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Work of the Week: Yohji Yamamoto

If you looked at just the bottom of this garment, you might guess it was from 19th-century France, whereas the top wouldn't look out of place on any contemporary sidewalk. And the contrasts don't end there; this trench-dress hybrid's exterior is made of a heavy, stiff cotton, while the interior is lined with a fragile organdy. These seemingly incongruous juxtapositions makes sense, however, when you consider the designer's intent. Yohji Yamamoto's "dream is to paint time" and his work often alludes to the history of dress. His collections also often have an androgynous bent, increasingly blurring the lines between male and female.

This garment is part of Material Translations: Japanese Fashion from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the first collaboration between the museum and the School of the Art Institute's Fashion Resource Center. Last night, the organizers of the exhibition—Janice Katz, the Roger L. Weston Associate Curator of Japanese Art at the museum, and Gillion Carrara and Caroline Bellios of the Fashion Resource Center—spoke in-depth about Japanese art and avant-garde fashion. Thy also shared some construction secrets with the audience. For example, imagine the weight of this dress. The heavy cotton combined with the wire shaping at the bottom make it extraordinarily heavy. Taking into account that the wearer wouldn't be able to lift her arms without ripping the garment, Yamamoto placed a vent where an underarm seam would normally be, allowing for freedom of movement. This design feature also indicates that this is a garment made to be worn—I love to imagine it strolling down the streets of Chicago.

Image Credit: Yohji Yamamoto. Dress and Safety Pins, 1999. Purchased with Fashion Resource Center Funds.