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Critical design in JapanMaterial culture, luxury, and the avant-garde$
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Ory Bartal

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781526139979

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.7765/9781526139986

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From cute to Rei Kawakubo: fashion and protest

From cute to Rei Kawakubo: fashion and protest

(p.86) 3 From cute to Rei Kawakubo: fashion and protest
Critical design in Japan

Ory Bartal

Manchester University Press

This chapter discusses avant-garde Japanese fashion and the countercultural use of the body as a critical site of resistance in Japan. Focusing on the young Japanese designers who turned against a homogeneous, collectivist culture to create various subcultures by using style as a social statement in the 1970s, this chapter presents the popular kawaii culture as a colourful and fluffy protest against the humdrum, everyday life of the corporate employees (sararīman) working for Japanese conglomerates, who represented the values and norms of Japanese society in the 1970s. Alongside this protest, this chapter also presents the deconstructive fashion of the Comme des Garçons company and its designer, Rei Kawakubo. As of the 1970s, Kawakubo engaged with the politics of the body and identity and countered the aesthetic discourse and repressive values imposed by the fashion world through dress patterns and fashion photographs that presented women with an imaginary ‘ideal’ body. These two oppositional fashion statements challenged different power hierarchies (in Japanese society and in the fashion world), while addressing issues of class and gender.

Keywords:   Japanese fashion design, Kawaii, Comme des Garçons, Rei Kawakubo, Body politics, Identity politics, Japanese subcultures , Avant-garde fashion 

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