Japanese Folds (16 May-21 June 2015) is a playful exhibition showing contemporary fashion items and decorative arts from the Museum’s collection centred on the Japanese practice of folding. The exhibition provides an insight into the folding design concept with a focus on the way contemporary Japanese designers have adapted and incorporated traditional folding practices into their work.
The art of folding may have its origins in the Japanese way of living. Traditionally, living environments were small and therefore it was important to try and maximise the use of space. For example, the ‘living area’ (not rooms in the western sense) can be used as a bedroom when a futon is spread on the floor at night, but also used as a dining room in the day time once the futon is folded and stored away. Even the architectural structure can be explained by ‘spatial’ folding. The ‘living space or room’ comprises a clever modular system of sliding doors and walls which can be opened or even removed, thereby creating a flexible division of space, whether for seclusion or to accommodate social functions.
Japanese Folds consists of a small cross-section of the Museum’s collection including a folded kimono wrapped in tato-shi (a type of paper used for storing the kimono), folding fans, a wood block print book by Kobayashi Kiyochika which opens up to four meters, a porcelain sculpture by Shigekazu Nagae which reflects the beauty of origami, Issey Miyake’s pre-heated pleats garments and A-POC fabric and outfit pieces, Reiko Sudo’s Origami Pleats textile and Hiroaki Ohya’s The Wizard of Jeanz series of books which open up into garments.
The tradition of folding or unfolding is a fundamental aspect throughout much of Japanese culture and design. This process takes two-dimensional surfaces into three-dimensional forms or conversely, geometrically layering three dimensional structures such as clothes on the body into two-dimensional flat forms.
The kimono is a good example. It is kept folded for storage, rather than on a western style hanger. It is folded into a perfect rectangular shape, wrapped in a tato-shi and stored flat in a wardrobe. The Japanese have developed a specific and clever way of folding the kimono, which allows them to be opened up and worn without ironing, as the creases from the folds lie in such a way that they look smart. When a kimono is worn, layers of two dimensional fabric turn into a three dimensional sculptural form around the body. The length of the kimono can be adjusted at the waist by folding extra fabric into an obi (sash).
The process of designing a kimono is also interesting. Whilst Western fashion design works with the human body, attempting to resolve its challenging contour lines, Japanese designers tend to focus on the two-dimensional fabric instead, designing garments within the construction of geometric folds. In fact, a kimono is made from a bolt of cloth of a standard width of approximately 35 cm. Kimono wearers have always chosen their kimono in bolt form, which they then order sewn up to their measurements. A bolt contains approximately 11.5 meters, enough to make one adult-size garment. The tailoring pattern for a kimono is standardised and there is no wastage of fabric. It is cut into a geometrical pattern using the loomed width of the cloth making up the kimono body (mihaba), overlap or front opening (okumi), sleeves (sode) and neckband (eri).
Perhaps, we can assume that deep in the mind of every Japanese person lies the culture of making, wearing and folding the kimono. When contemporary Japanese fashion designers Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto introduced their works on the international scene in the 1980s, it shocked western fashions; challenging established notions around clothing. F or centuries, Western fashion has persistently adhered to a structured and tailored fit which expresses sexuality, glamour and status. However, Japanese designers tended to conceal the natural proportion of the human body shape, instead focusing on the two-dimensional nature of the fabric.
Because of their strong focus on the fabric, Japanese fashion designers work closely with textile specialists. One of the most popular and innovative designers to do this is Issey Miyake with his pleats collection. His innovative technique was created with textile designer, Mikoko Minagawa. It is the reverse of the conventional method where the fabric is pleated before cutting it to the design. What Miyake does instead is cut and assemble a garment two-and-a half to eight times bigger than its intended size. The fabric, a lightweight stretch polyester, is folded, ironed and oversewn so that the straight lines stay together and then placed in a press from where it emerges with permanent pleats.
One of the most stunning variations of Miyake’s pleated garments is the Minaret dress featured in his Spring/Summer 1995 collection. Like a folding paper lantern, the dress folds down into a flat circular form. It can be appreciated in its unworn folded state, as well as when it dramatically encases the body and sways with movement. The dress is an ingenious transformation which encapsulates the whole meaning and significance of the Japanese folding practice.
Post by Min-Jung Kim, Curator
This article is originally published in The Journal of the Asian Arts Society of Australia, Volume 24, No 2 June 2015.