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Behind the Backdrop: Yoshihiko Ueda

Runway Backdrop
Runway Photography: Dan Lecca

The glossy white floors and precise steps of Vera Wang’s Mercer Street shop have their own type of elegance and exactitude as a backdrop for her ready-to-wear presentations—that’s where she showed two of them last year. Every embellishment, every silhouette is heightened to epic proportions, and brought into razor-sharp focus.

But there’s also something to be said for the theatrics of a bona fide stage set on a runway, made all the more appropriate by its location in a tent adjacent to Lincoln Center, New York’s temple of performing arts and the official new headquarters of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. That’s where Vera showed this year, and the drama was plentiful in both the collection and the ethereal backdrop she used, a blown-up print of a photograph by contemporary Japanese photographer Yoshihiko Ueda.

Ueda’s photograph was taken in the Quinault rain forest of Washington state, a particularly spectacular natural site—it’s one of only three temperate coniferous (i.e. pines, spruces, firs) rain forests in the Western Hemisphere. He describes his experience in that forest in lush, poetic terms: “The brushwood wheezed, the moss shown an impossibly phosphorescent green that seemed to radiate from everywhere over the mammoth trees that strained heavenward.”

The photographs represent a powerful experience, one of wandering through a misty, emerald green canopy, surrounded by ancient trees whose spirits Ueda successfully captures in these haunting images. Seeing Vera’s Kill Bill-inspired collection emerge from this primordial thicket—a digital version of one, anyway—at the end of the soft, charcoal-colored runway, provided a way to visually cement the collection’s study in contrasts between Eastern and Western traditions of mysticism and pragmatism.

Vera has been known to draw her inspiration from the most varied sources, but art has always been a favorite starting point. Vera first discovered Ueda’s images in a book that was given to her by a friend. “I had been thinking of how to incorporate Kill Bill, but not literally,” she told me. The awesome, elusive overtones of the primeval forest backdrop represented “a surreal take on the Asian notes of the collection.”

In this dramatic setting, the picture that ensued from this collision of the natural and the synthetic was nothing short of stunning. Thanks to Ueda’s images, spectators were able to savor the spectacle of nature while it was augmented by one of humanity’s highest forms of expression—fashion!

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