Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion - Exhibition (London, UK)

Before I bombard you with all the fashion treasures I uncovered in Reykjavik, I thought I'd share a post that's so long overdue, I wasn't sure if I should still bother blogging about it. But since this was one of the best fashion exhibitions I've seen to date and the subject matter is quite timeless, I thought it might be worth sharing. The 'Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion' exhibition, which most Londoners may be familiar with, was hosted by the Barbican Art Gallery and showcased avant-garde Japanese fashion from the early 80s to now. Along with visionaries such as Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, who challenged the Western fashion aesthetic and redefined it for the world, the new generation of designers such as Tao Kurihara and Mintdesigns is featured as well.

As the first gallery in Europe to extensively highlight contemporary Japanese fashion, I thought that both the Barbican and Japanese fashion historian/curator Akiko Fukai did an excellent job. What I enjoyed most (apart from the clothing) was the layout, which not only saw the numerous pieces divided and grouped in a large space surrounded by sheer fabric draped from the ceiling, but also followed an order that for once wasn't chronological. The ground floor had a thematic approach, with four categories that included 'In Praise of Shadows', 'Flatness', 'Innovation and Tradition' as well as 'Cool Japan'. The top floor presented the main Japanese designers separately and also featured additional material such as runway videos, inspirational literature and other memorabilia.

For anyone who wasn't able to attend the exhibition (which unfortunately is no longer running), I'd highly recommend getting the official book by Akiko Fukai, which can be purchased via Amazon here (and it's even on sale!). It follows the basic structure of the exhibition, but includes plenty more background information and photography. Definitely a must-read for any fashion lover.

Below you'll find a few highlights from the exhibit (and book), categorized as described above. Don't forget to click the link, to read more after the jump.

In Praise of Shadows

This section reveals the love for monochromatic shades adopted by Japanese designers, which allow a focus on details and textures, rather than color. According to Fukai, the color palette stems from the cultural sensibility attuned to light and shade, as well as the power of black.

Pieces by Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto and Jun Takahashi.

More black artworks by Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto.


This category showcased the love and contrast of both flatness and volume. During a time when Western fashion was dominated by bodycon garments, the Japanese were fascinated by creating space between fabric and body - an expression of 'ma', a Japanese concept that views voids between objects as rich, energized spaces. Commissioned by Rei Kawakubo, photographer Naoya Hatakeyama's works reveal the geometric shapes and 'flatness' of Kawakubo's garments when unworn.

Issey Miyake's famous Pleats series created extraordinary outlines which had an abstract relationship with the body.

Rei Kawakubo's voluminous gowns in contrast with their 'flatness' (courtesy of Naoya Hatakeyama) when unworn.

Innovation and Tradition

Modern Japanese design also saw the complete reinvention of traditional garments and techniques, such as the kimono and origami, as well as the integration of traditional patterns in contemporary pieces.

These incredible Issey Miyake pieces showed how garments were created from just one piece of long fabric.

The use of structural origami inspired techniques as used by Yohji Yamamoto (top left), Junya Watanabe (lower row) and the beautiful gold dress by Koji Tatsuno.

Rei Kawakubo's use of Japanese iconography, embroidery and layering for Comme des Garçons.

Traditional patterns and structures reinvented by (starting left) Kenzo, Matohu, Yohji Yamamoto and Tao Kurihara.

Cool Japan

The final section on the lower level presented the young wave of designers influenced primarily by Japanese streetstyle and the crop of independent labels that defined the look in the Harajuku area. In addition to the use of manga and cartoon characters, the showcase lightly touches on the cosplay (costume play) phenomenon, as well as the Lolita and Gothic Lolita styles which have made their mark on Japanese high fashion.

This colorful area featured manga and other cartoon inspired designs. Pieces by Ohya, Zucca and Junya Watanabe.

Looks by Jun Takahashi for Undercover (top). A playful dress with a 'doll' collar by Fumito Ganryu (lower left) and a frilly number by Tao Kurihara for Tao Comme des Garçons.

