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Tent London 2010: A Review of the Stands

The best of the Tent London stands... a hit and miss collection of offerings from a huge variety of different designers...

Written by Amelia Gregory

Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons 1997, diagnosis illustrated by Faye West

The next few months are an absolute treat for fashion fans – there are exhibitions popping up all over the place. First on my fashionable list was the Barbican’s offering – a retrospective of the last thirty years of the Japanese avant-garde.

Now anybody who saw the fabulous Viktor & Rolf extravaganza a couple of years ago will know that the Barbican sure knows how to put on a fashion exhibition – the art gallery on the third level of the brutalist ziggurat couldn’t be any better suited: concrete alcoves, buy information pills pebbled-dashed walls and hard stone floors all add to the atmosphere and with each show you’d be forgiven for thinking the space had been constructed solely for the current exhibition – particularly this one.

Junya Watanabe, help illustrated by Baiba Ladiga

To create the feeling of a journey, the gallery has been adorned with translucent drapes that lead you around various examples. We start with magnificent pieces from the grand masters – Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake feature heavily, as do the newer major players.

The lower level of the exhibition aims to bring together the key ideas and themes that define what we know of the Japanese avant-garde. Ideas like wabi-sabi (beauty in imperfection) and ma (which generally translates as the space between objects) are explained and brought to life with a broad range of examples from the great Japanese masters. Wabi-sabi is explored with examples from Junya Watanabe, Rei Kawakubo et al – fraid hems, unfinished seams and abnormal folds all appear in their collections, and it was this (un)attention to detail and deliberately unfinished aesthetic that first drew attention to the Japanese couturiers.

There are great examples of ma, too; where garments are constructed to work against the female form, they are celebrated. Cue works of wonder like Issey Miyake’s origami numbers, Tao Kurihara’s groundbreaking sculptural pieces and Koji Tatsuno’s ridiculous but wonderful golden brown nylon net dress, which turns the figure into a giant sphere (think pumpkin Hallowe’en costume with Japanese drama.)

Fruits! Illustrated by Gareth A Hopkins

The lower levels also explore broader concepts that have been recurrent in Japanese fashion – shadows, flatness, tradition (and inspiration) and ‘Cool Japan’ (or Fruits as we lovingly refer to this fashion and their wearers). The ‘Cool Japan’ stuff doesn’t float my boat as much as the grand masters and their illustrious heritage. I used to like it, a lot, but I think it’s a little passé these days. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but when you’ve walked through three decades of expertly cut, uniquley tailored and innovatively crafted Japanese fashion, seeing Hello Kitty pyjamas and Manga t-shirts is a little deflating. Tao Kurihara’s exemplary cable-knit underwear does add some sophistication, though.

While I love getting my teeth into a good fashion theme, I often wish that they’d just give us a hand and put things in chronological order. This is a particularly difficult feat to overcome with Japanese fashion – a Junya Watanabe/Comme des Garçons black nylon taffeta coat slash padded puffa jacket with intricate gold chain sits side by side a Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons black gauze skirt and top with interlaced, looped bands from 1983. They could pretty much be from the same collection.

Similarly, a silk 1970s Kenzo blouse is positioned next to a 2005 kimono, which cold be 500 years old, even, but they still fit perfectly together. I guess it is this harmony that has strung Japanese fashion together over the years that makes it so inspiring.

Issey Miyake/A-POC, 1999, illustrated by Naomi Law

Upstairs is a different story and a different designer is celebrated in each of the concrete alcoves. The greats are covered – Yamamoto, Kawakubo, Miyake and Watanabe – along with newer labels like Mintdesigns and Jun Takahashi.

Yohji Yamamoto

Yohji Yamamoto 1999, illustrated by Abby Wright

I do love Mr Yamamoto, who is described as the ‘most poetic’ of the Japanese fashion designers, and it’s easy to see why. But what I love most are his highly charged collections with a hint of cynicism. His juxtaposition of hopelessly romantic silhouettes (drawing inspiration from Western culture and, in particular, Dior’s New Look) and his androgynous forms is, I believe, totally unique even today. Who else combines elements of couture with workwear? Well, maybe Galliano, but that’s besides the point.

There’s a limited selection from his illustrious career in fashion – but I was pleased to see the quilted polyester dress with a modernist bone structure – totally feminine but innovative at the same time. Some Y-3 pieces appear, but they’re totally lost at the side of his master couturier craftsmanship.

