13 July 2020

A Yohji Army + ShowStudio Live Panel

Spring/Summer 2021
Photographed by Takay

"Soldiers uniforms for a Yohji army fighting the current world in crises. Global warming, social movements, sanitary emergencies, animal protection. Yohji Yamamoto express his feelings in his own poetic way. Eyes printed on clothes as witnesses of what is happening today in our world and also looking into the future."
What is the role of fashion in the midst of a global pandemic, ongoing social and political crises, and a widespread feeling of uncertainty in the world? I think that social, cultural and political contexts are always important when looking at fashion shows and fashion trends throughout history. Fashion does not operate within a vacuum, for it is designed to be of the moment, and thus entirely anchored to our lived experience and understanding of the present. However, fashion seeks to operate outside of any linear notion of time, existing forever in the present moment and thus ultimately seeking to fly in the face of death (a personal favourite read is Giacomo Leopardi's Dialogue Between Fashion And Death, written in 1824). However, every so often we are faced with events on a global scale that impact us all in some form or another, to the point that it seems as if every designer is ostensibly forced to respond. 

In light of the global COVID-19 pandemic the Paris menswear shows for the Spring/Summer 2021 season have been digital, with designers opting for fashion film in the place of live runway shows. The impact of the pandemic has forced a radical rethink in how we approach fashion shows and collections this season, with many fashion houses saying in the earlier days of the pandemic that they would be cutting down the number of shows per year, and some considering the transition to season-less releases. 

It has been interesting to see how quickly designers have embraced digital content, given that it is something I believe ought to have happened long before the pandemic. Fashion has been consumed digitally for a long time now, and so it seems well overdue for fashion houses to focus more on digital content as an avenue for creative expression and promotion. Most people, myself included, consume the majority of their fashion content online or in print, through fashion show images, video campaigns, magazine editorials, and posts on social media. This is certainly nothing new, for once fashion was disseminated through fashion dolls and fashion plates. You do not have to look far for evidence of fashion designed primarily for social media, with an emphasis on photographic value rather than creative design.

Fashion is at its core about the relationship between body and fabric, and few designers understand this better than Yohji. People often talk of his work being cerebral, and while I agree that is the case for the observer, I think it is important to note that it is ultimately a kinaesthetic experience for the wearer. You have to wear the clothes and move around in them for the full experience, because that sensory feedback informs the way you come to understand his work. It is a psychosomatic connection, because the sensory experience is where the psychological feeling of armour derives from in his work. I believe that it is that liminal space between your biological skin and your social skin (the clothing) which provides you a breathing space, both physically and mentally. The flow and drape of the fabric is soft and almost sensuous, and yet that coverage and softness is what for me provides a psychological strength by way of comfort.

For his Spring/Summer 2021 collection Yohji proposed uniforms for those fighting through the "new" normal we find ourselves in now. But there was a quiet optimism there that was truly poetic. These were not the bruised and stitched men of his Autumn/Winter 2015 collection, although some sported eye patches, but rather determined and resilient, even as the designer himself wore a coat with the word "Fragile" stitched on the back. I think there is always a strength in the vulnerability that Yohji shows in his men, because it is not about bravado or machismo, but what I personally feel like is an honest emotional expression from him at the time (with some seasons being more melancholic than nostalgic). Indeed he says he does not like talking too much about his clothing, because he puts all the emotion in the clothing for you to see and feel when wearing. The collection was half the size of his usual collections, which is still no mean feat during a pandemic, and I actually thought it was one of this strongest in a while now.

Army uniforms and archetypal masculine uniforms feature heavily in Yohji's work, but they are always reframed in such a way as to make them suitable for the vagabond or rebellious man that he so loves. Here using linens, cottons and light wool, the clothing was soft in its drape and flowed poetically in movement. Seams that looked upon first glance to be torn were instead buttoned, showing men who had been through a lot but still held their composure. And then there was the running eye motif with those beautiful eye buttons that appeared throughout. The eyes were witnessing the world, and so we come to think of Yohji witnessing the world as he created this collection and wondering how to respond. But once the clothing is worn and out there in the wild, it witnesses an as of yet un-imagined future, for who knows what is to come (this year has already had so many surprises!).

I do often think of that phrase, "to bear witness", for it appears so much in legal and religious texts. To witness is to give, or at least confirm, truth, and yet in modernity and post-modernity truth is uncertain. So one proposes truths, and that is what I think of when I think of Yohji - a designer proposing ideas for those who witness the world in a similar fashion to himself. If his clothing is armour, the eyes keep a watchful lookout as the world constantly changes around us and we seek to re-establish our place within it. Yes, the videography and photography by Takay is dark, the music, at times sung by Yohji himself, is moody, and yet there is always hope to be found. The show continues and we are all thankfully here to witness it.


I was also incredibly fortunate to be able to discuss Yohji's work on the ShowStudio live panel for the show with the amazing Dal Chodha and Rachel Tashjian. Please do check it out on their website, or embedded below!



  1. A great post, but I especially liked this line: "a designer proposing ideas for those who witness the world in a similar fashion to himself." It perfectly sums up why fans of Yamamoto's work are so dedicated to him. Well, that and what you said in the ShowStudio discussion about the pieces from every collection working so well together :)

  2. Great review!!!! Cant wait to read more.