sensibility embedded in its fabric
The Victoria and Albert Museum presents one of the most influential and enigmatic fashion designers of the last forty years: Yohji Yamamoto. Shortly before the opening, THE STIMULEYE caught up with V&A Contemporary Curator Ligaya Salazar, curator of this installation-based retrospective, exploring the work of a designer who has challenged, provoked and inspired with designs that have rewritten notions of beauty in fashion.
“The timeline will consist of a mixture of clips of key fashion shows from the last 30 years of his illustrious career, some bits about his main collaborations in film, performance and photography and some very special extras. I hope that this will help shed light on Yamamoto’s extraordinary approach to collaboration” – Ligaya Salazar
On display are 80 women’s and menswear garments, which are most representative of his work that is recognised for subverting gender stereotypes and has featured women wearing garments traditionally associated with menswear. The exhibition also includes menswear items from the Autumn/Winter 1998 season which was famously modelled on women.
Accompanying the exibition, Ligaya produced a series of images with Nick Knight, styled by Katie Grand, and edited a stunning Book that also sheds light on Yoshji Yamamoto’s relationships with other creative collaborators: including Peter Saville, Marc Ascoli and M/M (Paris), Pina Bausch and filmmakers Takeshi Kitano and Wim Wenders.
René Habermacher sat down with curator Ligaya Salazar for a chat on this and her curatorial work on the projects…
RENE HABERMACHER: Hello Ligaya! how is things? Tense, so short before the opening?
LIGAYA SALAZAR: Ha! We are actually a little ahead of schedule, awaiting Yohji’s visit
Now i am impressed!
Yes he will be coming to the V&A after his Ready-to-Wear show to check everything is in order and to paint on the gallery walls!
I would assume usually that would come first- the painting….
Oh no — not painting the gallery walls, he will be painting life-size silhouettes on the wall behind and amongst the mannequins. It will be very special.
What was the departing point for you and Yoshji’s work on this exhibit?
I think the premise of the exhibition was really to have an encounter between Yohji (and his work) and the V&A. So rather than a chronological or thematic retrospective, this exhibition was also meant to inhabit more than just a gallery space.
It was a mutual intention. I work in the Contemporary Department, which was founded to engage contemporary practice and audiences with our collections. So I guess it was in my curatorial DNA anyway when we first discussed how this exhibition could work.
Of course Yohji’s team were also fascinated with the building and the convoluted-ness of its architecture.
You knew him beforehand?
I had worked with Yohji Yamamoto Inc. beforehand on my previous exhibition on the relationship between Fashion and Sport.
Yoshji once mentioned he is not to fond of the “retrospective” as a thought…
That was a tricky one and even when I asked him in an interview for my book, he reiterated that he ‘really’ did not like it.
I guess he did agree to do this so he had come to term with it and because it is not a traditional retrospective he is happier about it.
How did you work together in shaping it?
I worked very closely with Masao Nihei, a long-term collaborator of his and the lighting director of most of his fashion shows over the last 25 years. He would speak to Yohji and I would occasionally speak to him when I was in Tokyo.
When i met you at Narukyo’s, you were on the way to Kyoto, what were you doing there?
Kyoto is where a lot of the craft and fabric processes that go into Yohji’s work happen, so we were going to document some of these. For example [traditional Japanese dyeing and embroidery techniques] Shibori, Yuzen and hand embroidery.
I felt very honoured to be able to witness these processes and meet the craftspeople themselves. Of course, being a curator at the V&A, this is a very important aspect of a designers work for us. And I am very proud to be able to work with a designer who has such an interest in helping to maintain these techniques and to show work that has this sensibility embedded in its (literally) fabric!
For you, what was personally the most exciting moment or greatest challenge in this process of establishing this exhibition?
I think the most exciting will have to be the archive visits to dress and choose the garments. None had gone through the menswear before, so that felt very special.
There were a few challenges, but perhaps the hardest one (probably for all curators) was to narrow the selection from a preselection of 500 to only just 90.
Its funny that there was no focus before on the menswear: i personally think that this is the place where you can push boundaries in dressing codes the most
Of course, because the boundaries are so narrow! And Yohji’s menswear is particlularly interesting for that.
Yohji Yamamoto’s menswear plays with ideas of masculinity and femininity (as does his womenswear). However, in his menswear he seems even more playful with fabrics, patterns and shapes. He often includes lace or see-through fabrics. He has created a whole men in skirts collection… the list goes on.
Fashion has a constant flirt with the art world- yet, the art world is rather suspicious towards the idea of fashion.
How do you see that relationship, also in regards to your work, that often marks a turning point where fashion enters the museum, and accredits for another level… how do you see that?
I started off as an art historian, so I guess looked at design from that point of view for a while. But working with designers and writing on design, you realise that it is just totally different from art. Not in terms of status, but in terms of process, function and recognition.
So I guess, I don’t think that art is better than design/fashion or vice versa. I just think they do different things
How do you see the role of a curator today?
where exhibitions depend strongly on curation,- in a topography that becomes more and more fragmented….
That depends on whether they work on collections or exhibitions, in institutions or freelance.
One thing I have noticed is that the word curation is used across many more media than ever, so maybe there is a perceived need to keep the amount of information manageable…in art, in design, in music, even on websites:
They can be specialists and keepers of collections
They can be responsible for showing things in a different way
They can be conveyors of knowledge
What you’ll be up too after?
Life after Yohji? No rest for the wicked! I am already working on my next show, which will be on literature’s relationship to image (in the widest sense) and a new events strand that will engage young creatives. Maybe a short holiday …