Comme des Garçons SS84: Japanese Explosion

FIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

Runway Photography from the Michel Arnaud Archive at the FIDM Museum, Los Angeles

Japanese Explosion
The Paris runways of Spring/Summer 1984 proved the old adage, “you either get it or you don’t.”  The presence of a strong, unified Japanese aesthetic was first made apparent during presentations a season prior, resulting in “headlines, conversations, and controversy.”  Fashionistas, critics, and buyers were divided in their opinions of the avant garde looks, with one New York Times journalist declaring “either the Japanese movement is the most exciting thing to happen to fashion in years, or it’s an outrage, a travesty of what clothes are supposed to be about.” [1]  

Press coverage of the Spring/Summer 1984 shows declared the Japanese had “arrived,” bringing with them excitement over the “startlingly original fashion movement.”

Dresses with haphazard asymmetric hemlines and sleeves extending far beyond arms were met with curiosity, some naysayers unable to “conceive of women wanting to engulf themselves--most of these clothes are cut on the voluminous side--in something so strange, so never before seen.” [2]

Basic Black
Black dominates the initial looks paraded down the runway for Rei Kawakubo’s Spring/Summer 1984 Comme des Garçons show, with just a hint of white highlighting the forehead or cheeks of the models.  These styles give way to subtle patterns in black and gray. [3]

Several models wore snood-like head wraps or hoods integrated into garments. “Miss Kawakubo’s hoods look rough and makeshift, as if they can change their shape as easily as her clothes.

The Penneroux hoods are made of silk scarves or, if attached to the dress or coat, can fall back as cowls.” [4]

Skepticism
of the “Japanese explosion” existed, yet it was difficult to ignore the surging popularity of designers like Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo (Commes des Garçons), Yohji Yamamoto, Mitsuhiro Matsuda, and Kansai Yamamoto.  American department stores such as Barneys and Henri Bendels reported sales of thousands of dollars each day in apparel [5], with the first American Comme des Garçons shop opening in 1983. [6]

Retailers carrying Japanese fashions echoed this observation, reporting the strongest sales were cotton, knit separates. [7]

The universal reaction can be summed up by one New York shopper who, upon slipping into a black coat by Rei Kawakubo, exclaimed “Good God! I look like a pregnant tent!” Although she passed on the coat, she did leave with a white Comme des Garçons shirt. [8]

These stark creations, executed in black, white, or gray, included glimpses or subtle patterns and lighter jersey pieces, prompting one viewer to note, “when Kawakubo hones down on the heavy piles of fabric that exude a rag-bag and war-ravaged look, the clothes can be quite wearable.” [9]

Summer Whites

Despite black and gray being prominent in this Spring/Summer 1984 collection, Rei Kawakubo also offers summer whites, accessorized by “white headdresses that are often in crinkled cotton.” [10]

Rei Kawakubo is credited with creating the “shortest white t-shirt in Paris,” seen here on a model with a white-brushed forehead. The Empire-waisted jersey garment is layered over a breezy white dress. [11]

Maximizing Minimalism
Although the collection was minimalist in accessories, the shoes presented were particularly noteworthy; the “newest shoes” being “black flats set on wedges.” [12]

The footwear associated with this collection was described as "high clogs." [13]

Rei Kawakubo introduced
audiences to a startling new vision cemented in a “shapeless, three-sizes-too-large-look” [13] conjectured as an aesthetic “perhaps fueled by a certain toughness, a reaction to the harsh reality of the post-World War II.” [14]  

Comme des Garçons has remained a stronghold in the fashion scene many decades later, proving “Kawakubo is a designer of purpose, strong enough to leave her mark on the world.” [15]

Credits: Story

© FIDM Museum & Library, Inc.

Research and text by Yvonne Sone.

Photography by Michel Arnaud.

Images made available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws. Users must cite the author and source of the image as they would material from any printed work, and the citations should include the URL “www.fidmmuseum.org”. For publication or press requests, visit this link or email imagerights@FIDMmuseum.org.

1. Carrie Donovan, “Much Ado About the Japanese,” New York Times (New York, NY), Jul. 31, 1983.
2. Ibid.
3. Bernadine Morris, “Japan Goes Own Way in Paris,” New York Times (New York, NY), Oct. 15, 1983.
4. Bernadine Morris, “Adventurous Accessories,” Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ont), Nov. 8, 1983.
5. John Duska, “Bold Fashions By the Japanese are Successful in City’s Stores,” New York Times (New York, NY), May 26, 1983.
6. Angela Taylor, “Soho Store for Rei Kawakubo’s Clothes,” New York Times (New York, NY), Aug. 31, 1983.
7. John Duska, “Bold Fashions By the Japanese are Successful in City’s Stores,” New York Times (New York, NY), May 26, 1983.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. Bernadine Morris, “Japan Goes Own Way in Paris,” New York Times (New York, NY), Oct. 15, 1983.
11. Marylou Luther, “Japanese Designs: Out of Post-Atomic Ashes,” Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA), Oct. 17, 1983.
12. Ibid.
13. Bernadine Morris, “Japan Goes Own Way in Paris,” New York Times (New York, NY), Oct. 15, 1983.
14. Marylou Luther, “Japanese Designs: Out of Post-Atomic Ashes,” Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA), Oct. 17, 1983.
15. Carrie Donovan, “Much Ado About the Japanese,” New York Times (New York, NY), Jul. 31, 1983
16. Bernadine Morris, “Japan Goes Own Way in Paris,” New York Times (New York, NY), Oct. 15, 1983.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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