superhero costumes and fantasy gear, the actresses of Comic Con weren’t afraid of taking a few fashion risks, or playing against their onscreen type. Fresh from donning horned helmets and a brunette wig as Hella, goddess of death in Thor: Ragnarok, Cate Blanchett arrived in a dapper suit from Monse. Her co-star Tessa Thompson kept things sweet in lacy Rodarte, a stark contrast to the layers of armor she sports as Valkyrie as well as the corporate power dressing she wears on Westworld. Lupita Nyong’o brought tropical glamour in a patterned Elie Saab, and Krysten Ritter kept things exciting with three monochromatic looks.

Of course, Marvel’s stars weren’t the only ones turning heads. DC faithful weren’t disappointed: Wonder Woman Gal Gadot’s sequined Stella McCartney raised the bar for best dressed. Here, a look at the freshest fashion from Comic-Con’s most stylish actresses.

Fashion: Wet ‘n’ wild

When Raf Simons sent his models down the runway recently in New York wearing raincoats, rain hats, umbrellas and gumboots, there was a menacing edge to the presentation. Who would have thought someone could re-work the utility and practicality of rainwear into something that appeared chic and sensual? Slippery outwear and waterproof accessories were presented in voluminous shapes, graphic colours and glossy textures – a provocative approach highlighted by the collection’s inspiration of a dark and dizzying Bladerunner dystopia.

As spring deliveries trickle in this week, the need for quality waterproof rainwear continues, the desire for not only practical, but good-looking wet weather gear a year-round quest. From waterproof coats and hats to watertight (and stylish) drink bottles, keeping dry has never looked so good.

Macpac waterproof bucket hat $60.
Adidas by Stella McCartney waterproof jacket, about $185, from Matches.
Opening Ceremony waterproof tote bag about $45.
Quay aviator sunglasses, $70, from Amazon.
Spurr waterproof ankle boots, $50, from The Iconic.
Topshop waterproof coat $220.

Rains jacket, $215, from Black Box Boutique.
Blunt umbrella, $119, from Smith & Caughey’s.
Izola 6oz flask with canvas cover, $79, from Good As Gold.
Moustache umbrella, about $89, from Nordstrom.
S’well 17oz titanium drink bottle, about $57, from Need Supply.
C&M coat $599.

Vivienne Westwood umbrella about $710.
Hunter gumboots, about $220, from Nordstrom.
Topshop raincoat $100.
Raf Simons Menswear spring 2018.

 

Is Fashion Performance Art?

The educational melding of theatre costumes and wearable style makes for an intriguing mix in a Roman academy

Accademia Costume & Moda’s entrance, Rome.

The heroine was Mary Poppins. And although London’s Victorian age pearly kings and queens are somewhere between art and theatre, that intersection of the two elements was the point of creating these elegantly tailored jackets decorated with buttons.

 

They were displayed in Rome at the Accademia Costume & Moda – a rare school that melds designing for the performing arts with fashion.

Since haute couture – and all high-end design – switched from primarily serving clients to showcasing creative concepts, there have been earnest discussions about fashion as art. It started well before the new millennium when drama on the runway was normalised by defining fashion shows as theatre.

The final work “Costume Talents” by eight BA Costume & Fashion students who designed and developed the costumes for The Game of Love and Chance at Teatro India in Rome, last May. Emphasis is on the process that brought alive the costumes worn by the actors: research and inspiration, sketches and patterns, “historical cuts” and “making of”.

But in the current confusion of what is now haute couture and, on another fashion page, whether students should be encouraged to make exciting but unwearable creations, the academic and industrial projects from the students in Rome struck a chord.

Exhibition space dedicated to work by second and third year BA Costume & Fashion students. All of the products were crafted by hand and characterised by thorough research on materials and shapes.

With Alessandro Michele of Gucci as its shining alumnus (you can even see the noble Gucci building from the windows of the Accademia), the educational approach of this college makes an interesting study.

Is it a different context to the British or American schools that – especially in the case of the UK – have dominated design for the last quarter of a century?

