UP THERE WITH THE BEST?

Fashionistas hold forth on a scene full of ‘potential’

by Edan Corkill

It seems that fashion weeks are the latest, well, fashion. They’re everywhere — from Singapore to Sydney and Moscow to Mumbai, and that’s not counting the “big four” seasonal collections in Paris, Milan, London and New York.

So where does Japan Fashion Week figure in the international fight for a foothold in the fashion world? Is it such a pull that the world’s fashion editors block out the week in their schedules months in advance? After all, this is the home of Issey Miyake, right? And Yohji Yamamoto! Hey, it’s the source of Muji and Uniqlo as well.

Buoyed with such optimistic notions, The Japan Times set out for JFW, starry-eyed and in search of jet-setting journalists, mega-boutique buyers and anyone else who might confirm that the twice-yearly Tokyo event is up there with the best of them.

The first catch was dapper Robb Young, contributor to the Financial Times. We found him lurking outside the DressCamp show looking anything but. He was striking, of course — in an all-black ensemble that an architect might call deconstructivist. He was rather deconstructivist when it came to the JT’s questions too, quickly deflating formerly swelling expectations.

“Well first it’s unfair to compare JFW with the ‘big four,’ ” he explained. “I’m not a sports fan, but it’d be like comparing the Premiership to a local soccer league.”

Ouch! But surely this can’t be the last word. Please, Mr. Young, what is good about JFW?

“There were some good shows that made it worthwhile: Ne-net, h.NAOTO, DressCamp, everlasting sprout.” He found them original and professional. Good, good. Compliments! That’s what we like to hear.

Sophie Dewulf, here for Mood magazine in Italy, was very happy with the quality of the grooming at some of the shows, particularly mercibeaucoup’s. Likewise, when the JT caught up with French fashion analyste Sylvie Maysonnave, she was raving about mercibeaucoup designer Eri Utsugi’s troupe: “I loved the way she used old kimono fabric,” she said. “The collection was full of optimism.”

We also ran into Wei Kening, producer for China Guangxi TV’s daily “Fashion China” program. Speaking outside the show by Korean label Doho, Wei said she had been to Milan, Paris and Seoul, and she thought that, with the current system of national government patronage, JFW had the “potential to convey accurately the trends in Asian fashion to the rest of the world.”

Just the potential? “Yes, they need to focus more on future fashion trends, rather than the current market.” At the moment, she felt, there was too much emphasis on clothes that were for sale only in Japan, her interpreter ad-libbed.

Is that a good thing? “It’s not a bad thing!” Wei beamed. “And, by the way, can we film you?” And so it was that The Japan Times made an impromptu appearance on “Fashion China.”

German fashion designer Judith Adam, who was sitting next to this writer — in the front row, no less — at the Doho show, thought JFW was “good; very, very professional.” More compliments. Oh, music to our mimi (ears).

Then Jan Gonschorek, her graphic-designer friend, leaned over: “Yeah, but there are no parties, man. In Berlin there are like parties every night.” Oh!

“We miss the emotions of Paris — there you get standing ovations,” Adam continued. “It’s a bit dull here, like a conference.”

Perhaps detecting a droop in JT spirits, Gonschorek chimed in again: “But we love to be here, man. Where else would we get to sit in the front row? In Berlin you have to be really famous!” Maybe even backhanded compliments are better than none at all.

However, ignoring as much as possible the little bullet of sarcasm in Gonschorek’s remark, let’s bite it and continue trying to determine exactly why JFW is in a different league from the “big four.”

Robb Young: “There are only a handful of good-to-great designers in JFW. “There are a lot of good labels here (in Tokyo). They should be here (at JFW),” he declared.

Did he mean the big names, such as Miyake or Yamamoto?

“No, no, they’re irrelevant. They show in Europe and don’t need to show here. There are many other less-recognized but interesting labels — and the organizers should be trying to involve them.”

Maybe that’s what Wei was getting at with her call for more focus on “fashion trends”?

So, if JFW is going to champion up-and-coming Japanese designers, it needs to find those creators who are really breaking out in new directions. What else?

“The event is underpublicized — domestically and internationally,” diagnosed Young.

No doubt to partly address this problem, the government’s Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) chose to subsidize his, Dewulf’s, Maysonnave’s and two other journalists’ visits. Hence, perhaps, the diplomatic tone underscoring many of their comments.

But irrepressible China Guangxi TV clearly needed no carrots to stick JFW on its screens. The JT stumbled into its klieg lights on more than one occasion. In fact, a number of the people we spoke to suggested that JFW needs to rather rapidly establish its credentials as “the Asian fashion hub” — before it is sidelined by more ambitious events in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Hence we ruefully conclude by relaying to readers and JFW organizers a disturbing repartee secretly recorded as this writer pretended to straighten his new Dresscamp hat, tighten his Mercibeaucoup suspenders and tie up his Ne-net shoes.

China Guangxi TV to doho designer, Hyangho Do: “You should come to China!

Do’s response: “Just invite me and I’ll be there!”

Oh no!