The second part of the exhibition, which focuses on individual designers (including Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, Junya Watanabe and more), can be viewed after the jump.

Issey Miyake

Issey Miyake's newest venture 132 5, is a series of intricately folded polygons made from sustainable PET. Completely flat on the ground, they transform into geometric dresses once worn.

Rei Kawakubo

As one of the most influential living designers, Kawakubo's pieces envelop, rather than flaunt the female body and while the above pieces show her colorful side, Rei favors black fabric.

Yohji Yamamoto

The most poetic of the Japanese designers, Yamamoto combines European couture, workwear and men's tailoring influences with a traditional Japanese aesthetic. His featured works include his Y3 collaboration with Adidas.

Junya Watanabe

In addition to working for Comme des Garçons, Watanabe's own work demonstrates his love for modern performance fabric and innovative shapes, as well as a complete (and admirable) disregard for current trends.

Jun Takahashi

By his own admission, Takahashi's designs tread a fine line between beautiful and ugly. His current work is much more wearable though and strays slightly from the typical and shocking goth and punk rock aesthetic of his Undercover label.

Tao Kurihara

With Rei Kawakubo as her mentor, Kurihara (much like Junya Watanabe) disregards trends. Her designs under the Comme des Garçons umbrella incorporate elements that are more playful and feminine than those of her Japanese counterparts.


Mintdesigns' look is almost exclusively based on graphics and prints, including everything from graphic novels to blueprints. Some of the above garments are made from shredded envelopes and sailboat material made of polyester.

Next Generation

Sharing a boldly conceptual approach to material and form as first pioneered by Kawakubo, Yamamoto and Miyake, the new generation of Japanese designers is set to take the fashion world by storm. Pieces by Tamae Hirokawa for Somarta (top left), Taro Horiuchi (lower left), Chitose Abe for Sacai (center), Mikio Sakabe (top right) and Akira Naka (lower right).


  1. It must've been amazing to have had the chance to see these pieces up close!

  2. amazing... I would have loved to attend that exhibition.. I've always been fascinated by oriental cultures.. it sometimes seems they do live in a different world... their imagination is beyond limits.. Yamamoto and Miyake I truly admire.
    .. all these different designs, with different textures, approaches, themes.. the origami in clothes is just fabulous, I've always loved that.. how cool you got to go there and thanks for sharing the photos.. great post.. stay cool!

  3. I completely missed this and feeling like a right pollock for doing so. Thanks for posting on this - what wonderful work - the Yamamoto pieces are stunning!

  4. I went to the exhibition and absolutely loved it. All the designs were absolutely gorgeous and unique. I love the pictures you took there.

  5. oh, how amazing! i have to check out the book you recommended!

  6. What a wonderful exhibition and would so love to have been able to go.
    Thank you for sharing your photographs of these amazing and unique collections.
    Will see if I can get the book.

    Happy week

  7. Wow they are all so different and complex! What a great showcase of Japanese fashion.

    Show me what's inspiring you this summer & you could win a Karmin G3 styling iron!

  8. Such an amazing exhibition! These people are so talented, the clothes are just unique and lovely.

  9. Gorgeous. So colourful and creative! I would love to go to that Exhibition! Thank you for sharing these photographs :) They have found their way onto my overflowing 'inspiration' folder!


  10. Some of the fashion is a bit avant garde for my taste, but the Yohji Yamamoto collection is just stunning. Loved that structured dress! And the off white one...can double as a wedding gown too!

  11. Cool post! I like red innovation! :)

  12. This post is amazing !
    Really like Comme des Garçons !

  13. great information about Japan designer, thanks

  14. I am really loving the Cool Japan section - it's very playful and youthful! :)

  15. Wow, some truly amazing works of art in the form of fashion, so beautiful! I like a lot of the black pieces in the middle, and the nude coloured ruffled dress is so lovely. I love the use of structural origami inspired techniques...just fascinating!

    Hope you had a wonderful Easter weekend!


