Black stretch vinyl with long, red tartan, zippered sleeves doesn’t sound like an Akira Isogawa garment, but it is the piece of his that I have in my own wardrobe. I bought it in the late 80s in a Victoria Road boutique that has long since vanished, and I went looking for the designer offspring of my top at Isogawa’s exhibition in the Object Galleries at Customs House. Featuring Japanese tie-dying techniques, shibori, and Japanese farmers work, sashiko, the exhibition is a stimulating insight into how Isogawa reaches across time and culture to create original designs. I saw the heritage of my post-punk shirt in a red sheepskin cape with chrysanthemum kimono motif on the shoulder (2000) and even in the naughtiness of Lipton tea-dyed stretch georgette panties with 3D purple floral print (2000). I thought it was also incarnated in Isogawa’s painted Joan of Arc top (1996) soaked in shellac and painted with black gloss paint. Though many of Isogawa’s designs are now very delicate and feminine, with the fabrics frequently acid-washed to antique them and a surfeit of embroidery and beads, the philosophy of using sensuous fabrics in playful cultural cross-reference is what makes the designs so inspiring. I would have liked to see more of his early work in the exhibition to be able to explore the development of this unique designer, rather than simply celebrate his most recent successes.

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