Wearing: Comme des Garçons AW12 jacket and AQ/AQ maxi dress
Ma. A Japanese concept dating back to Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. To put it in the simplest terms, it means an interval or absence in time and space. The concept of Ma can be found in all aspects of Japanese lifestyle. For example, when a Japanese bows, a short pause is included at the end before getting back up in order to strengthen the impact of the bow with regards to giving respect to the other party (source). For a deeper explanation of the concept, please click here.
The Concept of Ma in Fashion
The central tenet of European couture is to give a three-dimensional form to fabric by using curved lines and darts. The Japanese, on the other hand, often begins with the concept of a kimono – an assemblage of rectangular pieces of fabric that lays flat when unworn. However, when put on the body they acquire a life of their own independent of the shape of the wearer to create space in between the body and clothing. This spatial concept of Ma is most visible in Comme des Garçons’s AW12 collection, in which the interplay of flatness and volume is exaggerated to comic proportions.
This exaggerated excess in negative space creates a powerful imagery to any observer. We are so ingrained in viewing clothes as body covering that accentuate our body shape (ie. hourglass figure for females, powerful upper torso for male), that to wear clothing that does otherwise seems counter-intuitive and to some extent even frowned upon. To the wearer who appreciates such design, however, it provides a respite from the mainstream ideals of beauty. Not only is it enticing visually, from the practical point of view the voluminous design is unrestrictive and hence comfortable. To both wearer and observer, it raises questions concerning the relationship between clothes and the human body. Of course, how much one wants to explore the subject rests on the individual’s willingness to open up his/her mind. Some people will snicker, others poke fun at you openly, and perhaps verbal abuse might ensue in the most conservative of societies. I very much doubt we will leave the current idealised aesthetics anytime soon, but the discourse for a wider definition of beauty has been opened up by Rei Kawakubo et al., the day they brought an outsider’s perspective to the stage of Western fashion more than thirty years ago. Black has become an acceptable colour to be worn head to toe thanks to them, and perhaps one day mainstream fashion will consider incorporating the concept of Ma, in that clothes can be more than just be enhancement of the human figure and that designers do not have to worry about the absence of sexual cues in a garment.