The current feature exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum on Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto spreads itself out. Not only does this first UK solo retrospective spill out of the V&A’s main exhibition display room – popping up in spaces all over the museum – the celebration of Yamamoto’s work also appears at The Wapping Project Bankside as well as The Wapping Project in Wapping. The V&A features an extensive collection of garments covering the Japanese designer’s career since his Paris debut in 1981. While the fashion photographs shown at the Bankside location are unusual and captivating, the installation at the Wapping location extrapolates Yamamoto’s vision into an immersive and utterly surreal environment.
In a room bright (and hot) with fluorescent light, viewers can get up-close to the avant-garde creations of the Japanese designer. The architectural construction, use of unconventional fabrics and daring embrace of asymmetry and unusual curves make Yamamoto’s garments a pleasure to inspect and admire. Beyond the main room, avid fashionistis can wander the museum to find garments installed in a number of different galleries (it’s a bit of a wild goose chase). These installations place garments in breathtaking juxtapositions with the spaces and the artworks that surround them. It is quite special to witness such curatorial play at the hands of Masao Nihei, Yamamoto’s long-time collaborator, scenographer and lighting designer, and guest designer for the V&A show.
Further east at Bankside, Yamamoto’s power to inspire is showcased in a collection of vintage fashion photographs. Using the Japanese fashion designer’s garments as muse, each photographer subsequently created unusual images that are strong and artistic. The artists (most of them now renown fashion photographers), were all young promising picture-takers when given assignment of Yamamoto’s work. These are not your usual fashion photographs. Maggie Screaming (1999) from Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin is particularly striking; arms held akimbo in a garment whose sleeves stretch long, Maggie’s long gently pleated hair mimics the stripes of her top, and frame her face, closed eyes and mouth gaping open to bare her lower teeth. The collection of photos is quite varied, their consumption quick, but their staying power endures. Other photographers included in the show are Nick Knight, Peter Lindbergh, Craig McDean, Sarah Moon, Paolo Roversi, and Max Vadukul.
Most captivating of all is the installation at The Wapping Project. Within an old hydraulic power station — the venue is part restaurant (in its main hall) and part art gallery space (in the back boiler room) — in a dark flooded room, an enormous white silk wedding dress hangs suspended from the ceiling. The final dress from Yamamoto’s Autumn/Winter 1998 show is caught in a paradoxical moment, it falls yet its skirt billows amply upwards. A row of lights and the glowing mannequin bodice are all that illuminate the room. The coolness of the room, the rhythm of the water, the darkness of the room: it is as if entering a meditation, a dream. There’s even a rowboat — and embarking on it brings you deeper still. Low to the water in the silence of the room, pairs of viewers guided by a boatman can get up close the dress. Yet it is the view below that truly enchants. Reflected in the water, always shimmering with movement, the dress appears to be emanating endlessly from the depths. I am sure it emanated onto the catwalk in 1998 (in which a hat was supported above the model by four men holding long bamboo poles). At The Wapping Project, designer Masao Nihei once again demonstrates his imaginative prowess in evocative design.
Ultimately Nihei shines as an important co-visionary to Yamamoto. Sensitively highlighting the vision of Yamamoto’s garments, Nihei himself demonstrates boundless vision by creating daring installations both around the V&A and at The Wapping Project that captivate and enthrall.
Yohji Yamamoto at The Victoria & Albert Museum and Yohji Making Waves at The Wapping Project both run until July 10. Sign up for boatride at The Wapping Project at the bar of the restaurant upon entering.
Yohji’s Women at The Wapping Project Bankside (65a Hopton Street, SE1 9LR) runs until May 14.