Looking at the archive, social trends and fashion; Culture born together with the spirit of the times. Hirofumi Kurino (UNITED ARROWS) (Part Two)

In Part One, we asked Mr. Kurino to tell us about the social trends and fashion in the period between the seventies and the nineties. In this second part, we’ll hear about the connections between fashion and society in the zeroes.


Sometimes, fashion is ahead of its time

--- Last time, you told us about developments up until the nineties. What happened after the zeroes?

“I personally believe fashion as a concept gained ground in the nineties, but that also means it got a lot more commercial. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s also the development of becoming more and more conceptual, like the designs by Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto, as well as Undercover. Comparing all of these, the most characteristic thing about Comme des Garçons has to be their view of ‘gender’.


This jacket was designed for the 2012-2013 Autumn/Winter collection by Comme des Garçons. The theme this season was Neither Man Nor Woman. The brand has always been known for its gender-free clothing, but I think this is the first time they put it to the front like this. Some of the items I bought myself featured braids on the lapel and the pockets, or which used different kinds of cloth in the facing, all of which are commonly known as female details. At first glance it might seem like a men’s jacket, but the theory behind it is totally different which made it very interesting.


The Comme des Garçons Homme Plus Spring/Summer collection for 2020, which was announced in June 2019, is based on a piece of literature called Orlando, published in 1928 and written by the author Virginia Wolff. The eponymous Orlando is a man who has lived for 400 years, eventually turns into a woman, then births a child and so becomes a mother, and in the end becomes a writer; for the author, a rare fantasy-style work. Wolff has always been known as a feminist writer. The work also proceeded to be made into a feature film. This collection features items that represent the slow change of Orlando, still a man, into a woman by subtle changes. The jackets feature elements of corsets, like drapes and frills; the designs with female elements slowly making their way into men’s clothing are quite striking. After that collection, the collection announced in September 2019 for the women’s brand was designed with Orlando as a woman in mind. If you consider these first two as part one and two, part three would have to be the opera in Vienna.
I myself also went to visit this showing, which featured the first opera in the 150-year long history of the Vienna Opera House to be written by a female playwright. This playwright was apparently a long-time fan of Comme des garçons, and personally asked the Vienna Opera House if they would consider using Kawakubo’s designs for the outfits used in the show. When she was actually asked to make the outfits, she was moved by the fact that in its 150 years of history, there had never been any female playwrights whose works had been shown there. That is why it was decided to use the story of Orlando to give shape to the concept of gender freedom; this chemistry between all different elements working together is really quite something.”

--- That’s amazing! You can follow the connection all the way back to the 2012-2013 collection and see that it is all part of one big story.

“That’s right! By the way, the collection that came afterwards, the 2020 Fall/Winter collection by Comme des garçons Homme Plus is completely different; there’s no longer any philosophical ruminations, and instead the new theme was colour resistance. The different colours and designs used together were also quite inspiring. This switch in themes can be explained by thinking about what the designers were expecting of the people who would wear the clothes. If the 2020 Spring/Summer collection was telling people they should stop worrying about the minute differences between man and women, the 2020 Fall/Winter collection was trying to inspire people to be the strongest they can be; or at least, that’s how I understand it. Mrs. Kawakubo never uses words to explain herself, but she is always considering the period she’s living in while designing new clothes. And at the same time, she’s also the number one ‘conceptor’ of new ideas in the world. While the Trump presidency seems to be taking away many freedoms we took for granted, the concept of gender-free is also slowly finding its placed in society. Maison Margiela also did their first gender-free show a while ago, remember? I feel she is really good at realizing what is going on in society and expressing that in her designs.”

--- I feel that it’s brands like Comme des Garçons, that exceed others at understanding what is going on in the world and are able to spread that message, that will survive the passing of time.

“I’m personally not a big fan of brands that are ‘just cute’ or ‘just cool’, there needs to be something more, something to actually move people’s hearts. It’s not just about being gender-free, it’s about how you interpret the trends of the times, how you synchronise yourself with everything that’s going on that’s important. The brands that are able to do that will probably remain for a long time to come. Clothing becomes a part of the past the moment it is released; it doesn’t take long for something to become part of the archive, but it takes a while before you’re able to look at it from the bigger perspective, see it in connection with other events of the time, before you’re able to consider it in its context. There’s a lot of items that could only have been made at that exact moment, and the brands that remain have that power to grasp that deeper element, which is why in the end they end up being considered as part of the archive.”

--- What do you think will become of fashion in the future?

“In the Comme des Garçons store in Aoyama, I found a mannequin wearing a pearl necklace that was made as a collaboration with Mikimoto. This wasn’t just any mannequin; it was a very real-looking mould. I think it’s this vividness that will be an important element in the coming years. Jewels are born of the sediment of the earth, while pearls and coral are created by animals. The idea of wearing animals on your body is, to me, very shamanic. In the past, people would leave pearls in the mouths of the deceased, or they would turn the pearls to dust and drink them. They’re the only piece of jewellery that is commonly worn at funerals or weddings in Japan. In a way, they’re a piece of decoration that transcends life and death.
In a way this is also something I realised by looking at African creators like Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq, but this shamanic element might be something that will become important in fashion in the future. Clothes used to be something to express your own feeling and so what you wear could change day to day. But these recent years the trends have turned to showing off your brand logo’s or having a rack of fancy clothes to show off, it’s become much more wordly. As a result, the opposite will become popular in the future again. I won’t go as far as to say we’ll go back to dressing like ancient times to become closer to the gods, but clothes are a tool to make your presence appear more fiercely, or at times to hide your presence. I think that is the appeal of fashion as an element of culture. Fashion is a way of expression the way you are feeling living at this very moment, while at the same time you can also use it to be ‘ahead of the times’, which makes it all the more interesting.”


Buyer and creative director for UNITED ARROWS, journalist. Born in 1953 in New York and started working for Suzuya in 1977. After working for Beams for a while, he joined UNITED ARROWS in 1989 as one of its founding members. While working as a senior advisor for UNITED ARROWS, he is also working as a director for a project called FACE.A, which is trying to make a connection between Africa and Japan.