In her ninth decade Kusama still displays her keen and unique fashion sense. She has always had an interest in self-presentation, and her photographic archive shows how much she has enjoyed finding a personal ‘look’ to suit each body of work.
In her early years in the United States, Kusama emphasised her foreignness, dressing formally for her private views in kimonos she had brought with her from Japan. She periodically returned to this Eastern style of dress, but by the time she made her 1966 slide work Walking Piece, which records the artist walking through desolate New York streets in a bright pink flower-bedecked kimono, she was self-consciously using the kimono as a sign of otherness, and positioning herself as a creative outsider in the midst of an unfriendly, alien city.
More typically during this period, however, Kusama displayed herself in Western clothes that complemented the work she was producing. She was aware of her own photogenic beauty, and made the most of it, posing with and later in her works. It is fascinating to see how her sartorial approach changed, from the prim, monochrome suits and dresses she wore with her similarly stark, monochrome Infinity Net paintings, to the red leotards and catsuits she wore to such effect in her red-and-white installation Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field and in Narcissus Garden, the installation of reflective silver balls she showed outdoors at the Venice Biennale in 1966.
In the late 1960s Kusama set up her own fashion company, producing designs the most daring of which featured strategically-placed holes to reveal the wearer’s breasts, buttocks or genitalia. For her Homosexual Wedding performance in 1968, she designed an ‘orgy’ wedding dress for two people; by 1970 she was producing similar garments that could accommodate several people. For herself she designed a Phallic Dress, its bright pink surface enhanced by numerous sewn stuffed fabric phallic protrusions.
In recent years Kusama has continued to design her own clothes, using motifs from her paintings on bespoke fabric. She often complements her ensembles with brightly coloured wigs to complete the distinctive ‘Kusama look’.