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Designers bid to shrug off woes

by Misha Janette

The global slump’s impact on the fashion world was on everyone’s lips during Japan Fashion Week, as it has been around the world since last fall.

Although Japanese designers have long defied industry logic with their avant-garde designs and wacky presentations, the great unknown is whether they will be able to mask the economic woes with a costume and a bow.

After every designer’s show, surrounded by Japanese and foreign reporters, the creator was carefully asked: “How is the recession affecting you?”

The designers’ overall responses were resounding in their defiance, or denial.

“It does not affect me, (I) will never change,” said Masaaki Homma of Mastermind.

“We cannot let it affect who we are as designers,” London-based Reem Alasadi answered.

“Well, I did think about it just a bit — but I did not change the collection,” said Hiroyuki Horihata of Matohu, after showing a high-end collection which included fur jackets splashed with silver paint.

Dresscamp also showed one their most lavish collections ever, with patchwork fur and leather, shawls made of dyed pelts, and large pieces of bronze-work in a defiantly recession-be-damned presentation.

However, despite a few extravagant collections and some designers’ headstrong sound bites, many of this season’s shows actually spoke for themselves with an obvious toned-down approach.

Hisui, once famed for highly theatrical hair, set design and show pieces, this time showed bare-faced models in wearable cable-knit sweaters. Somarta also ditched the crinolines and intricate headpieces for a collection that consisted mostly of thoughtful designs that could be worn off the runway. Even at Gut’s Dynamite Cabarets, the volume was cranked down 10 or 100 notches: gone were strippers and drag queens in mini briefs, and instead we saw a quiet but colorful collection that could almost be deemed “normal.”

“We decided it was time to focus on the clothes themselves, rather than the presentation of the clothes,” explained the label’s designers Cabaret Aki and Jackal Kuzu.

While designers can be forgiven for being aloof, the buyers have a much broader sense of the current landscape.

Jason Coates of the H30 showroom, which carries domestic label Naoki Takizawa, said they are actually doing “extremely well.” But he pointed out “It’s only because of all the buyers from the Middle East.”

However, Naoki Takizawa is a much sought-after brand, but there is no word on a show this season, despite one in Tokyo last fall. Suzuki Takayuki and Public Image also went the way of installations and exhibitions instead of holding traditional, expensive shows.

Official statistics show that department-store sales in Japan in February fell 12 percent — continuing an unbroken 12-month downward slide. Since many of the domestic labels are also sold in select shops in Tokyo department stores, including seasonal corners in Shinjuku’s Isetan and a large permanent space in Takashimaya, it is something of a concern.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Dean Stadel, a professor at New York’s prestigious Parsons School for Design, posited, “I think these young, smaller brands will have an advantage in this climate. They have less overheads and can turn on a dime. The department stores love them because they are focused, and they don’t have to invest in giant collections like the big labels (do).”

This, on the same day industry trade paper Women’s Wear Daily in New York reports that the smaller fashion companies are being the first to succumb to economic pressure.

“Before, I always had to think about money and budgets anyway, and now that people are finally talking about money in the open, I actually feel freer,” admitted Michiko Suzuki of Y’s Red Label.

Even so, for any designer — from the most rooted to an up-and-coming wunderkind — it is surely not going to be an easy ride to the land of fashion success.