“I think perfection is ugly. Somewhere in the things humans make, I want to see scars, failure, disorder, distortion.” ― Yohji Yamamoto
At the start of the 1980s, colorful clothing and eye-catching imagery that profoundly reflected ― but also assisted in the construction of ― a bubbly and playful pop culture dominated much of the fashion world. Flashy and bright designs mimicked the excess and carefree lifestyles of people detached from political and financial hardship, providing, on the one hand, a realm of familiarity to those at the top and an avenue of glamorous escape for others.
The over the top style was present in the work of many designers. Take, for example, Gianni Versace’s faithful commitment to the use of color and gold while exploring excess, sometimes by appropriating precious metals and grafting them onto clothing. This approach, however, didn’t remain dominant for long, as a cultural shift was on the horizon, one that antagonized the approach of established designers, opting for a more brutal and politically sensitive approach to garment making.
A new wave of designers employed unprecedented techniques while steering focus away from the superficial aesthetics of escape, and delving into the depths of conceptual representation pertaining to social and political issues of the era. This new movement was later categorized under the umbrella term “anti-fashion,” since the foundational values from which its work would stem from were antithetical to that of its established predecessors.
In 1983, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, two outsider Japanese designers, ushered in the new avant-garde and inspired designers to reconsider their approach to fashion.
In contrast to the clean cut garments of his predecessors, Yohji’s designs were disproportionate, asymmetrical, featured holes, and came across as unfinished. The collection was a rejection of the world of ultra glamour and high heels; with minimal to no makeup on his models, this raw and grungy approach to design caught the fashion world by complete surprise.
With some of his work inspired by the Japanese kimono, looser fabrics occupied larger spaces and were seemingly arranged with disregard, yet still somehow preserved a delicate and sculpted feel. “Each time I’m trying my new invention, testing how far I’m creating. This is the challenge. So I can easily make mistakes. I don’t want to sit on the established style.” Yamamoto’s aesthetic paved the way for a new direction in fashion.
Rei Kawakubo’s work was similar in its rebellious sentiment yet had its own distinct aesthetic. At the time, women were traditionally styled to look ultra feminine and chic, a form of representation that was problematic since it did not represent how all woman actually felt or were comfortable with identifying as. Kawakubo’s shows undermine this generalized notion of femininity.
Her use of amorphous asymmetry and darker colors coupled with nuanced indifference sought to disassemble traditional notions both in the social sphere and in the world of fashion, displaying a massive break with old conventions. The Japanese designer’s fashion label reflects this attitude; Comme de Garçons, which means “like a boy” in French, embodies a deliberate challenge to the concept of the submissive and sensitive female.
Following the Japanese contribution to the revolution of fashion, Martin Margiela and a group of six young fashion designers from Belgium referred to informally as the “Antwerp 6,” developed a radical approach to fashion presentation.
Margiela’s talent and keen eye was first discovered by veteran fashion icon Jean Paul Gaultier, who initially asked Martin to become the assistant designer for his label. Soon, Gaultier felt confident that Margiela was ready for the big time and encouraged the young designer to create his own work. Hesitant at first, Margiela eventually came around and founded his label in 1988. "I already knew he was good, but I didn't realise (sic) to what extent," Gaultier later stated.
For his first show, in 1989, Margiela shunned the conventional runway and presented his collection on a playground located on the outskirts of Paris. Instead of displaying the rigid and cold attitudes typically seen on the runway, models shared candid interactions with the children as they walked in the show. Since then, Margiela’s approach to presentation grew and evolved, becoming increasingly more creative.
In 1992, he held a show at the Salvation Army, which featured garments made from completely recycled materials and fabrics. By opting to do this, Margiela parodied the world of design by using materials not in-line with traditional glamour and high fashion. In its essence, it was the reverse of what Gabrielle Chanel (1883 ―1971) did some 80 years prior, when she used expensive materials to create every day common looks.
The anti-fashion sentiment embodied a rebellious and curious spirit, always seeking to challenge and change what came before it. The designers who fit under this term dramatically changed the contemporary landscape for clothing and its presentation, drastically altering the course of fashion.