Skirting the Issue

Talking with Kayoko Ota, curator of Prada's much anticipated "Waist Down" exhibition, making its debut this week at its SoHo flagship.

PARIS — If Kayoko Ota wears more skirts these days, she can surely blame Miuccia Prada.

Ota is the curator of Prada’s much anticipated “Waist Down” exhibition making its debut this week at its SoHo flagship, and while trolling through more than 30 collections, Ota gained a new appreciation for the circular garment. “I’m in a skirt every day. I find it more comfortable to be in a skirt, and more interesting than pants,” she told WWD.

And how. Ota and Sho Shigematsu, who helped design the exhibition, concocted 10 display methods to instantly reveal the unusual characters of Prada’s varied designs. Some spin to show off a flurry of pleats. Others are perched on a pedestal, revealing their architectural qualities and sturdy fabrication. Still others are worn by mannequins that glow, illuminating the inner workings of a garment that can be surprisingly complex in the hands of the acclaimed Italian designer.

Ota and Shigematsu are both employees at Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam, a think tank for contemporary architecture and a frequent collaborator of Prada’s.

Not surprisingly, their take on fashion yielded some fresh observations. “Usually when you focus on fashion design, you tend to look at the whole body or the torso,” said Ota, who was once the co-editor of Telescope, an architecture and design magazine in Tokyo, and is currently a consultant to the Italian magazine Domus. “We realized that very little attention was paid to what’s happening at the waist or from the waist down. It’s actually where a lot of movement takes place.”

Enter Shigematsu, who proposed a windshield-wiper motor to mimic the “tick-tock” swish of skirts in motion. Another trick of the exhibition is to use photos of women wearing skirts, but blown up 2.5 times to bring the imposing garment to eye level.

The exhibition, which begins Wednesday and ends May 31, bowed at Prada’s spectacular Aoyama building in Tokyo in 2004 and traveled to Shanghai before landing in New York. Ota said it was updated with four new skirts from the spring-summer 2006 collection, including ones inspired by traditional tablecloths with floral prints.

“There are actually amazing ideas taking place,” she said. “A lot of skirts can trigger the imagination.”

This story first appeared in the April 17, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Ota and Shigematsu engineered “Waist Down” to be entertaining, above all, but it is also disconcerting because it blurs the line between shopping and typical museum exhibitions. “Shopping is more of a free act. It’s intuitive,” Shigematsu explained. “An exhibition is a more serious obligation, where you’re absorbing information.”

And while the show is a testimony to Prada’s innovation, it also goes beyond glorifying the brand to making people realize the potential of an unappreciated garment. Well, almost everyone. “I recommended my girlfriend wear skirts more, but that hasn’t quite happened yet,” Shigematsu laughed.

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