The exhibition displays over 100 formative designs of the Comme des Garçons visionaries from Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto alongside some artifacts and documentaries from the period. From the tears, twists, rips and frays through to the immaculate seams and cuts that have formed some of the most innovative strands in contemporary fashion. Wispy white cotton drapes formed the discreet and gentle exhibition design by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto.
The exhibition is divided into four parts on the ground floor and upstairs is devoted to single designers with collections of films and seminal catwalk shows. Entering the first space, in Praise of Shadows, the name was taken from the 1933 text by Japanese author Juni'chiro Tanizaki, was predictedbly monochrome but gently radical pieces by Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto from their revered collections of the early eighties. Junya Watanabe, Issey Miyake's radical one-cut A-POC system, placed these dresses alongside dark and spectacular pieces by Jun Takahashi and Matohu. The definitive spirals of Koji Tatsuno spirals that were used in Peter Greenaway's film the Pillow book completed the section.
While many of the garments offered a new interpretation of female figure, a looser more spectacular cut, fabrics and honeycombs and padding that seem relevant and informative in current design. However, as one of the sections reveals, one of the eternal themes of contemporary fashion seems to be flatness. In this part of the show, simple, clean geometries and interplay of flatness and volume in the work of Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo. Classic Japanese high street fashion from fetish cartoony styles to bubblegum pop Hello Kitty handbags are also given a platform as is Wim Wenders' classic documentary on Yamamoto – Notebook of Cities and Clothes.
After series of garments-on-models, the upper galleries of "Future Beauty" are dedicated to focused presentations on each of the principle designers in the show featuring a range of archive and recent works which worked quite well. The big names include Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, Junya Watanabe, Jun Takahashi and Tao Kurihara, as well as Mintdesigns and a number of emerging designers. In an effort to add more than simply a static collection of clothes, a number of rare books, catalogues and magazines and even catwalk invitations, which highlight Yamamoto, Miyake and Kawakubo's collaborations with artists, photographers and designers, were on show.
Overall the exhibition will satisfy fashion lovers and provides reams of inspiration for fashion students. The lack of critical text on display is a shame and gives the impression that where design and architecture require the services of academics, critics and wordy captions, but that fashion speaks for itself. A little more depth would have added a lot. Beatrice Galilee
Future Beauty. 30 Years of Japanese Fashion
15 October 2010 – 6 February 2011
Barbican Art Gallery, London