MENSWEAR

Plenty of promise here for the boys

by Paul Mcinnes

Although Japan Fashion Week doesn’t exactly overload on men’s fashion, with only a handful of quality designers showing this season, the outlook from the ’08-’09 Autumn / Winter Collection is generally positive.

As always, the most recognizable of Japanese menswear labels — Lad Musician, N. Hoolywood and Factotum — this time chose to show off-schedule, which left slim pickings for any fashionistos out there.

While the European collections turned out some great shows from high-end Lanvin (Lucas Ossendrijver), to Japanese indie label Number (N)ine from Takahiro Miyashita, Tokyo was home to a balanced mix of established brands, fresh faces, and veterans returning with new projects.

Established in 1993 by Ato Matsumoto, Ato has become a regular fixture on the JFW schedule. With a store in upscale Minami-Aoyama, and superstar endorsements (American hip-hop star Kanye West is a huge fan, who wore Ato gear in the video for his recent hit single, “Stronger”), Matsumoto is a successful and respected designer who produced a strong collection for fall/winter 08/09.

With a silhouette echoing the collection of Belgium designer Kris Van Assche, the newly appointed designer of Dior Homme, Ato was all about gray winter coats, black-and-white checks, urban hoodies, quirky male ponchos and some classic black skinny suits. He also peppered the collection with splashes of color — especially evident in the oversize orange sneakers. “I must have those colorful shoes!” exclaimed MTV VJ Takita Koponen. The collection was, however, instantly wearable and had a strong European character.

Gentaro Noda, formerly of Iliad, launched his latest venture, Heath, with an impressive collection inspired heavily by his English childhood. A graduate of the renowned Central St. Martin’s College in London, Noda fits well into the group of designers, such as Paul Smith and Ennio Capasa for Costume National Homme, who also showcased a British rustic look in Europe this season. His slim silhouettes and inclusion of lots of gray tailored jackets paired with denim, light-blue pleated shirts and some baggy pants in soft fabrics — all perfectly accessorized with voluminous scarves and slightly oversize bags — made for a standout collection.

Katsuhide Nakabo, a buyer from the upcoming London boutique Shinshi, said of Heath: “It was very high quality, easy to wear and likely to succeed in Europe.”

Meanwhile, Garconshinois, in only its second collection, managed to produce a promising show of black, black and more black. Influenced by the 1960s style of The Beatles, Shin, head designer, created some sharp suits, double-breasted jackets with strong stitching and some zipped black jackets capped off with an exquisite double-breasted cape. The lack of any color variation was restrictive, but the collection showed oodles of promise. For sure, Garconshinois is a label to keep your eye on.

Also fresh off the designer boat is self-taught Ryujiro Tamaki of Public Image, who snuck in an off-schedule show late Tuesday night. In contrast to the colorful athleticism he displayed last season, the third outing of this brand presented a sleek do-it-all monsieur with sherpa aviator jackets, aluminum frame sunglasses, wedge-heeled loafers, and brushed heavy-duty blazers which take a craftsman three days to hand-finish. The dress shirts were of special notice, with optical illusion prints and layered netting in turquoise and purple — two colors that clearly dominated both the men’s and women’s collections this season.

Naomi Yamamoto’s cutely named Tiny Dinosaur was a surprise sleeper among the menswear shows this season. Known more for her womenswear, the brand’s philosophy is “Shade and Harmony.” Striped pants, light chinos, fur-lined coats and knitwear were complemented with long scarves, chunky boots and interspersed with strokes of stronger color and delicate design touches.

However, it was a Japan-based Greek designer, showing as part of the JFW Designers’ Exhibition that was the most pleasant surprise of all.

Michail Gkinis’ aptform label, showing for the first time, was exciting, innovative and wearable.

Using only Japanese textiles such as cotton cashmere and alpaca and merino wool, Gkinis’ fashion manifesto is — industrial, nature, space and mankind. A former Issey Miyake intern, he is “inspired by the traditions and silence of Japan.” Using techniques such as powder finishing, needle punching and hand spray — along with colors such as black, gray, dust and red — the result is both refreshing and contemporary. The clothes on display were a positive symbol of the emerging depth of menswear being created in Japan.

If JFW can include future runway shows from designers like Gkinis, and nurture and develop the obvious talent involved in brands such as Heath, Garconshinois and Tiny Dinosaur, then next season’s men’s collections should be bigger and brighter then ever before.