12 March sees a new extensive retrospective of the Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto open its doors at the Victoria and Albert Museum, spanning the 30 years of his career and highlighting its most outstanding episodes through a collection of over 60 garments. Alongside the main exhibition hall, the outfits will also be displayed in passages and other rooms of the museum, thus engaging in a sort of dialogue with other exhibits currently featured at the museum, with time and its patina - accentuating simultaneously another characteristic aspect of Yamamoto's style: he is one of the few designers who makes a point of including a nod to the fashion legends of his time in all of his collections. The designer's clothes actually double as something of a fashion history encyclopaedia and a contemporary sequel to it at the same time.
The fashion poet, intellectual and apologist for the colour black Yohji Yamamoto was born in 1943 in Tokyo. Initially a law student, he switched to fashion later, having actually dreamt of becoming a painter as a child.
When, with Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons fame, the designer presented his first collection in Paris in the early 1980s, the fashion metropolis was struck by something very much like culture shock. The old world had grown used to dealing with garments that respect the outlines of the human body. The Japanese offered something completely different - clothes that created new forms, complementing and working with the existing natural ones. While their debut was initially met with mixed reaction, Yamamoto's first collection was even compared to post-nuclear shock: the impact of his style was so great that not only the world was engulfed by a craze for the colour black but also a trend towards a sort of 'extending borders' started in the collections of other designers.
A fashion critic, comparing the black of Yamamoto to the darkness that envelops a foetus in the mother's womb, once referred to his clothes as the first unforgettable mother's touch after a child is born. In a way, the designer's collections really do tell a story of touching. We are constantly being touched by the clothes that we wear; never static, they slide, brush against us, cling to our bodies as we walk, shake hands, get up, sit down or run. These discrete touches are an integral part of our daily life, and the deliberately free, architectonic forms of Yamamoto's designs do everything to enhance this feeling, making the touch a pleasure and the garment - an intimate and visual experience at the same time.