  16. What a fabulous exhibit!

    Amazing pics, darling!


  17. Beautiful !!! Really nice blog !


  18. This looks like an amazing exhibit! I wish I could see it in person!

  19. Wonderful post! Thank you for this insight view and the detailed presentation of such an interesting exhibition. :)

  20. So many inspiring pictures! Interestingly I saw Miyake's pleats worn by women in Paris, but rarely here in London. And the white Rei Kawakubo dress... THAT would be my dream wedding dress!

    (Talking about weddings... I think you are doing well to escape London. I'm not coming in for a while either. Enjoy Scotland! xo)

  21. Hi my dear-wow, what an awesome exhibition! The Japanese have a flair and style all of their own which is so unique and stunning. I love Issey Miyakes designs and this is a wonderful post with amazing pictures, well done indeed xx

  22. Fascinating post. I've always been a big fan of Japanese fashion and every time I go to Tokyo I cannot help but fathom upon how well-dressed everybody is there. :) Cool Japan is my favorite exhibition - I've a fan of many Japanese street brands including, listed above, Zucca, but among others, I love 'World Wide Love!'

  23. This looks like a really fascinating exhibit. Some of the pieces are just stunning!

  24. Amazing exhibition. These clothes are so stunning. You are one lucky girl.

  25. Great post. Beautiful written and very informative. Thank You for sharing. Xxxx

  26. This looks fantastic! I've always been such a fan of Japanese fashion. They are true visionaries. Thanks for sharing, love! xoxo

  27. wow it looks like such an amazing exhibition!

  28. Gorgeous collection of textures and colors - too bad it's over! I can't wait to hit the museums when we're back in London.

    Thanks - you are so right about outlets as well and I added a few sentences about it. I got my coveted Burberry Prorsum bag at the London outlet and love it. I love, love eBay too and am definitely going to write a guide about eBay shopping some time. It is the best for out of season stuff but some hot items still hold their value or appreciate over time!

    Chic 'n Cheap Living

  29. Oh my gosh! These are so amazing. I really feel so lucky to "join" you on all these amazing trips and museum exhibitions...where else could we get all these amazing images and experiences? I keep scrolling through trying to decide my favorite but I can't! I love them all.

  30. All these wonderful blogs about London has me wanting to go there even more!!!

    Also these pieces from Japan are brilliant!!! Lovely designs!

    Have a lovely weekend.


  31. I love the Japan fashion. I have to confess I'm a lover of all the culture and vision of life! Cool post :D



  32. This looks like a wonderful exhibition. Great photos =)

  33. THIS POST IS AMAZING! I love Japanese fashion. Most of their work is very surreal...I wish I could come up with ideas such as theirs.

  34. I'm simply in awe by these pictures! The origami dresses, the stunning white dress from Rei, and everything you showed us! Japan is one step ahead of us in design and innovation! xoxoxoo

  35. i love issey miyake
    love Japanese fashion !

  36. japanese design is like no other. the structure is just pure genius.

  37. You always capture the best inspiration board ever.
    Again another reason the love the Asian designers.
    Lee x

  38. these are some crazy art work! thanks for sharing < 3

  39. Hello, darling! Did you watch the wedding?
    I actually read this post twice... yep, honestly, twice. Loved it. I can't even pick a piece or designer I love because I find the entire exhibition totally fascinating. It's beautiful in its own mysterious way and I just find myself staring and loving the details... Really wish I could touch some of the clothes...

    Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

  40. I just loved the images. Just like meeting you. Such interesting discussions.

  41. I have yet to pick up the exhibition catalogue, but I love the fact that they referenced Tanizaki in the exhibition. I booked a ticket to go to one of the evening talks they held but I was ill...as usual.

  42. would like to own a book. I am quite of dummy when it comes to Japanese fashion. I have a lot to learn and repair that! on my to-do-list :)
    I am glad you enjoyed the exhibition. Fab post!

  43. Japanese fashion and style are always unique and interesting.

  44. What an interesting concept (the space between garnmens and skin)!



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