By Tara Kyle
CHELSEA — Denim may be America's most famous contribution to fashion, but these days, the world's most sought-after blue jeans are an ocean away, according to a new exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
"Japan Fashion Now," which opened Thursday, seeks to undermine the idea that Japan's moment at the top of the fashion world is over. The emphasis lines such as Visvim put on creating the perfect blue jeans, through the careful selection of rivets, use of traditional looms and specialized indigo dying processes, is just one of the current contributions highlighted at the show.
"For most people in the West, Japan has faded now completely," said Dr. Valerie Steele, exhibition curator and director for the Museum at FIT. "It's like they’re stuck in a time warp."
When Japan exploded onto the fashion world in the 1980s, designers such as Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons gained recognition for combined an emphasis on deconstructed, asymmetrical styles in black, navy and grey with touches of traditional Japanese dress.
In the 1990s, fashion watchers turned their attention from Japan's runway designers to its outlandish street culture. That included the "Harajuku girl" trend, which takes its name from a subway station in Tokyo's Shibuya ward.
Now, according to Steele, these two threads are coming together. Japanese designers are displaying a propensity for eye-catching "extreme fashion," in the form of the Gothic Lolita and Mori Girl ("forest girl") looks, as well as platform boots, designed by Noritaka Tatehana, that are so twisty they appear impossible to walk in (Lady Gaga, however, did).
But they are also demonstrating an almost obsessive interest in perfecting staples such leather jackets, denim, military-inspired designs and vintage work clothes.
As FIT exhibit-goers peruse the spectrum of 21st century Japanese fashion, they'll do so in a space painted with skyscrapers, neon lights and signs bearing the names of top international designers. It's a scene that evokes Harajuku and Tokyo's Ginza shopping district.
"I want people to come into this room and feel like they are magically transported to Tokyo," Steele said.