Issey Miyake, AW 1989
(photo: Yuriko Takagi, Issey Miyake, Taschen 2016)
At an early age, I knew what I wanted: to look like tomorrow.
There’s been the Alex P Keaton Joe. There’s been the grunge era Joe. There’s been the jazz hipster Joe. It was an image-obsessed childhood, and somewhere in my adolescence, I knew that I wanted to be like no other…and to look like no other. I didn’t want to rehash the styles of older eras anymore, because I didn’t want to be comparable to anyone. I wanted the future – to be the future – now. And I needed help.
In a pre-Internet age, there was really only one way to source out that sort of look: magazines. By cosmic coincidence, it was easy to find used Japanese magazines in Calgary’s Chinese malls, and in particular a heap of Japanese men’s fashion magazines. What I found in those magazines, at the time, was novel. Asymmetrical sweaters! Men’s cropped pants! T-shirts with sayings that made no sense!
Nigo (l) & Hiroshi Fujiwara (r)
(photo: Eyescream Magazine, May 2009)
It was a steep education. I flipped through picture after picture of what Japanese men wore out, long before “street style” was even part of the North American vernacular. Much of it was influenced by Hiroshi Fujiwara, a self-professed “cultural DJ”, widely credited for bringing American street culture (particularly hip hop culture) to Japan, and later Nigo of Bathing Ape. Both modified existing American tropes into something originally Japanese unto itself, and, more importantly, both expressed something original unto themselves.
Pleats Please, Issey Miyake
(photo: Francis Giacobetti, Pleats Please, Taschen 2012)
But even that wasn’t quite enough. Their expression was original, but it was also familiar. The look wasn’t quite ‘tomorrow’ to me: it was more ‘later this afternoon.’ I didn’t collect sneakers, and I’ve never really worn t-shirts. It just wasn’t me.
What drew me in further into these magazines were hints of something more alien, scattered among those pages. There were odd pictures of shapes that I’d never seen in fashion before, of images that I’d never seen anywhere before. Clothes that didn’t seem like clothes; clothes that didn’t seem tied to any sort of existing rhyme, reason or logic. They didn’t quite look old; they didn’t quite look new. They existed outside of time.
Commes des Garcons, Rei Kawakubo, AW 2012
(photo: Mark Segal for Vogue Nippon, October 2012)
It was here that I began to appreciate fashion as art. Ordinary dimensions and proportions seemed jettisoned for completely different approaches. The texture of each fabric seemed to have its own opinion, apart from what final form it actually took. These designs had both whimsy and deathly seriousness to them, an internal conflict that spoke without melodrama. There was progression here, an evolution away from all fashion I’d noticed before. It all reflected the Japanese concept of space or “ma”, the experience between two points, destinations or even ideas. Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, and Yohji Yamamoto weren’t just introducing new words into my vocabulary, they were introducing a new alphabet.
Yohji Yahamoto, SS 2006, presented in the 2011 Design Museum Holon exhibit
(photo: Sharon Derhy & Holon Design Museum, Tel Aviv)
As vital and revolutionary as these were to me cerebrally, there was still a reckoning. I devoured what I could of this fashion conceptually, taking in their fresh air as a new oxygen one could breathe. But they existed on a different plane of existence than the one I resided in: quite frankly, there was no real way I could wear these outfits even on special occasions, much less on a day-to-day basis (not to mention that most of what I loved was from their respective womenswear collections). They weren’t rooted in my reality, and, as much as I wanted the look of tomorrow, I needed to express myself, today.
And so I learned to dissect. While I couldn’t wear the full ensembles these designers put forward as a whole, I could incorporate individual pieces into what I already owned or knew to wear. A Sacai shirt here with a pair of jeans; a Commes Des Garcons sweater there with a simple white dress shirt. By finally figuring out how to do so – and it did take a lot of trial and error – I learned how to incorporate messages of tomorrow, while still expressing something of today. I learned how to say something about the future while still being rooted in the present. I learned that it was crucial to keep an eye on both.
Slowly but surely, that image obsession subsided, even though those new expressions and concepts still rattle around in my brain. It was the space or ‘ma’ concept that resonated most: exploring that space between being present and looking toward the future, and, most importantly, enjoying that space between acceptance and aspiration. Because that space in-between? That’s the look I want.