Lupo Lanzara, Deputy Chairman of the Accademia Costume & Moda, explained that the family business he now runs with his brother, CEO Furio Francini, sets out to highlight three pillars of education: costume; fashion and accessories; and communications, which includes editing and styling. All three are treated as significant and important.

Silvia Fendi and Lupo Lanzara at Accademia Costume & Moda.

The first section was the world of Mary Poppins, but so much more, as students learned to create everything from clothes to face masks and even fake noses. Significantly, these are more than dreamy ideas, as student groups aim to create costumes for a specific show that brings their budding skills to the Italian stage, either for theatre or ballet.

Current work by MA Costume Design students for their final theatrical project: The Sleeping Beauty, to premiere in December at the prestigious Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Sicily.

I watched Andrea Viotti, Italy’s legendary designer of costumes and sets and also a noted historian of military dress, who explained that his aim was to teach his students to become ‘young professionals’ after studying techniques required for performance. They need to understand not just what was worn in past or present, but also to comprehend the social and economic background that gave birth to such clothes.

Costumes designed by Accademia’s first year students (BA in Costume & Fashion), freely inspired by Gustav Klimt.

I was intrigued to see that while ‘costume’ was kept in this arena of the large 1925 building with its wide staircase, the concept of re-creating past designs popped up in other areas of fashion studies. For example, for a workshop with Rome’s Alta Moda, there was a line-up of bustiers of varied silhouettes from tightly laced, fin-de-siècle corsets to lighter body shapers.

Accademia’s fashion laboratory was dedicated to the shirt elaborations developed by MA Alta Moda students, inspired by “La Camicia Bianca” to a brief from Rita Airaghi, Chairman of the Gianfranco Ferré foundation.

Another Alta Moda project, this time with Rita Airaghi of the Gianfranco Ferré foundation, was to keep the late designer’s legacy alive via a fresh vision of his signature white shirts.

What struck me about the line up from graduating designers is that they were not pushing the barrier of what is credible as clothing. As if the theatrical option had creamed off those students who wanted to design costumes, projects for clothes and accessories were easily understandable.

Vocational Fashion Design course students work on brief for Max Mara using jersey fabric supported by Dondi Jersey

Work for Diesel, Max Mara and Woolmark included knitting, tailoring and sportswear. Striking knits with bold patterns or decorations of pearls had been displayed at Florence’s Pitti Filati fair in partnership with 35 Italian knitwear companies, melding the personal with the industrial.

Was it really so different from the college shows I have seen over many years? Perhaps not. Yet, I came away from the Accademia Costume & Moda feeling that there was something in the approach – the separating of costume and clothes – that defined what fashion should be in the real world: imaginative, but within the realm of wearable clothing.

Be Blue Be Balestra, a project developed with Roman couturier Renato Balestra for Accademia’s MA Alta Moda and Accessories design students. Here Mr. Balestra is with Vasiliki Grammenou (fashion winner) and Li Kexuan (accessories winner).

 

 

The Warby Parker of Wedding Dresses Is Here to Save Alfred Angelo Brides Left in the Lurch

Last week, Alfred Angelo abruptly shuttered all of its more than 50 nationwide locations (including the ones in Springfield, Virginia and Glen Burnie, Maryland), stopped the delivery of dresses to independent boutiques, and yanked its website as it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In the wake, hundreds of brides (and their ‘maids) are without wedding dresses that were paid for, ordered, and, in many cases, left inside now-vacant stores, causing sheer nuptial panic, anxiety, and—we’re guessing—a lot of tears. To help, newlyweds across the country are offering up their gowns on loan through social media, David’s Bridal has extended deep discounts to Alfred Angelo customers, and, most recently, new online retailer Floravere, has stepped up to offer 50 free sample gowns to brides left without wedding gowns.

