Long admired for his challenging works, the story of controversial fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto and his designs are on display for the first time at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  For a man who has been on the fashion scene for decades creating scandal and revolution with each move, the exhibition is a chance to celebrate 30 years of ups and downs of Yohji Yamamoto and his career. 

To know of a designer’s collections is to skim the top of something much deeper; you need to understand his meaning, his philosophy. Before viewing the exhibition I ‘enjoyed’ his designs, but now having read, watched and examined every inch of Yohji’s thinking I can truly appreciate the genius that he is. The exhibition holds over 60 garments, footage of catwalk shows, clips of film collaborations, shoe and accessory collaborations, books containing his philosophical ideas, catalogues of his collections, interviews, music albums, intimate photos. 


Curator of the exhibition Ligaya Salazar has portrayed a man of many talents, a philosopher with a sense of humour. With an easy to follow timeline we can follow Yohji’s journey from that first seemingly doomed catwalk show in Paris 1981 to the recent publication of his autobiography My Dear Bomb earlier this year. We are all aware of the difficulties Yohji has encountered over the years, financially and with early damning press reviews; these points were dealt with compassion allowing us to comprehend the struggles most designers face. 

I love the fact that we see all sides to Yohji Yamamoto. This is a man who although has been the topic of many discussions, has maintained a relatively hidden private life enthralled in his other pursuits of the arts. The exhibition allows us into Yohji’s inner circle of friends with whom he has created films, music and books. Yohji’s sense of humour came across also. Many a moment I caught myself giggling (and those around me) at Yohji’s witty humour. On seeing footage of his A/W04 Menswear collection again, I couldn’t help but titter; where British music group Madness stomped around the catwalk room repeating some sort of ‘dance’ wearing Yohji’s collection.

What is great about the exhibition to be honest is the layout. In such an open space you forget you’re in the V& A, but momentarily walking around an empty white warehouse. The collection isn’t locked away behind a glass frame; visitors are able to examine each garment in 360 and with great detail. You can see every stitch, every fray of thread; Ligaya Salazar has understood this need for intimacy when admiring a Yohji design. 

The exhibition tells you of all the amazing people and brands that Yohji has collaborated with, but many of them where young talented creatives trying to make it just like he was, Yohji seems to have an awareness for true talent, working alongside photographers such as Nick Knight in the early years of his career.  It may seem strange but it was actually the collection catalogues that I enjoyed the most from the exhibition; Yohji worked with art director Marc Ascoli on quite a few of the catalogues. Ascoli understood the need for the photography to capture the essence of the garments not the material form.  Yohji’s designs were brought to life by talented photographers such as Paolo Roversi who themselves brought innovation and controversy to the mix. 

Controversial he was, Yohji has lived through times of struggle and misinterpretation but as he comes to the later years of his career, he can be truly appreciated for his endless battle to lead in fashion innovation, inspiring a new generation of designers to be fearless.  

The Yohji Yamomoto exhibition can be seen at the V & A until 10th July 2011. Yohji Yamamoto events, talks etc can be found on the V & A website; http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/fashion/yohji-yamamoto/events/index.html 


Louisa Kilburn 
Photos: V&A Museum 

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