Interdisciplinary Inquiry & Research
Japanese Influence on Streetwear Today: A look into Japanese creative fashion forces Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, and NIGO
A few significant creative forces native to Japan have made global impact on streetwear culture today. Notably, Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, and NIGO have generated irreplaceable designs that have shaped the future of fashion since pioneering their careers. Their work has been widely recognized, praised, and appreciated among the authorities of the fashion industry, and fashion lovers alike. Initially through globalization, and now social media, these artists have made timeless and game-changing works that will forever influence the world of streetwear.
Rei Kawakubo, founder of Commes des Garçons and Dover Street Market, has become a household name in both upscale fashion and street style culture. Commes des Garçons was established in 1969, and properly came to life in Tokyo’s Aoyama neighborhood in 1973. Alongside fellow Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto, Kawakubo formally entered the international fashion scene in Paris in 1980. Kawakubo opened her first Parisian boutique and showcased her first collection in 1981. At a time in history where women were not expected to thrive in “unconventional” careers, Kawakubo proved otherwise. Kawakubo and Yamamoto alike created careers in fashion and “through their work, tried to re-instill a respect through traditional cultural traits” (English 69). As a result of Kawakubo’s upbringing amidst post-war Japan, her designs continuously carry feminist undertones. Despite being male, Yamamoto shared Kawakubo’s similar ideals. The two expressed that they “design for independent women who work and do not rely on body shape to attract the opposite sex” (English 69). Being the first openly feminist-conscious designers in a moment where Japan was still being reprimanded due to their 1930s through 1940s socio-economic crisis put Kawakubo and Yamamoto on the map of the global fashion scene. In Tokyo itself, groups of young intellectuals and trendsetters were sporting Commes des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto (Narumi 14). These individuals commonly held the same values and ideals as Kawakubo and Yamamoto. And moreover, these same individuals were buying into designers like Issey Miyake, who found success around the same time, and will be discussed in further detail later on. While Kawakubo and Yamamoto were first established for their avant-garde, and socially and politically driven pieces, the two fashion forces are additionally acknowledged for their major roles in streetwear. Kawakubo has since inaugurated Commes des Garçons Play, or CDG Play, her streetwear line that is widely recognized for its heart with eyes motif. Streetwear lovers across the globe find Kawakubo’s simple CDG Play t-shirts absolute wardrobe necessities. Various social media and style influencers such as @andicsinger and @chiaraferragni dress in CDG Play as a middle ground between high-end luxury and street style. CDG Play is also notable for its permanent Converse collaboration. This sneaker is beyond popular in the realm of street style, and especially in the sneakerhead subculture. Kawakubo is also known for establishing Dover Street Market — a market place for both emerging and established streetwear brands. Dover Street Market, also known as DSM, was the first stockist for the in-demand Russian street label, Gosha Rubchinskiy. Thanks to DSM, Gosha Rubchinskiy has made a significant mark on the current state of streetwear, as its aesthetic “takes influence and inspiration from the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russian street and youth culture” (Gosha Rubchinskiy Hypebeast). DSM holds locations in the fashion hubs of London, Tokyo, New York, Singapore, and Beijing. As far as Yamamoto’s streetwear success, the designer has collaborated with Adidas since 2002, calling his permanent line with the brand Y-3. His collaboration with the athletic brand “aims to bring Yamamoto’s sartorial aesthetics to the Adidas brand by fusing high fashion with advanced sportswear” (Y-3 Hypebeast). Similar to CDG Play, Y-3’s line includes a widely desired sneaker silhouette, the Qasa. Along with the two highly successful Kawakubo and Yamamoto, Issey Miyake emerged into the fashion scene around the same time period.