Which gives us the perfect cue to introduce unfamiliar readers to Floravere. A relatively new online bridal retailer, Floravere offers a collection of sample gowns that can be shipped direct, so brides can then try them on in the comfort (and—hallelujah—lighting) of their own homes, return the samples (in a pre-paid box), and then request tailoring/design tweaks/full customization of their made-to-order gown, beginning at $945. To help in the midst of the Alfred Angelo debacle, Floravere is now offering 50 Alfred Angelo brides free sample dresses from the retailer’s first two collections. Beyond the first 50 sample dresses, which include the six designs pictured here, in sizes 2, 4, and 10, Floravere is offering 30 percent off any new dress to brides interested in designing their own from the current collection—with guaranteed delivery in five weeks or less.

 

With Speeches And Bright Dresses, Quinceañeras Protest Texas Sanctuary City Ban

Jennifer Ramirez and 14 other young women wearing quinceañera dresses protested on the south steps of the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Wednesday. They protested SB4, an immigration enforcement law.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

The colorful scene melded two time-honored Texas traditions: political protest and the quinceañera.

With skirts flouncing, 15 young women ascended the steps of the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Wednesday morning to a traditional Mexican birthday song played in a mariachi style.

But there was no birthday to celebrate. Instead, the girls had gathered to protest a controversial immigration enforcement law that goes into effect September 1.

“We are here to take a stand against Senate Bill 4, the most discriminatory and hateful law in recent history,” declared Magdalena Juarez, 17, wearing a bright red gown. “When Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law on May 7, he disrespected my community. He put a lot of Texas in danger. SB4 is not only an attack on immigrant communities; it threatens the lives of all people of color.”

As NPR’s Wade Goodwyn reported in June, SB4 “allows local Texas law enforcement officers to request proof of legal residency during any routine detention – for example, a traffic stop. Critics dubbed this the show-me-your-papers law. Further, sheriffs and police chiefs could be jailed if they forbid their officers from participating in any immigration enforcement activities.”

Jolt Texas, a new political action group that aims to organize Latinos in the state, co-organized the protest.

Julia Pierce and Leslie Abraham deliver flowers to the office of a legislator who voted against SB4.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

“Texas has become ground zero for the fight for the rights of immigrants and Latinos,” Jolt founder Cristina Tzintzun told NPR.

She said the quinceañera protest is part of a larger movement.

“This last election we saw Mexicans and Latinos demonized and criminalized and really scapegoated,” said Tzintzun. “And so we want legislators to know and Trump to know that we won’t sit idly by while legislation of hate is passed. That our communities are going to organize and mobilize.”

Thus: Quinceañera At The Capitol.

“In Latino culture, quinceañeras are an important tradition to bring families together, to unite communities, to unite culture,” said Juarez, the young speaker. “We will not meet this law on its hateful level. … We will resist through celebrating our families and our culture.”

But it wouldn’t be a quinceañera without a choreographed dance.

Arms pumping and looking fierce, the girls danced to a mashup of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)” and “Somos Mas Americanos” by Los Tigres del Norte.

And with their symbolic rite of passage complete, the girls filed into the capitol to talk to legislators.

 

21 DRESSES FOR SUMMER

It’s that time of summer when we all face the dreaded problem of running out of summer dresses to pull out at a moments notice. I know I’ve pretty much exhausted all of my options which is why I’ve put together this post of 21 new options for you to consider.

Emilie Lace Dress

I love the versatility in designs that Ganni creates. This super girly lacey-floral number was fun to strut around Melrose Place in for a mid-day shoot with my photographer.

Sundance Dress

Lacausa has the perfect simple slip dresses. I recently bought this in their store with a few other simple summer pieces and I’ve been wearing them nonstop!

Beach Dress

As a part of my recent clothing line launch, I created a very special piece called the Beach Dress. For a limited time only, I created the Beach Dress in red {my favorite color}. Please email haleigh@damselinc.com for details!

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Floral Print Dress

Floral has always been a go-to spring and summer print for me. I especially love how bright the orange flowers stand out against the black colored dress.

Short Sleeve Bra Dress

During the summer it is still extremely warm at night so it is nice to find a cute {affordable} evening dress that you can wear out while still managing to stay cool and comfortable.