Akira Isogawa’s Earring dress

In September 2005 the National Gallery of Victoria acquired four new works by Akira Isogawa through the support of the Victorian Foundation for Living Artists. Earring dress from the designer’s spring-summer collection 2005 was part of this group and provides new depth to the NGV’s existing holdings of this significant contemporary Australian fashion designer.

Earring dress was created for Isogawa’s Black label, which he has been presenting at Paris Fashion Week twice a year since the late 1990s. This halter-neck evening dress was also part of a new body of work which culminated in the NGV’s exhibition Akira Isogawa: Printemps-Été (December 2004–April 2005). The exhibition set out to chart the creative journey behind the production of Isogawa’s spring-summer collection 2005, which he presented at Paris Fashion Week in October 2004, and provided insight into the processes by which Isogawa transformed his sources of inspiration into garment form.

One of Isogawa’s key inspirations for this particular collection was a series of paper dolls (dating from the early twentieth century) discovered by him and long-time collaborator, collage artist Christiane Lehmann, at a Sydney antique market. Together Isogawa and Lehmann created a series of exquisitely detailed outfits for more than twenty of the paper dolls. These dolls, in effect, became the muse and inspiration and, indeed, the literal template for the development of outfits which sat at the heart of Isogawa’s spring-summer collection.

Each of the A4-sized dolls were dressed with found materials and a range of collected treasures including beads, paper, fabric petals, fragile leaf skeletons, embroidered fragments and woven braid. In the case of Earring dress, the paper-doll collage that inspired it was formed using a pair of plastic drop earrings as the shoulder straps and a cluster of antique metallic beads to create the dress.

Isogawa has always sought to find the balance between what is intrinsically wearable in garment form and a sense of art in his designs. His work eschews standard Western tailoring techniques. Garments are loosely structured and inventive, and often reference aspects of his Japanese material-culture heritage. Many of his collections are characterised by a soft, layered aesthetic and the use of vintage or vintage-inspired fabrics. In recent years Isogawa has explored the use of particular textile techniques and motifs such as hand-beading, shibori (a Japanese term for several methods of dyeing cloth with a pattern by binding, stitching, folding, twisting or compressing), origami, digital and screenprinting for decorative effect.

Earring dress combines many of these signature elements. The aubergine silk, halter-neck style evening dress features a highly magnified digital photographic print of strands of antique beads. The interior is lined in cream silk fabric featuring a reverse print of the motif. The dress itself is cut as a circle that joins at the lower back to form an open fold which acts like a subtle, draped bustle. The detachable halter is densely decorated with beads, sequins, faux pearls and other embellishments on a leather strap, inspired by the encrusted, pendulous qualities of the pair of earrings used to make the dolls dress in the original collage.

This work reflects Isogawa’s particular approach to the dressed silhouette, where form is derived from the creative wrapping and layering of the body and the garment itself becomes a sculptural extension of the wearer.

Katie Somerville, Curator, Australian Fashion and Textiles, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2006).