Clark exhibits Japanese fashion

Its auditorium stage transformed into a posh runway for the evening, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute exhibited a taste of the glamorous world of contemporary Japanese fashion last Friday. Hosted by Mikki Brown, former vice president of Issey Miyake North America and co-owner of upscale fashion boutique The Browns on Water Street, the show explored the progression of contemporary Japanese and Japanese-inspired fashion, including pieces by Issey Miyake, Nuno Design Studio, Martin Margiela, Hanae Mori, Junya Watanabe, Veronique Branquinho and Comme des Garçons, among others. Also featured in the show was jewelry from the Sienna Gallery in Lenox, Mass.

Brown collaborated with the Clark, hosting the show as part of the Clark’s ongoing Japanese-themed arts program celebrating the June 2008 opening of the museum’s Stone Hill Center, designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The Stone Hill Center is Ando’s first building in the U.S. in 25 years.

Brown divided the show into five categories: kimono-inspired, bold graphics, Japanese street wear known as “Fruit,” minimalism and transparency. Though she focused on contemporary Japanese fashion, Brown started with the kimonos to show the roots of the designs to follow.

“In traditional Japanese culture, the back of the neck is an erogenous zone,” Brown said. “The traditional Geisha kimonos were cut to reveal only the back of the neck, and that same cut appears in some of Miyake’s designs, such as the lavender pleated dress [in the show].”

The outfits featured in the show, 40 in all, came from a combination of private collections, The Browns’ inventory and preview samples from Nuno’s upcoming spring collection. The kimono-inspired outfits featured traditional-style Japanese kimonos, modified slightly in their fit and accessorized with more modern shoes and jewelry. After the kimono-inspired outfits came the bold graphics outfits, featuring experimental-looking textiles and colors. Intricate patterns and prints were key components of the bold graphics category.

The minimalist outfits, featuring pleating and solid colors, focused largely on the sculptural aspects of the clothing. The pleats allow the clothing to take on their distinctive sculptural form, according to Brown. Despite its rigid structures and forms of the pleated dresses, jackets and blouses, they flowed gracefully and organically while displayed by the models. “Every person who wears [the pleated] clothes brings their own life to the clothing,” Brown said. “Fashion is its own art form, one that is animated uniquely by the wearer.”

The Japanese street wear, often called “Fruit” after the Japanese youth who drive the movement, was the most outlandish of the styles in the show – from an enormous puffy neon yellow jacket to a black dress made of a tattered strip of cloth, reminiscent of a mummy’s wraps. One outfit used a puffy black winter jacket as an overskirt of sorts, attached with a belt around the neck of the jacket.

The final stylistic category of the show was transparency, with transparent or translucent fabrics – generally a fine mesh – layered in low-key, earthy tones. A trend dating back to the 1970s, transparency returned as a major theme of the recent New York Fashion Week.

The meeting of older and newer styles was appropriate for a show containing items from the last three decades. The majority of Issey Miyake items dated back to the early 1990s, while much of the Nuno clothing comes from its upcoming spring 2009 collection.

“There are cycles in fashion,” Brown said. “Themes come back, reinvented as technologies and attitudes change.”

The show, organized and executed in very much the same way as professional fashion shows but on a shoestring budget, was staffed by volunteers. The models were all, save one, amateurs ranging in age and body type. Students from local high schools, Williams, Bennington College and MCLA were all invited to model, with the strongest response coming from Williams, according to Brown. Sue Fu ’09, Lindsay Millert ’09, Rebecca Chung ’11, Brenna Baccaro ’09, Hannah Cho ’09 and Kaitlin Dirrig ’09 all modeled in the show. In addition to the students, some employees and customers of The Browns modeled, including a former professional runway model. “Even though I’d never before considered it or sought it out, it was a great opportunity that most people don’t have: the chance to wear such avant garde outfits made by such prestigious designers,” Cho said. “I never really thought something like this would happen out here in such a rural area, but at the same time my friends in big cities would never have had that chance.”

Following the show was a cocktail reception in the Clark lobby with the models, allowing members of the audience to get a closer look at the fabrics and details of the outfits. “Talking to people after the show allowed us to discuss the themes, ideas and styles behind our outfits, which was exciting,” Cho said.

Brown hopes to host more fashion events in the future, with a focus on increased student involvement – potentially an auction or a student-directed fashion show. “I want to inspire people who are interested in expressing themselves in clothes to open up and think of it in a whole new way,” Brown said.