Ryota Murakami

A/W ‘23 | Tokyo


By Jee Young Park

There were soft skirts and cardigans, a crocheted flower here and there, maybe sitting on a bonnet, and neat hairstyles of flowing tresses in line for the Pillings A/W ’23 show. Inside, more delights. A full-bodied voice playing over the speakers. It was a translator’s account of working through Franz Kafka’s passages: his reasons for maintaining the author’s choice of colloquialisms; his deliberations over Kafka’s commas. Clearly, a labor of love. And, of course, the main event following such a thought-provoking prelude was Ryota Murakami’s knitwear collection, a roadmap for honoring craftwork and the sublime in design.

I pondered over the significance of the introduction while the first model walked down the boarded runway, her hips thrust forward in an exaggerated manner. On them hung voluminous trousers, pillowy and sitting low. The bumps of thick wool and lining protruded out and brought to mind the flare of iliac crests, seesawing as she shuffled past. If Murakami wanted to draw parallels between designing a collection and translating works of literature, many instances readily come to mind. From idea to paper, atelier to the runway, and runway to retail, no matter how precisely we try to communicate at these inflection points, we can never erase the price of personhood in “translation” — and thank goodness for that. Murakami’s work leans into these liminal moments, creating room for new ideas to emerge about luxury and the emotive boundaries of clothing. “Mistakes” such as pilling, warping, shrinkage, moth-eaten holes, and moths themselves as a motif representing the unwanted were transformed into feats of craftsmanship.

Perhaps it was the geographical and chronological proximity to Kafka but Schiele came to mind. Like the women in Schiele’s portraits, the models confronted us with their gaze but it’s not their posturing or hair styling that I’m merely complimenting (although both were impressive in their own right), it’s Murakami’s ability to transform knitwear and draw such expressive lines.

Take, for example, the sharp corners of the cream Aran cape. Her shoulders were outlined in 90-degree angles from the front, and as she turned, the snug fit revealed the gentle slope of her back. The decision to leave the wide swath of knit uninterrupted emphasized those very lines but also tinged it with discomfort, echoed in the quivering edges of the collar and bottom hem, along with her hidden arms.

Adornments and distortions pulled the gaze upward, guiding us to take in the model’s expression. With wet, stringy hair and vacant eyes, the vivacity of the natural world gave way to strained psychological states. Murakami did not leave them adrift, though. He left directions in the form of pockets. “Insert hands here,” they seemed to say, “Give yourself a hug,” “Feel a tender touch,” and “This is how you cope.” Or, considering the association knitting has with a rural, unfashionable, and womanly existence, it showed someone who decided to soothe herself, by design. Such are the marvels Murakami created with a team of skilled artisans.

The overall impact of the collection was self-evident in the crowd’s reaction. Murakami created a psychic presence (as in the soul, not clairvoyance) that transcended the medium.