Ryohei Kawanishi & Masahito Kaji at London Fashion Week

This afternoon, I paid my first ever visit to London Fashion Week. I’m not especially into fashion but, like art, I find it interesting to look at and fun to photograph. London Fashion Week probably wouldn’t have even been on my radar though, if it hadn’t been for this exhibition:  JAPAN: International Fashion Showcase 2012 organised by the Embassy of Japan in the UK, in conjunction with the British Fashion Council and the British Council.

The exhibition featured two emerging Japanese designers: milliner Masahito Kaji and recent graduate of Central Saint Martins, Ryohei Kawanishi.

Masahito Kaji: Kabuto

Masahito Kaji: Kabuto

Kaji presents his KABUTO collection of hats, inspired by images of samurai armour. Such notions of a Japanese past are reflected in striking, highly-crafted contemporary designs which are immediately wearable. Kaji’s desire is to see designs for men’s headwear take on a new dimension and realistically take their place in the fashion marketplace. He will be travelling from Japan especially for London Fashion Week. (Embassy of Japan in the UK)

Masahito Kaji: Kabuto

Masahito Kaji: Kabuto

Masahito Kaji: Kabuto

Masahito Kaji: Kabuto

Kawanishi was trained here in the UK. The knitwear he produced for his graduate show in 2011 created a stir, and his work illustrates one very dramatic aspect of the Japanese fashion industry: the one-off art piece. The bright colours of his past works have looked at conflict and chaos. For the International Fashion Showcase, he is producing a new collection of garments inspired by the Japanese sensibility toward impermanence, or what is known in Japan as ‘mujo’.

He says, “Today’s design, particularly of fashion, is obsessed with the idea of newness and commodity fetishism as the main stimuli of the creative economy. This work, however, is about the state of flux within the natural cycle of life and the close proximity to earth which lies at the centre of our relationship with objects of impermanence, as well as memory and trace reminiscent of everyday life.”

One cannot ignore the fact that he was completing his final year of studies as a Japanese expatriate in this country just as news came from Japan of the terrible events of 11 March 2011. It is with this in mind that he has created this new collection. It is also part of a larger project involving a series of workshops in textile design led by Kawanishi with pupils from the Moat School in West London and Arnhem Wharf Primary School in East London. The works that these young people have made will be featured at the exhibition in London and will then make the journey to the Tohoku region of Japan, where Kawanishi intends to continue the process and where the textiles will be made into garments in follow-up workshops. (Embassy of Japan in the UK)

Here’s some of Kawanishi’swork:

Of the two, I’d have to say I preferred looking at Kawanishi’s work. I found his pieces very interesting to photograph because of the textures and hidden objects like cans and bottles. However, I would see his work as art, not fashion. For me, Kawanishi’s pieces belong in a gallery, not on a catwalk. Kaji’s hats, on the other hand, were a little dull to look at, but much more likely to be sold in shops, I thought. I quite liked the samurai-style influence, and could imagine people actually wearing them.

The exhibition JAPAN: International Fashion Showcase 2012 takes place between 17th and 22nd February 2012 in the West Wing Exhibition Rooms at Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA. Admission is free.

The International Fashion Showcase 2012, developed to celebrate the year the Olympic and Paralympic Games come to London, sees nineteen embassies and cultural institutes across London display the work of over eighty emerging fashion designers. To see the full event schedule, click here.

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