Paris Fashion Week designer returns to roots with Nagano retrospective

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mame Kurogouchi designs are on display in the austere white galleries of the Nagano Prefectural Art Museum in Nagano.
Courtesy of Mame Kurogouchi
Maiko Kurogouchi

Fashion designer Maiko Kurogouchi has made a triumphant homecoming with “10 Mame Kurogouchi,” a retrospective at the Nagano Prefectural Art Museum feting the 10th anniversary of her fashion brand, Mame Kurogouchi.

Also Kurogouchi’s first solo museum show, the exhibition offers visitors an unprecedented look at the evolution of the Nagano native’s delicate creations, in an austere white setting that harkens back to her aesthetic roots in the snow country.

“When I think of Nagano, I don’t associate it so much with summer, but rather, the translucency of winter,” Kurogouchi, 36, said. “I cherish all the wintry landscapes, especially the hushed still that hangs in the air the morning after a snow.”

The scope of the exhibition spans from the brand’s 2011 Spring/Summer to the 2020 Fall/Winter collections, displaying garments alongside items that inspired her designs. Instead of chronological order, exhibits are grouped by 10 keywords — such as travel, dreams and crafts — that exemplify the brand.

For example, the “embroidery” section showcases dresses and blouses in lavish floral motifs. The original embroidery designs and instructions sent to the garment factory are also on display, letting visitors get a sense of the intricate production process.

A selection of the brand’s signature bags made with see-through PVC material can be admired in the “Nagano” section, offering a clear window into the formative influence of the icy snowscapes familiar from the designer’s childhood.

Kurogouchi is a prolific visual diarist, and her personal scrapbooks are another highlight of the exhibition. Visitors can peruse 360 pages culled from the notebooks she has compiled since launching the brand, brimming with sources of inspiration ranging from pressed flowers to fabric swatches and shopping receipts whose color attracted her attention. The notebooks go to show how even the quotidian ephemera can be transformed into elegant, enchanting clothing in the mind of a designer.

Since making her Paris Fashion Week debut in 2018, Kurogouchi’s designs can now be found on catwalks and city streets the world over. Yet she sees symbolic meaning in celebrating her brand’s anniversary closer to home.

“My sense of beauty is based on my childhood in Nagano,” she said. “By holding the exhibition in Nagano, I feel like I’ve come full circle and returned to my origin as a designer.”

Although she admits there was once a time when she longed for life outside of the countryside, she said she is now grateful to have grown up in such a wonderful environment.

“Through this exhibition, I especially want to show young people how much beauty can be found all around in the course of everyday life,” she said. The exhibition is slated to run through Aug. 15.