Parsons’ Ryohei Kawanishi turns the everyday mundane into artistic wearable readymades
Ryohei Kawanishi graduated from Parsons’ MFA Fashion Design course with his Spring 2016 collection. The clever, witty show saw a dramatic change in silhouette from his BA graduate collection at Central St Martins, yet was still inherently rooted in his penchant for socio-political statements through design. Kawanishi’s graduate collection from Parsons, where he was a scholarship student, featured everyday objects such as the shower curtain, the bath mat and the backpack refashioned into wearable items of dress that quite literally cloaks us in our consumerism. It was a comment on fast fashion and consumer culture that was arguably beyond the literal, though lightheartedly comic in its treatment.
The collection was titled ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even’, the same name as the Marcel Duchamp work that Kawanishi drew his initial inspiration from, after seeing the piece in person at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The original work features nine garments hanging oddly on a clothesline (‘the Bachelor’s apparatus’), what Kawanishi saw as the uniforms of the nine bachelors vying for the love of the Bride, who is present as a geometric form in the upper panel (‘the Bride’s Domain’). These silhouettes were formed by Duchamp from insignificant materials such as lead foil, fuse wire and dust. The glass panels are shattered and the piece is often called ‘The Large Glass’, the mirror Kawanishi can hold up to the materialist debauchery of the fashion industry, its pace and thirst the shattering, and rightly so.
The similarity, -dare- homage, to Duchamp’s piece is evident through the process and materials of Kawanishi’s collection. Instead of using the uniforms of the nine bachelors, which Kawanishi notes as those of the priest, the delivery boy, the bus boy, etc, he “chose a readymade object for each, instead of a uniform.” The collection’s nine looks are the bride’s nine bachelors, most obviously her delivery boy with a Fedex branded jacket and a skirt made of parcel tape.
“I’VE JUST RECREATED READYMADE OBJECTS AND STYLED THEM AS AN OUTFIT.”
Kawanishi’s understanding of Dada and Duchamp, and their influence on him, is ever present. Duchamp’s ‘Readymades’ artworks of the early twentieth century were ordinary objects of mass manufacturing that he modified through displacement, repositioning or simple marking, such as his infamous porcelain urinal ‘Fountain’. The term ‘readymades’ was coined in 1914 on the eve of America’s mass consumer market, to determine manufactured goods from handmade ones. Kawanishi’s collection of manufactured objects – the bathroom tap, the jewellery organiser, the vacuum pack – displaced cunningly on the body, tells the tale of how we consume the familiar, “they’re objects seen in everyday life, people don’t wear them but they are close to our body… I thought it could make some sense,” he says. In the same way that Duchamp indulged his urinal by displacing it, rendering it purposeless and proclaiming it art, Kawanishi has created an illusion of purpose, they work but they don’t work how we’ve past perceived them to, “I’ve just recreated readymade objects and styled them as an outfit.”
By refashioning these familiar objects into objects of fashion, Kawanishi has installed them with worth, “I thought it’d be stupid if I buy something anyone can buy for $1, recreate it and then it costs a lot,” adding that such re-creation of product and worth cost ‘more than he thought’. Luxury fashion’s reappropriation of the everyday object is evident elsewhere, yet tends to focus on the brand and the logo (Moschino and Barbie and McDonald’s, Vetements and DHL) over a particular existing product, making Kawanishi’s process of repurposing more curious in concept.
The use of the readymade in the collection isn’t wholly a socio-political cry about consumerism, it’s an act of wit. “I wanted to try to show something that involved a sense of humour, rather than something considered and conceptual”. He succeeds. Think of the often humorous, questionably seductive scene from film and television where somebody walks in on another in the shower and they pull the curtain around their naked body on impulse… here lies Kawanishi’s penchant for canny design.
“AS A GRADUATING STUDENT, IT’S THE LAST TIME FOR BOUNDARIES, FASHION BECOMES BUSINESS NOW.”
Kawanishi uses the word ‘stupid’ often when referring to the concept and the clothes, I’d rather consider it a satirical play on the prestige we bestow on possessions. These are designer clothes that no one would dispose of fleetingly, but a bath mat, a little worn? No debate, waste. So, what if the designer fashion is the bath mat? It’s a humorous gesture bowing to all who slave to fashion’s often deviant fancy for luxury.
A relocation from London to New York had influence on this collection through a change in perspective. “At Central St Martins I was more interested in fine art, so I saw fashion as concept, but in New York, fashion is product,” he says. Quite literally for his graduate collection, which is more wearable than the suffocating, enveloping, though still remarkable knits of his BA graduate collection at Central St Martins that focused on the world’s current natural and political disasters. However, Kawanishi’s collection still possesses a desire for the bizarre, for “as a graduating student, it’s the last time for boundaries, fashion becomes business now.”
“Fashion is close to daily life as reality in New York,” he states, so it seems fit that he’s brought the mundane tools of our daily lives onto the body and paraded them as something of covetable worth, restructuring our ideas of luxury fashion design and material culture. Through wit and mocking intellect, Kawanishi has made a serious statement about product, consumer and culture. It’s fashion that enjoys purpose and pleasure, politics and play by restructuring perspectives of the familiar mundane. However, for Kawanishi himself, it was merely a statement on “nothingness… something simply stupid.”