Seldom can one apply philosophical ideals to the fashion industry. However, deep within the practices and designs of avant-garde menswear line, The Viridi-anne, lurks the ancient Japanese concept of wabi-sabi.
Wabi-sabi can be loosely described as "the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay and death." This concept, which was first practiced by Japanese priests, monks and tea masters around the 12th century, is a way of life rather than a religion. Seeking enlightenment each day through meditation and tea making is considered a part of Zen Buddhism, but the calm and natural influence the practice has upon an individual's life is what can be termed as "wabi-sabi." German painter Hans Hofmann expanded upon the ancient concept, describing it as, "the ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak."
The ideals of authenticity and purity of form found in the concept of wabi-sabi can also be applied to design. Man's reliance on façades and other unnatural principles of modern perfection instead becomes negated into the peripheral. Yet, despite clean lines and sharp angles frequently appearing on fashion runways, there is often little discussion of "wabi-sabi". Is the fashion audience able to recognise the profundity and philosophically-inspired depth of such apparently simple designs?
The Viridi-anne hook closure wool jacket.
The Viridi-anne is an avant-garde menswear line inspired by the principles of wabi-sabi. Launched in 2000 by Japanese fashion designer and oil painter by training, Tomoaki Okaniwa, the established fashion brand subtly fuses the ancient Zen Buddhist concept of wabi-sabi with a distinctly "modern vision."
Achieving effortless simplicity within contemporary fashion design is often a hard feat for design teams, but The Viridi-anne has accepted the daunting task with gusto. Although many of its contemporaries are releasing collections decorated with flamboyant patterns and precise designs, the Japanese label is better known for the ascetic values of imperfection; curved seams, aggressive forms and unexpected pockets lurk beneath what initially presents itself as clean tailoring. With every season, its intricately thought out and highly comprehensive designs metamorphose into a new form of effortless simplicity.
The brand originally formed as a result of Okaniwa creating clothing for himself, almost out of necessity. Strongly influenced by foreign art, media and culture during his time studying at the University of Fine Arts in Tokyo, Okaniwa struggled to find an affinity with the mainstream Japanese fashion scene. Despite his tight student budget, his eye was instead drawn towards designers such as Vivienne Westwood. As he tells Scoute.org, "it was this interest in UK/punk culture which first inspired me to create clothing." His aim, he claims, was to be able to "take art down from the gallery wall and make it into something one can wear everyday on your own body and enjoy in everyday life."
However, Okaniwa's design style - an aggressively subdued combination - is distinctly his own. As he explains to Planet-mag.com, "The main concept of my work is based on the beauty of simplicity and the effects of time...I want to create garments with roots in the ideal of 'wabi-sabi' that incorporates the aesthetics of imperfection, incompleteness, and the effects of natural processes, but I want to mix it with a modern vision."
Over the past decade, the Viridi-anne has steadfastly refused to make unnecessary additions to the construction of its garments. Overly processed or synthetic materials, embellishments and branding is stripped away; instead, advocating minimum closures, rustic finishes and artisanal construction methods. While fast-fashion outfits assemble their wares in large overseas manufacturing districts, Okaniwa travels around Japan himself, in search of cloistered artisans and traditional craftwork. This allows for the local craftsman to pass on their knowledge of authentic Japanese artisanal techniques. It is these values that emanate through the handmade shoes, largely organic fabrics and hand-stitched items of The Viridi-anne, and similarly maintain the wabi-sabi concept within the designs. By turning to traditional craftsmen, Okaniwa not only contributes to keeping Japanese cultural practices alive but also offers them a global platform thanks to the worldwide distribution of the brand's apparel.
Within each collection, a new interpretation of "wabi-sabi" can be found. The S/S 2011 collection from The Viridi-anne evokes a sense of mystery, relying on hats and hoods to hide the face of the model. The clothing relies heavily on black and dark blue hues, contrasted sharply against soft linen tones, while combining traditional tailoring techniques with modern stacking and drape.
For F/W 2012, there was an evident move towards the use of more distorted images: an effort that appeared to blur and age the model and the clothing, amongst a crumbling backdrop of deterioration and the ravages of time. The apparel itself is an amalgamation of both formalwear and avant-garde street; bringing forth a quizzical feeling of traditional modernity. Heavy overcoats create a sense of burden, framing the dark and complex look held within the model's expressive face.
With the entrance of S/S 2013 - entitled Neither World - has come the deconstructed silhouettes of a "travelling vagabond," collided with more polished fabrics than usual, and mixed with a strong French influence (especially seen in the headgear and scarves). The fabrics used convey their own imperfections, curvatures and wrinkles that one might associate with age and experience.
Transcending the clothing worn by the models, for many avant-garde brands, the wabi-sabi philosophy establishes itself within the ambience of the shopping experience. The visitors are expected to free their minds of all expectations as they stand beside exposed and weathered brick walls; unfinished cement closes around an air permeated with musty, dark hues and raw aromas. The scene is set around a backdrop of tangible imperfections. Despite the fast, materialistic and chaotic pace of the fashion industry having seemingly little connection to Zen Buddhism, an event held at Galerie Eof by Stealthprojekt and Scoute during Paris Fashion Week in 2010 highlights how subtle the connection can in fact be. On a stifling summer evening, the showroom became a haven for the fashion-exhausted. It had been filled with the cooling influence of Japanese labels, including Julius, Devoa, Nude and The Viridi-anne's S/S 2011 designs.
The Viridi-anne at Paris Fashion Week.
Despite its increasing popularity, The Viridi-anne, like the non-uniform descriptions of the wabi-sabi concept, appears clandestine: rarely releasing information or press. In keeping with the practices of Zen Buddhist monks, the group appears accessible only to those who might seek it out. Even in the current market, heavily reliant on online promotion and sales, the group has more insular concerns that concentrate on the substance of the clothing, instead of marketing. This may appear to be a bit bothersome to the average consumer but, for those involved in avant-garde fashion, seeking out knowledge about the brand becomes more exciting. The thrill of the pursuit builds itself into the very thread of the garments.
Wabi-sabi seems to flow through the work of The Viridi-anne and its associated clothiers and leatherworkers. It is a frame of mind so simple and subtle that it can be easily missed. One will certainly not experience enlightenment simply by putting on one of the garments but, if you delve deep enough, you may just come to terms with your own definition of wabi-sabi. It is, after all, about finding your own interpretation of inner peace and tranquility.
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