Kansai Yamamoto. Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita (1973)


Avant-garde fashion and anti-fashion by Grace Stevenson

The iconic artist David Bowie is known for his outlandish and original costumes throughout his illustrious career. Bowie never claimed to be a fashion guru, but only wanted his music to “look how it sounds” [1], so his costumes were reflective of the music. Bowie wore this costume for his Aladdin Sane Tour to represent the central character on that album.

‘The Tokyo Pop’ vinyl bodysuit (1973)’ designed by Kansai Yamamoto and worn by David Bowie for his Aladdin Sane Tour was originally designed with a woman in mind. Kansai Yamamoto’s work with David Bowie started from a show he saw when Bowie was wearing one of his women’s wear designs. They met and developed their relationship from there. “At the time, David Bowie was all about transcending gender. I didn’t know anything about concepts like that, so I remember thinking whoa when I saw him wearing clothes I had designed for women.” [2]

Kansai Yamamoto is a Japanese designer who strives towards the ‘Japanese Beauty’ in his garments through the use of Japanese motifs. This garment conforms to many of the ideas of avant-garde fashion and anti fashion. ‘The Tokyo Pop’ vinyl bodysuit (1973) almost completely distorts the human figure going against Western culture’s use of clothing to flatter the body and the idea of clothing forming an ideal body silhouette. Its odd shape and unusual texture are more anti-fashion than fashionable. The use of these anti-aesthetic qualities seems to be a deliberate attempt to disengage from the fashion system. The awkwardness of the garment rejects fashion’s commercial imperative, as it is closer to couture than fast fashion. This type of garment questions Western ideas of beauty and clothing, which served Bowie’s goal to look outlandish. He was not concerned about promoting stereotypical Western images surrounding fashion.

Bowie’s involvement with Yamamoto helped gain acceptance of Japanese Avant-garde fashion. “Japan-inspired outfits by Bowie-as-alien Ziggy Stardust put Japonism center stage in the fashion scene of the West, placing a seal of approval on inspirations from Japan, which in the early ’70s was still considered an indecipherable, alien nation.” [3]


[1] Cartner-Morley, J., 2013, V&A exhibition shows how David Bowie shaped fashion history, The Guardian, 18 March, viewed 21 August 2014 <

[2] Hayashi, K., 2014, Some Cat From Japan, Vice, 18 February, viewed 21 August 2014 <>

[3] Thian, H., 2013, For David Bowie, Japanese style was more than just fashion, The Japan Times, 11 June, viewed 21 August 2014 <>