Foie gras burgers. Jazz rock. Autofiction. Think of the numerous examples in culture where two or more distinct entities are combined into a new whole as a means of experimentation, innovation and progress, and more crucially, of transcending the existing boundaries of expression. When it comes to food and music, it’s fusion; in literature or film, it’s genre-bending. If fashion lacks a designated term for works that combine a multitude of styles into one, perhaps it is because fashion has long been open as a site to collide different influences, making the act of synthesis one of its primary languages, rather than one that requires strict defining — an effort which might arguably present limitations and incite hostility (how many times has ‘Fusion’ as a culinary cuisine been condemned for being a bastardisation of tradition, ridiculed and reduced for being a result of confusion?).
That said, during a time when information travels, communication is accelerated, and memory is overloaded, it comes as no surprise that designers are beginning to “reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable”, turning to techniques such as patchwork — or pastiche or assemblage, however one wishes to term it — to communicate their narrative. The method, despite being a fairly traditional one, has repeatedly shown up in the collections of various contemporary designers, from Miharayasuhiro and Comme des Garçons SHIRT, to Jonathan Cohen and Greg Lauren.
Arguably the most prominent champion of ‘patchworking’ is Sacai’s Chitose Abe. Since the dawn of her label in 1998, the designer has been blurring boundaries, symbolising the fluidity of the self through ‘hybrid splicing’ — a term referring to the brand’s signature style of marrying various disparate materials, fabric and ideas into a single garment and collection — and the label’s Autumn/Winter 2019 collection is yet another testament to Abe’s art. Utailian clothing forms are super-scaled to the point of abstraction, then re-scaled to fit the body and added alongside a variety of prints and miscellaneous elements to make a new hybrid.
The act of combining a multitude of ingredients, information, and inspiration reflects not only the multi-dimensionality of its creator, but also the act of putting the different pieces from one’s life together. As a parallel example, food critic Andrea Petrini once noted: “If Leonardo Pereira, by far one of the most outstanding Noma pupils, has returned to his little town, it’s not to freshen up his Portugueseness, but to indulge in fusion, in mixing — contaminating — drawing on his experience and origins and on what he has now; experimentation, the search for the absolute, but also the rewriting of history before him, possibly even in a reckless way.” In that sense, he continues, “fusion is undertaken to exaggerate, to break in and enter. It is the dream of closing one’s eyes and re-opening them as another person. Je ne suis pas moi: changing, reinventing oneself. No longer being an individual person, but many people.”
Chitose Abe honed her skills as a pattern cutter for Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanabe for ten years before launching her own label; she also grew up in Gifu prefecture, a sleepy rural town above Nagoya, and moved to Tokyo after graduating from design school to work for a giant corporation. Similarly, Jonathan Cohen was raised in San Diego with parents from Mexico and now identifies as a New Yorker, a mixed-cultural upbringing which ultimately informs his design work and the creation of styles for a woman who cannot be defined by a singular characteristic. And it goes on and on and on. No experience is a one-dimensional one, so why should the fruits of our creative efforts be?
More than a result of a rich personal experience, it’s also a product of immense curiosity about the world we inhabit. Beyond the surface of a patchwork scarf, dress, or jacket lies a library of references. A close study of a single Pierre-Louis Mascia collection could open a window onto Kim Jung-man’s photography; Seb Torgus’s angry urban singing; Jean Luc Favero’s ink drawings on recycled paper; meditations over the French word “bienveillance”, and more. Take an interest in the context of one of Bode’s collections, and you learn about the life of New York gallerist Todd Alden; alt-rock pioneers The Replacements; and how khadi — a hand-woven cotton fabric was first made popular in Gandhi-era India.
For Kolor’s Junichi Abe, the Autumn/Winter 2019 collection was a three-part series idea. One, the opposite of the image of luxury, but done in materials that are considered luxurious. Two, about mountaineering, but mountaineering in the 70’s, before the arrival of high-tech materials, before Gore-Tex. Three, about patchworking. Indeed, it is the third and final idea, or rather, technique, that enabled the designer to bring the first two into fruition, with patchwork being both a means and a destination. And what a gratifying destination it is.
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