Issey Miyake is admired across the fashion sphere for his technology-driven designs. Since beginning his career in 1970, Miyake’s work has bridged the gap between technology, design, and fashion. And more importantly, Miyake has bridged the gap between Japan and the Western world through his ingenious work. He has been dubbed ‘the Picasso of Fashion,’ “presumably in relation to the diversity of his work, his propensity for discovering new artistic methodologies and his challenging of traditional concepts of design” (English 10). One of Miyake’s most notable exhibits was held at the Cartier Foundation of Contemporary Art in Paris. At this 1998 exhibit, titled Issey Miyake: Making Things, ten years of his work was displayed (English 13). The showstopper of this exhibit was Miyake’s triumphant Pleats, Please line. This event allowed for individuals across the fashion industry to celebrate Miyake’s innovative designs. Since then, Miyake’s work has been continually celebrated. Miyake’s most popular product to date is L'eau d’Issey, his brand’s signature fragrance. Currently on cosmetic retail chain Sephora’s website, Miyake’s line of fragrances is described as “fueled by technology, minimalism, and nature.” L’eau d’Issey has a four point seven out of five star rating on the Sephora website. On Nordstrom’s website, all of the fragrances in the L'eau d’Issey line hold five start ratings. Moreover, Miyake’s Bao Bao bag has also become a staple piece in his range. In addition, Miyake has been commended on the actual Bao Bao Issey Miyake storefront. The design and make of the bag is reflected in the storefront’s interior design methods. And both the interior design of the store and the bag itself has been considered timeless. Raymund Königk of the University of Pretoria explained that the Bao Bao stores were timelessly decorated, which “reinforces and creates meaning through external references to cultural conventions; through intertextual references; or to themes, elements, or conventions within the same artifact” (Königk 204). Finally, Miyake is noteworthy his role in Steve Jobs’ iconic everyday look. Jobs’ uniform has become an Internet, specifically Twitter, meme, but many are not aware of Miyake’s partaking in Jobs’ outfit of choice — Miyake is responsible for designing Jobs’ black turtleneck. In 1981, Jobs commissioned Miyake to design his turtleneck, and Miyake supplied him with 100 shirts. After Jobs’ death in 2011, the turtleneck was even discontinued from Miyake’s brand. However, this past July, Miyake released a similar top, the Semi-Dull T. This Jobs turtleneck recreation is “60 percent polyester, 40 percent cotton, and guaranteed to inspire déjà vu” (Patterson). Since the start of Miyake’s career, his work has made global impact. His impact is carried on through his recognizable technology inspired images, products, and branding.
The global widespread of Japanese fashion influence is not limited to avant-garde and technology-driven styles. The playful A Bathing Ape is yet another iconic label in streetwear today. Tomoaki Nagao, known as NIGO, is the creator of Japanese streetwear line, A Bathing Ape. Commonly referred to as BAPE, the brand is the epitome of modern street style. BAPE was founded in Tokyo in 1993, and has been accepted as a top international streetwear line since the start of its existence. Similar to streetwear giants like Supreme, in BAPE’s earlier years, the pieces were seemingly unattainable. The elusive nature of the brand attracted American hip hop artists Kanye West, Lil Wayne, the late Notorious B.I.G, and most recognizably, Pharrell. Pharell took on “an unofficial brand ambassador’s role for BAPE” (Fashion History Lessons). As NIGO and Pharrell formed a close relationship, the duo also went on to birth Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream, which found success in the streetwear and hip hop scene throughout the 2000s. BAPE’s highly sought-after sneaker model, the Bapesta, drove sales through the roof at the height of the brand’s success. The Bapesta was a take on the classic Nike Air Force One, and is credited as one of the models that initiated “sneakerhead” culture (Fashion History Lessons). Sneakerheads today continue to lust after BAPE’s Bapesta, despite NIGO’s recent part with the company. In 2013, NIGO left his role as BAPE’s creative director due to financial hardships within the brand. Although NIGO is no longer with BAPE, the brand continues to prosper. BAPE’s U.S. Instagram account is at 2.4 million followers, and BAPE Japan has garnered a following of 1.1 million. More recently, NIGO continues to thrive under his newer label, Human Made, which Pharrell is also closely associated with. Additionally, NIGO is working with “Japanese high-street powerhouse Uniqlo as the head of their UT T-shirt line” (Fashion History Lessons). The streetwear genius made major moves in the worlds of street style and hip hop alike. Evidence of NIGO’s everlasting impression can still frequently be found in global fashion capitals. As NIGO is venturing out to work with high-street brand Uniqlo, his legacy at BAPE will not be forgotten.
Japan’s streetwear influence on the world began organically and remains to be wholly necessary. Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, and NIGO introduced unprecedented work that will incessantly continue to impact street style culture. Their imaginative designs became widespread through international fashion weeks and other Western artists. But more accurately, and first and foremost, their designs became widespread through raw talent, hard work, and personal experience. Each individual artist brought something new and genuine to the table. Kawakubo was influenced by her upbringing, and fervor for feminism. And Yamamoto through his admiration for hard working women. Miyake instituted an entirely new genre of streetwear through strong technological influences. And finally, NIGO used his passion for hip hop to hone in his brand, and assemble it to the very top of the streetwear lineup. Without these Japanese fashion savants, streetwear culture would not be as innovative, experimental, or relevant as it is today.
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Königk, Raymund. “An Imaginal Interpretation of Interior Design's Methods of Cultural Production: Towards a Strategy for Constructing Meaning.” University of Pretoria, University of Pretoria, 2015, pp. 204–205.
