Have you ever walked down the sidewalk and smiled at a violet growing through the cracks? Or lost yourself in the rainbow sheen of an oil slick? Is that mustard stain on your favorite shirt the focal point of your look?
If you look up the definition of wabi-sabi, you’ll find that none are exactly the same, and it’s only befitting. Wabi-sabi encapsulates more than just an aesthetic, for many it is a philosophy and a lifestyle. Stemming from the early 15th century, wabi-sabi can be described as:
- Beauty can be coaxed from ugliness.
- Beauty from decay.
- Embracing imperfection
" a reaction to the prevailing aesthetic of lavishness, ornamentation, and rich materials, wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all. In Japan, the concept is now so deeply ingrained that it’s difficult to explain to Westerners; no direct translation exists. Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses." – Robyn Griggs - source
Wabi-sabi is the art of acceptance. It states that, not only should we recognize our flaws, but celebrate them. It’s using the wrong spice on your favorite dish and finding that it tastes better than you thought possible. Or, conversely, its finding that it tastes so bad that you can’t help but be impressed, that the experience of disgust is, in itself, something beautiful.
Now, you may be thinking, “this is all fine and interesting, but how do I sew a philosophy onto a dressform?” To answer that, look no further than the work of Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. Known for her feisty personality and her unconventional designs, Rei is capable of invoking great joy or great sorrow simply from a raw edge. Specializing in anti-fashion, a blanket term for styles explicitly contrary to modern fashion, her work shows that clothes don’t need to fit to fit in, and who wants to fit in anyway? In her words, “What someone wears is an expression of oneself. When you’re just comfortable with what you’re wearing, you don’t have new thoughts. I want people to feel something and think about who they are.”
Wabi Sabi is not meant to distract us from pain, it finds comfort in the uncomfortable. it is staring into the void, and when it stares back, you give it a wink.