DRESSCAMP & MERCIBEAUCOUP

Japan’s top fashion talents

by Paul Mcinnes

I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it reminded me of. Then I got home after the show and switched on my TV, and there it was in front of my eyes. It was one of those programs where toddlers dance around and sing with the help of a guy in Spandex pants. Yeah! Bingo! That’s what the mercibeaucoup fashion show reminded me of!

Eri Utsugi’s celebrated label, now in its fourth season, has just captivated the hearts and minds of Japan’s grownup fashion toddlers and a fair share of the foreign press who toddled along to Tokyo as well.

One French journalist told me the loopy label stands out from the crowd because of its “antithetical position” to “serious intellectual Japanese fashion brands” such as Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons.

Stripped of French philosophy, what upstart label mercibeaucoup does is stick deux doigts (two fingers) up at this supposed conservative stuffiness, and instead play to the Japanese love of fun design and cute images. Having made a name for herself with a series of innovative shows for Japan Fashion Week over the last few years, the label is always one of the highlights of the Tokyo collections.

This time around, the theme was stars. The show’s backdrop was a huge pair of starry Elton John-like glasses, through which the models delivered themselves unto the catwalk. Then, jumping and prancing about to funky beats, they appeared to be having a ball — unlike the near-comatose professional fashion victims sitting around in the audience like used-to-be wannabes.

The styling was based on anime cartoon characters, with models sporting huge pointed, colorful wigs paired with goofy makeup. It was all very twee.

As for the clothes, this label’s spring/summer 2008 collection pretty much resembled most of its previous output. There were women in multicolored stripes, denim, ruffled black shorts, dungarees and quirky striped tie-belts. There were some interesting waistcoats and the now-compulsory polka dots, though some shapes pushed the envelope of complexity to a point at odds with the sought-after laid-back image.

However, the highlight of the womenswear — and indeed of the show as a whole — were lovely apron/bib tops with delicate star patterns in delightfully soft materials. The menswear, meanwhile, consisted of long cardigans, bright clown pants, hoods and baggy jeans. All very nice but nothing particularly new, and just a little bit disappointing.

The show ended with Utsugi leading the models down the catwalk doing a traditional Japanese dance. Some of the crowd clapped them on. This attempt at audience participation was admirable — but it sadly failed to light a fire under the event.

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On Saturday night, however, Toshikazu Iwaya’s acclaimed DressCamp label illuminated the other end of the spectrum.

A major wow in Japan since its inception in 2002, DressCamp is now clearly moving on to bigger and better things, having recently announced that its autumn/winter collection will be shown in Paris.

Sexy and glamorous, DressCamp is the antithesis of mercibeaucoup. The simple silver nets with falling red roses was both fitting and elegant. The atmosphere was electric. A packed Tokyo Midtown hall full of celebs in oversized sunglasses made it feel like everything such world-class frippery should be. Without the glitz and glamour of DressCamp, the organizers would have a serious gap to fill.

The theme was Morocco, and with its beautiful guitar soundtrack the show raised the bar in terms of sophisticated design and brand appeal. Ethnic tones, floral vests, flamenco styling by Kumiko Iijma, vibrant colors and petal textures, combined with Iwaya’s trademark provocative shapes and cuts, gave an urbane and mature feel to the line.

Meanwhile, a diverse color palette, rose-patterned dresses, subtle smock blouses, fitted jackets and a spectacular rose-mosaic dress to climax the event gave a nod both to couture techniques and things to come.

And by the way . . . The menswear with ponchos, Paisley designs, Moroccan rugby shirts, fringe pants and jackets and satin tops was everything you have come to expect from the enfant terrible of Japanese fashion.