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Yohji Yamamoto: The Secret Sewn in

It seems to be Yamamoto’s fate to be compared to Kawakubo. In many respects, the comparison suggests itself. Both are masters of the multilayered look and of asymmetry; both work primarily in dull colors – in black or in a deep blue; both use red as a light-value rather than as a color, as an equivalent to black; both were responsible for the launching of the faux vieux look, the already-used look; both inscribe the history of European fashion into their work.

The last point is decisive, not only for what differentiates them from old-world fashion, but also for their treatment of history, for their transformation of fashion into a medium of history. In neither case is this a variation of European historicism, as in Westwood, nor is it a post-modernism, as was too rapidly concluded in some quarters. Postfashion remains modern. It draws post-modern elements back into the project of the moderns, and the Japanese have been the only ones able to do this without falling into a nostalgia for the familiar and the known.

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Miyake, in his best works, is the strangest, and Kawakubo, in her best works, is the most modern, so Yamamoto seems the nearest, the most familiar. But as the altogether strange in Miyake tends, in its folding-trickery, towards the native sense for folklore, and the transgressive motifs of Comme des Garçons give expression to an almost forgotten modernity that has now become alien to itself, so also in Yamamoto the proximity comes from further away than romanticizing admirers such as Wim Wenders would like to think.

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