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Patterson, Troy. “Steve Jobs's Mock Turtleneck Gets a Second Life.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 28 June 2017, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-28/steve-jobs-s-mock-turtleneck-gets-a-second-life.
“Y-3.” HYPEBEAST, hypebeast.com/tags/y-3.777
The Idealist Critical Review
Hello Poverty, Goodbye Jeffrey Sachs
Michigan native, Harvard University graduate, husband, father, Columbia University director of the Earth Institute, mzungu, economist: This is Jeffrey Sachs. Economist with the ability and methods to eradicate poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa once and for all? Insha’Allah.
In 2005, Jeffrey Sachs launched the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), funded by foreign aid, donations, and grants, in attempt to end extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its dwindling economy, unstable government, lack of health care, endless famine and malnutrition, constant malaria outbreaks, and failing educational systems were not coming to an end until vast actions were implemented. Sachs was determined to finally execute a way out of poverty for the suffering African villages. Sachs firmly believed that by 2025, “with enough focus, enough determination, and enough money, we can end the suffering of those still trapped by poverty.” (Munk 2) To other economists and organizations, the billions of dollars in foreign government aid needed to support the project were irrational and unthinkable. Even so, Sachs was determined. Nina Munk’s The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty documents her six-year experience alongside the passionate and unwavering economist. And discusses the effects of agro-ecological differences, cultural differences, and most importantly the dependency of foreign aid. The novel allows Munk to narrate, but also challenge Sachs’ efforts and methods geared toward the elimination of poverty from the Sub-Saharan African existence. Were Sachs’ approaches too far fetched? Were they too dependent on handouts? Like Bill Gates stated in his blog, did the Millennium Villages Project begin with too much of an idealistic “Field of Dreams” approach? Was this yet another form of charity, but with Sachs’ name plastered all over the project? Munk thoroughly examines these questions and more. The first of two villages Munk covered in Sachs’ quest to end poverty was Dertu, Kenya.
Dertu, Kenya is a “nomadic pastoralist community” close to the Somali border (Munk 45). Consequently, Somali culture and traditions bled into the Kenyan village. The population consisted primarily of camel and cattle herders, which was Dertu’s form of economic status. The more camels a man owned, the wealthier they were. It was common, however, for the cattle to die quickly of starvation and exhaustion due to Dertu’s arid conditions. This, and other factors, resulted in no real economy to speak of in Dertu (Munk 45). The MVP’s main goal in all its villages was to create a prosperous economy that could be sustained after the project’s funding stopped. And this goal was extremely prevalent in Dertu.
In an effort to help build an economic system in Dertu, one of their main advisors, Ahmed Maalmi Mohamed, attempted to convince livestock farmers to cut the wild grass to feed their cattle in preparation for any upcoming natural disasters. Floods and drought were common in Dertu as a result of its barren land. The people of Dertu refused because they claimed it was Godsend – Allah did not give them the permission to cut it. Someone repeated, “The more you cut, the angrier God gets – it is a bad omen.” (Munk 54) Although MVP sent devout staff such as Ahmed to bring sustainability to the villages, Munk emphasized that religious and cultural differences interfered with overall progressiveness. Furthermore, Munk demonstrated another outdated African tradition that declined the medical progress of villages such as Dertu. Despite the free contraceptives sent from the project, “female genital cutting continued to be an almost universal practice.” (Munk 163) The operation represents a woman’s innocence to a man when entering a marriage. An uncircumcised woman brings shame to a family. Health coordinator sent by MVP, Fatima Shide, watched in on a cutting ceremony, and it brought her to tears. The women of Dertu scoffed at her, “You are a coward.” (Munk 163) Progression in modern medicine and health care in general were unable to move forward due to archaic Dertu beliefs. Moreover, Fatima accuses Somali men of being lazy, and leaving the village’s women to do their work. They reply with, “We are descendants of Abraham, and if you descend from Abraham, you don’t do manual labor… Our only business is animal herding.” (Munk 194) The men of Dertu relied solely on their cattle, and as much as they did not want to admit it, MVP’s financial handouts. The differences in culture from the western world compared to Sub-Saharan Africa continuously stood in the way of economic and social progress. Vanity Fair writer, Bruce Handy, interviewed Munk after the release of her novel and spoke to her about “cultural differences.” Munk explained,
"If you believe your aid is going to win hearts and minds, end terrorism, change the course of a nation’s history, and singlehandedly thrust people into the global economy, you’re doomed to failure."