Issey Miyake

At first, I thought presenting only Miyake’s latest project – 132 5 – was a bit of an odd choice. ‘Where are his innovative numbers that toyed with gender and influenced so many in the 1980s?’ I wondered. What a complete wonderer I am these days. Some of his A-POC pieces appear downstairs, in particular the dramatic and iconic red knitted numbers.

However, when I actually stopped wondering and had a look at this 132 5 malarkey, I was breathless. This new line, continuing Miyake’s boundary-breaking experiments in materials, feature intricately folded and steam pressed polygons of material – sustainable material, no less! Hooray for Miyake!

On the floor, they don’t look much – well, they’re beautiful but you don’t look like you get much frock for your buck. That is until they’re placed onto the body and they transform into incredible, geometric, sculptural, architectural wonders. Truly breathtaking stuff and my favourite pieces in the entire exhibition.

Junya Watanabe

Junya Watanabe S/S 2003, illustrated by Maria del Carmen Smith


Mintdesigns, illustrated by Antonia Parker

Phew! Well, if you’ve got to the end of this post, well done! That was a long one, no? I hope I’ve convinced you to go… you won’t regret it.

All photography by Matt Bramford

Get all the visitors information in our listings section.

Tent 2010 Tomoni Sayuda photo by Amelia gregory
Tomoni Sayuda. All photography by Amelia Gregory.

Tent London featured both curated rooms and areas where designers had paid for stands. In Tent Digital I loved this whimsical piece by Tomoni Sayuda even though I have no idea what it’s purpose was: ambient sounds were played when the glowing eggs were placed in different nesty holes.

Tent 2010  David Chipperfield

Kingston University had cleverly invited all their now famous alumni, web including David Chipperfield and Ed Carpenter of the ubiquitous pigeon lamp, sick to display their designs in the Made in Kingston room – thus creating the biggest promotional tool ever known. Very very savvy. The only Kingston graduate show I had time to look at was the MA Illustration show; read my review here.

Tent 2010 Ed Carpenter

And then onto the stands…
The Modern Garden Company make exterior furniture, and I was most taken with Rock, fun felt wool cushion seats that will even work in the great outdoors, allegedly.

Tent 2010 Modern Garden Company

Bespoke lamp stands from Alex Randall featured antlers and a swarm of stuffed rats from Susan Labarre dubbed the “most nightmarish lamp ever created…”

Tent 2010 alex randall

Beautiful abstract carpets from Danish textile designer Naja Utzon Popov are designed in her East End workshop and woven by skilled artisans in India.

Tent 2010 Naja Utzon Popov

Kitchen clocks that once graced the walls of 1970s German kitchens were lovingly sourced, repaired and displayed by London Timepiece. Confusing name though.

Tent 2010 London Timepiece

A vuvuzela lamp! Whatever next! Very amusing. From John Edwards.

vuvuzela lamp tent

The JJAM Curators Collective had put together a fun collection of designs made using the most banal everyday item – the yellow dishcloth. Stand outs included Polish it Off! by Dora & Fullard, So Much Time So Little To Do (I wish!!!) by Cure Studio, and A Word about Fashion by Catherine Ann Haynes.

Tent 2010 So Much Time So Little To Do (I wish!!!) by Cure Studio,
So Much Time So Little To Do (I wish!!!) by Cure Studio

Tent 2010 JJAM Collective
Tent 2010 Polish it Off! by Dora & Fullard
Polish it Off! by Dora & Fullard

Tent 2010 A Word about Fashion by Catherine Ann Haynes
A Word about Fashion by Catherine Ann Haynes

Recycled fabric covered armchairs by Kelly Swallow reminded me of local shop Squint. But anyone who refashions old fabrics has got my seal of approval – there’s room for many of these bespoke designers up and down the country.

Tent 2010 Kelly Swallow

The Makaranda collection by Quirico featured vibrant brightly patterned and coloured foot stools and pouffes – although I somewhat balked when I discovered the price – a mere £425 each. Oh what it must be to have a huge disposable income.

Tent 2010 Makaranda collection by Quirico

There was some lovely delicate jewellery on display from Clerkenwell based shop Family Tree.

Tent 2010 Family Tree

Miller Goodman make wonderful wooden block games out of rubberwood for kids.

Tent 2010 Miller Goodman

Very clever plastic fold up Flux Chairs, but I wasn’t convinced of their comfort levels.

Tent 2010 Flux Chairs

And a big mention surely has to go to the huge blue rope Knitting Nancy interactive installation from Superblue that was prominently installed as everyone came in. Fabulous fun, and a serious nod to the impact of craft techniques on the entire design world. Read about the LAB CRAFT exhibition at Tent here.

Superblue knitting nancy


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