At first glance, Yohji Yamamoto's Spring/Summer 2011 collection, presented yesterday at Espace Vendôme in Paris, was just another in the long line of displays of the master's great skill. Yamamoto is the go-to designer for garments blending the line between their supposed function and metamorphosis into an architectural object, but this collection is - as opposed to Dolce & Gabbana - not only about clothes. It makes you think about religion and the world.
Models wore quasi-dirty hair, Dr. Martens boots and Converse shoes. Their faces were white, geisha-like, and they showed significantly more skin than you would expect from Yamamoto. There is no direct emphasis on sexuality in traditional Japanese society, which is why clothes by the designers of the Japanese avantgarde school (Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto) are seldom revealing or fitted to the body. Still, this collection has corsets!
The collection's main theme is gothic. Black, corsets, large silver pendants, pale faces? Check. The models' half aloof, half ethereal expressions reminded me of Elegant Gothic Aristocrats, although I wouldn't say they were an influence. However, it is interesting that the mental connection first led me to a Japan-specific gothic style when such styles are popular all over the world.
And then came the surprise:
Psychedelic colors and prints with clear religious elements. I haven't been able to find detailed photos of the print, but so far I've noticed the Star of David, Buddha, cross and pentagram combined with the word DAMNATION. Is this an anti-religious message? Does Yamamoto want to say that religions are doomed? The world? Something else? There is probably no definite answer and I'm sure this was his intention, too. Yamamoto wants to make you think (another reason why fashion is art) and this is why he's one of the greatest.
The one thing I feel Yamamoto did want to express clearly - taking into account the religious symbols as well as psychedelic colors - is confusion about the current state of the world (I previously wrote about it here) and also about his place in it. A few years ago he said he would stop designing in 6 or 7 years. He hasn't mentioned it since, at least not in public, but he isn't always at peace with his work. The brand has also been struggling financially due to recession.
The show opened with choral music followed by "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix, to whom Yamamoto wanted to pay homage (reincarnating him as Jesus on the crucifix with a guitar almost exactly 40 years after his death). Incidentally, "Purple Haze" also speaks about confusion: Purple haze all around / Don't know if I'm comin' up or down / Am I happy or in misery? / Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me ... Not so incidentally, Hendrix was also known for his use of psychedelic drugs.
I think "Purple Haze" is ultimately optimistic - after all, it's about being in love and the music doesn't drag you down either. That's probably what the closing outfit meant, too: voluminous yellow skirt and t-shirt saying "This is me". Yohji Yamamoto is still here; times might be rough for him at the moment, but he is here to stay.