In Dertu, it was evident that despite the efforts of MVP, unintended natural disasters and cultural differences were still getting in the way of economic and social advancement. Similar discrepancies were occurring in Ruhiira, Uganda – the second Millennium Village Munk closely observed.
The village of Ruhiira is located in southwestern Uganda. Ruhiira, like many Sub-Saharan African villages, lacks electricity, running water, and crops. Because of the scarcity of food and nutrients, the rate of malnourishment is incredibly high. Ruhiira is another model village for MVP. Ruhiira’s main source of income and food was green matoke banana. David Siriri, an MVP team leader for Ruhiira, “Encouraged individual matoke farmers to join cooperatives and sell their crop, in bulk… the farmers were now selling their matoke at an average of 8,000 shillings ($4) a bunch, twice as much as they were selling before.” (Munk 123) Another solution proposed and funded by MVP was to grow cash crops, such as maize, to stimulate the economic market and feed Ruhiira’s own people. The village’s location, the highlands of Uganda, allowed crops to grow successfully. The issue at hand was that no economic market was growing. Other remotely close villages were unwilling to come to Ruhiira to purchase the goods. And it did not make sense for the people of Ruhiira to transport the goods either. There was too much supply and no demand. And ultimately, Ruhiira believed that maize was prisoners and peasant food. No one wanted to consume it. Yet another cultural difference stood in the way of progression. In both Ruhiira and Dertu, there were still more setbacks than advancements notwithstanding the efforts and methods implemented by the Millennium Villages Project.
The main setback of the Millennium Villages Project is its questionable dependency and reliance on foreign aid. And the main theme in Munk’s novel is the same. Other economists and foundations would interrupt Sachs’ ideas and were skeptical. Economist and author of Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa, Dambisa Moyo, revealed in a FOX Business interview that most Africans do not even see a “scrap” of the donated money. Most foreign aid goes toward the corrupt governments and tyrannical leaders, which in turn does not help toward the elevation of poverty. She goes on to explain that there are no countries that have seen economic growth rates by relying on aid. Countries, such as China, that were once suffering from poverty found their way out to eventually succeed economically. What is so different about Africa? Why can’t Africa find their way out? Their reliance on aid is ultimately setting them back rather than pushing them forward. Additionally, large foundations such as Microsoft refused to donate money directly to MVP, but rather “funded his interdisciplinary work at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, because we felt it was invaluable to have him focused on the needs of poor countries.” Bill Gates is not an economist, but he is one of the smartest men living today. His choice to refuse to donate to MVP is a flashing sign. MVP turned itself into a charity rather than a project to stunt economic growth in Africa. Moving on, in a New York Times interview, John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, discusses Sachs’ failing top-down approach. Mackey’s organization, Whole Planet Foundation, uses more of a bottom-down approach “through entrepreneurship and boot strapping” to be more effective on African economic self-reliance. Millionaires such as George Soros, who would donate up to 47 million dollars at a time, fed into Sachs’ unsuccessful top-down approach. At one point, Sachs was asking donors to handout insecticide-coated bed nets to reduce malaria rates. Granted, the nets were eventually distributed and malaria rates did decrease, however, it was at the cost of millions of dollars that outside parties insisted could have been used elsewhere. Aside from outside parties that did not agree with Sachs, even the villagers of Dertu became unconvinced.
One of Dertu’s few business owners, Ali Abdi Mohamed, proposed a list consisting of various complaints toward MVP. It was titled: “COMPLAIN AGAINST MVP.” (Munk 201) In whole, Ali criticizes the project and expresses that it has only created a dependence syndrome (Munk 201). Most may argue, however, that there was already a dependency issue, and MVP merely heightened it. People part of Sachs’ inner circle even began to voice their opinions, “In hindsight it’s like we were set up to fail… It’s not that Jeff’s ideas are wrong… It’s that the project’s ambition moved more quickly than the capacity.” (Munk 203) Sachs’ staff came to a realization that with the economist’s ideas came with uncertainty that was not anticipated. At the end of the novel, in Chapter 24 titled “It Is What It Is,” Munk visits Sachs in his Upper West Side home and reflects back on the project with him. After her half-dozen years spent alongside the economist “he insisted that I’d misunderstood him.” (Munk 229) Sachs reiterates, “My goal was to help end extreme poverty… And that remains my goal.” (Munk 229) Even Sachs, with his flawed and colossal ego (Munk 218), admitted his to failures with the Millennium Villages Project. The MVP was set to end in 2015, once Sachs recognized that focusing solely on Africa was no longer an option because most of world’s issues were interconnected (Munk 230). His goal was once to completely end extreme poverty by implementing his ideas and methods. Now, his goal was to help end extreme poverty.
