Anyone doubting the impact that Japanese fashion has on what we choose every day to wear should pay a visit to the excellent Future Beauty show at the Barbican.

More than a quarter of a century since names like Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto and more came to the international fashion arena, it's all too easy to be blasé about their contribution.

Walk into the first room, though, where onlookers are met by an oversized black dress with exaggerated funnel neck and asymmetric hem, courtesy of Comme des Garçons, and one could be forgiven for pulling it off the mannequin and leaving in it. Certainly, no one would think it was dated – which, given that it was first shown in 1983, says quite something.

The fact that the exhibition is organised in conjunction with the Kyoto Costume Institute, which holds a huge and valuable archive, adds considerable credence. That said, there is nothing self-congratulatory about the show. Where it could have been po-faced to the point of earnest, it is also playful – focussing on the humour and interaction that is called for to appreciate the designers featured, just as it does on the sobriety of some of their work.

And so, alongside the requisite dark and distressed garments is Comme's famous Body Meets Dress collection (above), crafted in candy-coloured gingham and distorted by oversized, kidney-shaped bumps. (Kawakubo has said that this is the work she is most proud of.)

Also of note is Miyake's A-POC project, brilliantly displayed both as a single roll of poppy-red fabric and cut down into garments. Launched at the turn of the century, it invited the fashion follower to cut out and keep her own complete outfit. It was up to her to follow the dot-to-dot pattern broadly dictated by the designer, and to decide whether her T-shirt should be short or long-sleeved, worn with a mini, midi or maxi-skirt, and so forth.

While an aesthetic is shared to some extent – the wish to envelop more than expose, the insistence of paper-flat footwear and black – it is ultimately the differences that stand out. That is as it should be. For their continuing insistence on individuality and innovation alone, these designers are, after all, exceptional.

Future Beauty: 30 years of Japanese fashion, until 6 February, Barbican Art Gallery