Back in black: Yohji Yamamoto built his reputation in monochrome. And the latest collection from the Prince of Darkness is bolder - and blacker - than ever, says Susannah Frankel
Monday 11 December 2006
In explanation of his current collection - the darkest, most voluminous and uncompromising for some time - the designer Yohji Yamamoto claims he is bored with 'pretty, pretty' fashion. Taking things one step further, he goes on to announce, with considerable pride, that he knows that not many people will like this particular mind-set but that he, for one, simply doesn't care.
This latest offering commemorates a quarter of a century showing on an international stage, after all - Yamamoto first arrived in the French fashion capital in 1981 and, though still based in Tokyo, has been unveiling his twice-yearly women's wear in Paris ever since. It is perhaps only apposite that the designer, something of an elder statesman, has gone back to his roots.
Larger-than-life-size trouser suits in bleached panne velvets; equally roomy jackets layered one over the other; coats, the arms of which are pinned to the sides; and acres of black gabardine - Mr Yamamoto's love affair with gabardine is well-known - is all about as far from obviously ingratiating as it is possible to imagine big-name designer fashion to be. It serves as nothing if not a reminder that when the designer first made a name for himself, those who wore his clothes were labelled 'the crows' - and that even in his native Japan.
The look photographed here is quintessential Yamamoto. It is black - with Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, Yohji reinvented the inky hue as the colour to see and be seen wearing for the intelligent fashion-follower throughout the 1980s. It is far from body-conscious - the point where this designer is concerned has always been to envelop the female form in large expanses of fabric, creating an intimate dialogue between clothing and wearer, as opposed to exposing it for all to see.
Equally typical is the fact there is more going on at the back of the garment than at the front. It is part of the mythology that by now surrounds Yamamoto both that overt displays of female sexuality frighten him - he is 'scared', he says, for example, by short skirts and red lipstick - and that the woman of his dreams is one he is endlessly searching for and never quite catching up with. She is seen, therefore, more often than not, from behind. In this case, a pannier is created in gabardine (what else?), exaggerating the girth of the hips and highlighting the narrowness of the torso.
It almost goes without saying that this is not a silhouette that is commonly embraced on the catwalk, not least because the preoccupation with slenderness decrees that narrowness is aimed for at all costs. These trousers, conversely, are enormous - hugely comfortable, wide-legged and so long that they form puddles on the floor.
They would, of course, in more mainstream hands, be teamed with a pair of leg-lengthening high heels. Heaven forbid! Yamamoto's footwear is almost invariably flat (high heels are also scary) and masculine. Barbie and her ilk have no place in this world. This designer has worked with the masculine wardrobe since he started out, adapting it the better to suit his vision of femininity, and he is now doing so once again. Finally, the trousers are teamed with a black shirt with its roots similarly in the menswear tradition. It is entirely simple but impeccably proportioned. Nobody does these better.
For the past few years, Yamamoto's designs have perhaps seemed less radical than they had done in the early part of his career, more gentle and unashamedly feminine. Overblown bridal gowns, floor-length silk velvet coats with fur-lined hoods and circle skirts have all found their way into an oeuvre that was previously more austere. Not so this time round. It is nothing if not testimony to the impact Yamamoto has by now had on the world that this collection, though intended as aggressively anti-establishment, in fact chimes perfectly with the prevailing mood.
This decrees that every 'it' label from Chloe to Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton is offering up high-waisted trousers so wide that an entire size-zero celebrity, complete with hardware-laden oversized bag, could happily reside in one leg for a week. Masculine footwear, also, has never seemed so fashionable: Prada, Miu Miu, the Comme des Garcons protégé Junya Watanabe and more have come up with this in place of anything more high-heeled and strappy by nature.
Yamamoto's take on an oversized, masculine-inspired aesthetic is always the most poetic, however, and even meaningful. Perhaps that is because he is doing it to please nobody other than himself.
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