Nina Munk’s The Idealist has received numerous forms of praise because of her honest reflections regarding Sachs’ Millennium Villages Project along with the heart-wrenching stories that allow the audience to grasp the realities of life in Sub-Saharan Africa. Munk composes an economic novel unlike any other that Bill Gates says draws “readers into the potentially dry subject of international development.” There are many individual aspects of the piece that strengthen the overall novel. First, The Idealist is divergent to other pieces covering the topic of extreme poverty because the author makes an effort to fully immerse herself, by choice, into the African culture. She, of course, accompanied Sachs on official trips, but often opted to journey on her own. Munk stayed in both Dertu and Ruhiira for extended periods at a time, whereas Sachs would come the villages for no more than a few hours per visit. Fortune writer Erika Fry agrees with Munk in saying “he [Sachs] appears disconnected from the on-the-ground realities of MVP.” Munk, on the other hand, accepted the hospitality of camel herders, and shared meals with people in their huts (Munk 234). Munk was able to know the people of these villages and understand their daily struggle. Moreover, half way through, the novel transitions from demonstrations of the project’s successes, to its downfalls. In the Chapter 22, “An Island of Success,” Munk argues, “In the beginning, it was easy to ignore or discredit critics of the Millennium Villages Project.” (Munk 213) Through the duration of the project, however, various economists and organizations grew skeptical of Sachs’ execution. She frequently documented Sachs’ attitude and reactions toward any outside party (not part of the Millennium Villages Project staff) that did not agree with his strategies or plans. Sachs was quick to react in throwing out phrases such as “Your actions are reprehensible,” (Munk 103) or “Yah? Well he’s a punk!” (Munk 102), or “I mean, God forbid someone actually do something!” (Munk 188) Another resilient response was “Christian Lengeler may be a good malariologist, but he’s a bad economist. He can go to Hell! I’m a good economist!” (Munk 104) These reactions are hostile, however, important for Munk to add to the novel to further establish Sachs’ drive toward saving the lives of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa. Munk did not hide these aspects from the audience, and this allows The Idealist to be a genuinely written novel that powerfully portrays Jeffrey Sachs and his grand plan to end poverty. Munk’s novel is not the first of her influential work. She has been a contributing editor at Vanity Fair since 2001, and prior to that she “was a senior writer at Fortune and a senior editor at Forbes” (Munk). These accolades have clearly added to the success and eloquence of the novel. Munk’s novel offers a distinctive and fresh perspective on extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In conclusion, I believe that Nina Munk has diligently examined Jeffrey Sachs and his endeavors to end poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Idealist has allowed me to understand the harsh realities of Sub-Saharan African poverty, and Jeffrey Sachs’ determination to end it. I side with Munk in agreeing that Sachs’ approaches have been too reliant on foreign aid, and are generally implausible. Although Munk “never tells readers exactly how she feels about Sachs until the second to last paragraph of the book,” according to Fortune writer Erika Fry’s piece on the novel, it is apparent that she considers Sachs’ ideas to be incredibly unrealistic despite his ambition. Nina Munk’s take on Sachs’ approaches to end extreme poverty are spot on, especially because of her standing as an outside party. In the Vanity Fair interview with Bruce Handy, Munk further expresses
If you pour 5 million or 10 million dollars into a very small, isolated village in the middle of sub-Saharan Africa, you’re going to have a tremendous impact…The question now is what happens when Millennium Villages Project comes to an end, any day now, and the flow of money stops. Where will the villages be in 10 years? Connected to the global economy? Or still be trapped in extreme poverty?
Munk’s personal view on Sachs is endearing. Despite his fast reactions to shut down anyone standing in the way of his goals, she considers Sachs to be a man with drive, fortitude, and great ideas. Munk even says in her “Acknowledgments” that she is forever indebted to him for allowing her to shadow him for six years (Munk 235). But his methods are simply too idealistic to completely end the cycle of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. Endless amounts of aid and charity will only push Africa to believe that they cannot be self-reliant or sustainable. The factors of agro-ecological struggles, cultural differences, and foreign aid will continue to be a hindrance in the advancement of Sub-Saharan Africa, as long as the rest of the world lets them. In order to end extreme poverty in Africa, the work, drive, and ambition must come from within the nations themselves to reach economic and social success.
FOX Business - Dambisa Moyo Says Aid to Africa Isn't Working. Perf. Dambisa Moyo. FOX Business, 2009. Youtube.
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Handy, Bruce. "Nina Munk on Her New Book: Can “Bono’s Africa Guru” Jeffrey Sachs Truly End Poverty?" Vanity Fair. 31 Aug. 2013. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.
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