Yuriko Takagi | A World Without Mirrors


Pleats Please Travel Through Morocco. Photo | Yuriko Takagi

Are we not to agree that we find pleasure in the vanities of adornment? The late Diane Vreeland may have wished more so, when she quipped “I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity.” Whilst vanity may be a polarising term, it does hint at the thornier aspects of self-adornment and ego. That tipping point when attention to dress and detail turns to ungainly excess. Our ideas on beauty are divided, and indeed influenced by the norms projected into and onto our consciousness

In the spectrum of fashion photography Yuriko Takagi’s work , Pleats Please Travel Through The Planet stands worlds apart. Her images though speaking in a sense within the context of fashion take place far from the situs common. There are no cobbled Soho streets, or Haussmann style Parisian buildings. Any hints of the familiar are likely to begin and end with the dressing room of what looks like a scene from ‘Farewell My Concubine’. For the most part, Takagi’s personal projects take place in rural environs.  Her images deftly opening portals to see a different kind of beauty, the faces spectacular but not for their symmetry or chiselled bone structure. In this her world,  she elegantly removes a metaphorical divide.

Pleats Please Travel Through India. Photo | Yuriko Takagi

We wind the clock back in time to the mid-nineties, Japanese designer Issey Miyake’s collection Pleats Please is flourishing having launched but a few years earlier in 1993. A collection designed for the no-nonsense modern woman, the garments are easy to store, travel with and care for. Invariably Miyake has designed a garment for a woman such as Takagi. So much so, in fact, that Takagi decides to approach Miyake with an idea for an artistic project: the seed to what becomes the series, PLEATS PLEASE Travel Through The Planet.  She has been looking for an outlet outside of the typical world of fashion; a place to share her vision allowing for any individual to find their own inner ‘super model.’ Miyake entrusts her with sixty garments, and with these pieces in hand she sets off for India. There she meets men, women, children, people all going about their everyday lives adorning them with these clothes. The journey is not is without challenges.  Clothes can be likened to a second skin – an intimate domain of the individual and the act of coaxing people into wearing a stranger’s clothes takes effort and trust. Naturally some are too shy, others say no but she remarks that none seem to ask “Why?” and only a handful look on with suspicion. All those invited to join her on this journey slip into characters becoming actors in their own plays which she carefully frames and immortalises in film.

Pleats Please Travel Through India. Photo | Yuriko Takagi

Upon returning from India, Takagi presents the images to Miyake and he is immediately taken in. She will go on to travel in total to four countries with some 120 pieces, travelling to Kenya, Morocco as well as China. The project is spread over several years from 1995 to 1999. Seventeen years after this journey began, Takagi’s images are part of the new title PLEATS PLEASE Issey Miyake published by Taschen and launched in Paris this past September.

Pleats Please Travel Through India. Photo | Yuriko Takagi

As she prepares for the book to launch, I get a moment to catch up with her from her current base, Tokyo. She is affable and quickly puts me at ease. The morning light is streaming into her studio, there is a calming presence similar to that which pervades her images.  Prior to this conversation, I have spent a good amount of time gleaning through the Travel Through The Planet series. Struck by the harmonious cadence of people and backdrop, particularly in the Kenya images I am led to ask Takagi what it is about the people and nature, particularly in remote places that she finds so compelling. Without hesitation she remarks that people that live so close to nature do not experience an easy way of life yet they posses something she calls “real beauty” emoting that she is drawn to how they retain a strong identity.  She quickly follows those thoughts to reflect that we seem to have lost this in modern societies. Her photos and words linger in my mind. Is this what seems to be so strong about her images? As we continue this candid conversation, we speak about the challenges and benefits of living in a digital age, the influx of imagery and the dedication needed to take a good photograph. Takagi tells me how critical time is to her process.  She spends about a month in each place, letting her heart lead the way. Her passion is evident, I begin to see how it is that she gains the complicit trust of her subjects like the elder from Ngeda, a village on the banks of Lake Victoria. When he donned the clothes, he began to shuffle, dancing a witty dance and in those candid moments her photograph captures his rhythm, the pleats with the sun playfully bouncing. Her intiution has not betrayed her, for he has become what she dreamt, the super and the model.

Pleats Please Travel Through Kenya. Photo | Yuriko Takagi

Working so close to imagery, I am fascinated by taking images apart, understanding the codes in play but some are not apparent like the revelation that in so many of these remote villages and communities she has visited, their inhabitants live without mirrors. She had commented during our conversation that time and time again she’s experienced inexplicable, magical moments, ‘small miracles’ as she called them. The people she has met along the way have taught her a great deal. Perhaps she is referring to the point that these people that live without mirrors see no boundaries between “seeing” and “being seen.” I am reminded of the Surma and Mursi peoples of Southern Ethiopia who spend endless hours of their days painting their bodies or using foliage for embellishment and finding joy in how others of their community appreciate their creations. Is this not a strong celebration of the body and the joyful act of self-adornment. I am left with this thought, might we not try to put our mirrors away for a moment and try feeling comfortable in our skin, which ever layer that might be.


An anthology that includes a vast array of texts and images tracing the journey of the brand from inception, through material development, to its public reception. The explanation of its evolution also includes, for the first time, a section not only revealing the creation of the original thread — but also the pleating process.

Edited by Midori Kitamura.

Released September 6, 2012 | more info



Yuriko Takagi (b. 1951 Tokyo, Japan) studied graphic design at Musashino Art University in Tokyo and fashion design at Trent Polytechnic in England. Following her studies, she worked as a freelance designer in Europe then started taking photographic portraits as she journeyed through Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East, focusing on “human existence” – a unique perspective involving fashion and the body. A lover of travel, locations in Asia and Africa have continued to capture her attention, and has kept her on the road. In between destinations, she is temporarily in Tokyo. Her works are held in numerous prestigious collections such as The National Museum of Modern Art, Japan, Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo and more.

Her next exhibition titled The Birth of Gravity will be held in Paris from November 15, 2012 – January 20, 2013 at Galerie Lazarew.



Written by Missla Libsekal.


All images courtesy of the artist. All rights reserved.


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