For Western artists and designers, one of the most enduringly popular points of inspiration is “The Orient,” resulting in a style called “Orientalism.” In historical terms, the Orient was a broad geographical designation describing the many nations and cultures of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. To the Western mind, these cultures represented, “romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences.”1 Nations and cultures encompassed by this broad term may share some similarities, but each has distinct cultural and artistic traditions. Despite these differences, the Western mind has often grouped them into a unified whole. In design terms, this results in fantastic creations, the outcome of an exuberant and often naïve reinterpretation of non-Western cultures. Fashions inspired by Orientalism are often richly colored with intricate patterns or ornamental surface embellishments and present dramatic silhouettes.
An Orientalist’s dream, this bodice features a tremendous mix of imagery and associations pulled from various parts of Asia. Nagasaki is a Japanese city, site of the second atomic bomb explosion in August 1945. The detonation of the "Fat Boy" bomb in Nagasaki killed as many as 80,000 people and led to Japan's surrender in World War II. Perhaps Galliano named this bodice Nagasaki because it is an unruly garment, resembling an explosion of fabric. To see how this bodice looks on a human body, look at the runway images here.
The embroidered images of goldfish, lotus and peony-like flowers are reminiscent of Chinese embroidery motifs. Lotus flowers (the large pink/purple flower seen at the lower back) are associated with Buddhism, a religion found in many parts of Asia. The boxy sleeves and collar are shaped like the fragile paper lanterns often associated with Asia. Taking another view, the sleeves and collar resemble the folds of origami, which originated in Japan. Finally, the dark purple silk ground fabric is in a color called mulberry, a color Western minds have associated with East Asia (Japan, China, Korea) since the 19th century.
Was John Galliano aware of these varied associations when he designed Nagasaki? Probably, as just before this collection was presented, Galliano visited both Japan and China. Overall, his aesthetic often relies on heavy borrowing from non-Western cultures, as seen in this post.
Does this kind of borrowing result in more interesting design? Or does it lessen our ability to understand and appreciate other cultures for their unique qualities? Some might say (though hopefully not readers of this blog!) that it is merely fashion, with no additional importance.
1 Said, Edward. Orientalism (New York: Penguin, 2001) 1.