It was a couple of decades ago when I first came across the work of Koji Tatsuno. The work of Tatsuno, a relatively unknown and self-taught Japanese fashion designer, was being shown in Joseph, an upscale fashion store in South Kensington.It would be an understatement to call Tatsuno’s work unusual.
One of his dresses was made of coral and another was made of cloth and dried mushrooms, if I remember correctly.
Tatsuno was one of several Japanese designers making something of a splash in the UK at the time. Issey Miyake, more famous, had likewise experimented with materials, including treated paper.
Folded in peculiar ways, creating angular shapes — architectural, yet in some respects reflective of nature, perhaps at a microscopic level — Miyake’s work brought traditional Japanese aesthetics into the modern world. He had learned origami, and used that for shaping his clothing. Paper, likewise, has a long history in Japan, and was traditionally used instead of glass for windows, and, of course for the shoji (screen).
Perhaps partly because materials were less diverse, and often drawn from the local environment, whether stone, wood, or pigments for dyes, in traditional aesthetics we find things working together. There is a harmony, whether in Japan or in Britain.“Japanese paper gives us a certain feeling of warmth, of calm and repose,” writes Junichiro Tanizak in his masterpiece on traditional aesthetics, In Praise of Shadows [pdf].
Tanizak compares the Japanese room “to an inkwash painting, the paper-paneled shoji being the expanse where the ink is thinnest, and the alcove where it is the darkest.”
Although we often think about how technology might develop, we rarely pause to try to imagine how the aesthetics of the future might, or should, look. We take, I would suggest, a rather inhuman approach, fitting ourselves in as if an afterthought. The “prefab” houses and box-like buildings of 1960s Britain, almost entirely abandoned today, is only one example of failed architecture: scientific, in a way, but completely alien to nature, culture, or history. Tatsuno and Miyake take a different approach.
Dress by Issey Miyake
In looking forward at design, architecture, and so on, we should take a leaf out of Tatsuno and Miyake's book, and use materials that keep us in touch — or put us in touch — with nature, with the natural, and, in a certain, informal, sense, with natural law. We should, in other words, be involved with taking classical values, aesthetics (such as proportion in geometry, e.g., the Golden Mean) and using modern and traditional materials — in innovative ways — to create a an aesthetic that is modern yet an extension of tradition.
Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, reminds us that wood is not only an aesthetically appealing material, it is also a sustainable one. But it’s not the only, or perhaps always the best renewable material that we can grow today.
Bamboo may not immediately spring to the mind of the average Westerner, even if we are more used to seeing it, today, in Asian restaurants and shops. However, according to Green Ecoliving.com, bamboo — a species of grass — is “the fastest growing plant on the planet. It can “grow up to 6″ a day and up to 100′ tall. It produces 30% more oxygen than trees and unlike trees which need to be replanted, bamboo is self generating and can be harvested every three to five years.”
Bamboo also happens to be one of the strongest and most diverse materials available to us today. It’s used to make everything from furniture to kitchen utensils, and from wearable cloth – which is, apparently, hypoallergenic – to flooring and small buildings. In 2008, Ming Tang, a Chinese designer, designed temporary bamboo shelters, to be used in the event of an earthquake. Unlike the concrete shelters that we normally see, these are aesthetically in harmony with the natural environment in which they sit, and, as such, could be left in place for extended periods, since they do not damage the look of the environment.