There are rare occasions in fashion when a designer creates something that transcends the industry’s consumer-driven nature into the realm of something greater––some might say art, though I am inclined to be more reserved when drawing such a connection. Yohji Yamamoto’s runway presentation for his spring/summer 1999 collection is one such instance of this. As a Japanese designer, Yamamoto was fascinated by the western ritual of the wedding and had been working through his curiosities about the tradition in previous collections. His exploration of these curiosities came to a head with this collection.
In a review for the New York Times, Suzy Menkes aptly described the collection as “modern romantic.” Yamamoto staged the show like a wedding scene, the “brides” going through the motions of the ritual in a large empty space as if it were a church. Yohji took the staple fabrics and forms of wedding attire––ivory silk, tulle, hoop skirts––and delicately explored the formal intricacies and coded significance of nuptial dress. The collection featured brides in towering hats covered in tulle, pantsuits in camel and black, bone silk pajama suits with plunging necklines, bouquets made of crepe-like tulle, and more traditional styles of wedding dresses (as traditional as Yohji can be) in shades of black and milky white. Yamamoto embraces the femininity of the fabrics without any sense of derision typically (and wrongfully) attributed to all things “feminine” and interprets them through modern and avant-garde forms. His bride relishes being a woman and is devilishly clever in doing so.
Yamamoto’s spring 1999 collection enters into dialogue with other designers of the time who were using the space of the fashion show to create a type of abstract narrative performance. Hussein Chalayan’s autumn 2000 collection featuring the infamous coffee table skirt and Alexander McQueen’s spring 1999 collection with Shalom Harlow as the tragic ballerina desecrated by industrial paint guns are excellent examples of Yohji’s avant-garde contemporaries. The defining moment of this collection is the now famed “reverse striptease” performed by model Malgosia Bela (which can be seen below in part three at 2:15). As she enters the catwalk in an ivory silk, hoop-skirted dress, she proceeds to unzip the ribs of her skirt, removes pieces of clothing from the interiors of her dress and gingerly clothes herself. This particular moment appropriately sums up the tension between the elegant wit and restrained eroticism of this presentation. The audience can’t help but burst out in applause; the collection is almost unbearably clever in this way. If you have the time, I urge you to watch all three parts of the show if you haven’t already done so––the haunting quality of this collection’s genius will linger indefinitely.