Fashion + Art + Technology – couture adventures

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Tauranga-born artist Jess Johnson’s couture collaboration with Australian designers Romance Was Born, currently on view at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. Photo/Supplied.
Tauranga-born artist Jess Johnson’s couture collaboration with Australian designers Romance Was Born, currently on view at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. Photo/Supplied.

The World of WearableArt™ draws an audience of more than 50,000 to Wellington each year. There is a consistent appetite for avant-garde, creative and unique expressions in wearable design, to adorn the body. They can be seen on the streets of Melbourne, Tokyo and New York, and are collected by avid aficionados of great couture. 

Local couturier Shona Tawhiao presented an installation of her dramatic wearable artworks at the Tauranga Art Gallery five years ago and has shown her work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I am looking forward to working with her in the near future. 

After 50 years in fashion, Rei Kawakubo remains one of the most radical and visionary designers working today.”
–  National Gallery of Victoria exhibition wall text

I visited Melbourne recently for the opening of Jess Johnson and Simon Ward’s Terminus at Heide Museum of Modern Art, expanded upon the wondrous virtual world we developed for the exhibition in Tauranga. The current exhibition in Heide features couture from Johnson’s elaborate and spectacular collaboration in 2016 with Australian fashion label Romance Was Born, on the label’s Spring – Summer collection “Mysteria Wisteria”.  

“Her hypnotic tessellations and daunting perspectives were translated into textiles, fusing fantasy and popular culture, ancient and futuristic elements from Johnson’s intricate drawings.” (from Heide Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition wall texts)

The lavishly beaded and sequined gowns, where Gilgamesh reappears alongside videogame Platform Masters, are imagined by the designers for the ultimate wearer or avatar as,  “the ultimate gamer descending from an ancient bloodline of teleports or space-jumpers…you’ll discover enlightenment travelling to infinite parallel Universes and distant kingdoms.”

Couture from a landmark exhibition surveying ground-breaking Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo the National Gallery of Victoria. Photo/Supplied.
Couture from a landmark exhibition surveying ground-breaking Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo the National Gallery of Victoria. Photo/Supplied.

Also opening recently in Melbourne, is Collecting Comme at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). A landmark exhibition surveying ground-breaking Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo (born Japan 1942) who has led a revolution in fashion design, creating a whole new aesthetic of deconstruction and conceptual dressing, gender-neutral / genderless style and creating a passionate international following for five decades. 

Kawakubo’s conceptual approach to design was radical when she launched her line Comme des Garçons. After 50 years in fashion, Rei Kawakubo remains one of the most radical and visionary designers working today, interested in the idea of breaking ‘the idea of clothes’ with increasingly abstract and inventive forms. Rei Kawakubo established Comme des Garçons in 1969 and began showing in Tokyo in 1975. 

She debuted in Paris in 1981 and the following year presented one of her legendary collections, Holes, shocking audiences with oversized and intentionally distressed black garments. Some critics called the look apocalyptic, while others admired Kawakubo’s inventiveness. 

Intricate construction and deconstruction, often non-uniform – and the use of monochrome – created a huge shift in the style of the 70s and early 80s. Consistently defying convention, she has redefined fashion. 

Challenging social constraints, her designs have subverted the norms of garment shape and function, reframed ideas of beauty, and proposed a new relationship between body and dress. In her endeavour to make clothes that, as she says, “did not exist before”. Kawakubo deconstructs clothing and creates it afresh.

Collecting Comme examines the radical concepts and design methods that have informed Kawakubo’s practice since 1981. 

More than 65 examples are on display drawn from the NGV’s significant holdings of designs by Comme des Garçons, gifted by collector Takamasa Takahashi with additional loans from the collector’s archive. 

The expansive display features projected runway video footage from major collections within multiple galleries. While the exhibition is not a retrospective, and I am told the designer does not wish to see her older work, it is a shame not to see some of her greatest pieces on view.

As a teenager I made my very first major investment in a Comme couture jacket – the most exquisite geometric cut construction in the back, purchased on my first trip to Sydney, which I have always treasured. It has stood the test of time – I even wore it in a recent photo shoot. 

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