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Shows of intrigue

by Misha Janette

It was bright vs. dark at this season’s 2009/10 Japan Fashion Week and Tokyo Collections, with dizzying color and details contrasting with a plethora of shows that chose to go simple and monochromatic.

Matohu, one of the most-watched brands of JFW, presented a show titled Kabukimono, borrowing the name of celebrated outlaws in the Keichou Era (1596-1615) who were outlandish in both lifestyle and dress. However, designers Hiroyuki Horihata and Makiko Sekiguchi turned that on its head by instead doing the collection all in black, making it immensely chic, sleek, and now — while their experimentation with fabric, such as woven Jacquard, only compounded their hard-earned coolness.

Mintdesigns ‘ Hokuto Katsui and Nao Yagi showed off their own rebellious side with a gritty show in the parking basement under Tokyo Tower. Models wore colored allergy masks they called “deathmasks,” headpieces of thorns, and clothes printed with barbed wire and bugs in dark purple, deep red and gray. It was avant garde even for Mintdesigns, and it’s easy to see why the edgy brand has been garnering attention in Italy, the Middle East and Russia.

But all things dark are not somber, and the high-energy, sexy pieces seen at GVGV attest to that. Designer Mug continued to display a penchant for an uber body-conscious silhouette with skintight black leggings that made you gasp just to set eyes on them. Overall, though, the inspiration was black-metal rock, and the lashings of leather, ’80s shoulders and extreme styling were a snapshot of the fashion from the music’s heyday.

Then the femmes fatales at Marjan Pejoski’s Dresscamp stomped down the runway with such fervor they seemed about to (literally) bring the house down. With the beautiful Parisian boudoir- and Orient Express-inspired collection of lace caps, graphic body suits and shimmering fur-trimmed harlequin coats, though, they metaphorically succeeded in doing just that.

Reem was also intense in every sense of the word, and while to an untrained eye the pieces may have seemed a fashion mess, the stressed leather and fur, bunches of chiffon and linings made of sequins dazzled on massive dresses in what was an expertly calculated fashion cacophony.

“I love Tokyo, and I love London. I would like to do a show in each city every year,” said London-based designer Reem Alasadi after presenting her chic fashion circus.

Han Ahn Soon also showed a colorful collection, this time on a theme of the Austrian Alps, accented with quaint Tyrolean ribbon and other cute, feminine touches. Ahn Soon knows inside-out who her customers are, and it’s what makes the ethnic Korean something of a design superstar in her home region of western Japan — as well as a model for other Tokyo Collection designers.

Michiko Suzuki at Y’s Red Label does the same for her tomboy fans. Her pauper suspender pants and corset dresses with stitched strips of silk topped with boyish hats were a homage to Pigalle bohemie circa 1800 that would make the red-light Parisienne girls and their johns of the day (and this day, too) giddy to play dress-up.

Hotel Claska hosted shows for promising newcomers Mikio Sakabe and Akira Naka . As Sakabe’s collection has evolved, we’ve seen it grow to ’80s sculptural volumes in quilted cone skirts and matching jackets — though Sakabe and his wife, Shueh Jen-Fang, kept it light, with pastel shades inspired by Japanese pop idols of yore.

Then along came Akira Naka to seal it at Hotel Claska with a cool K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid). He staged an applaudable show, including a sweater accented with zippers on the sleeves and a blue-to-gray gradation knit skirt in a simple, well-edited collection that proves he is a newcomer to contend with.

Yasuko Furuta and her brand Toga have shot to the top as she not only pushes but redefines the proverbial envelope with her inspiring designs. This season’s “Metal Machine Dress” is based on structured forms and metallic fabrics. One particular dress shows the designer’s genius, with a beautiful array of pleating, ruffles, ruches and stretch that is unbelievably made entirely of chiffon.

Finally, it was a throwback and a throwdown at Ne-net with models in purple acid-wash denim and velour retro mushroom-button peacoats. They had sky-high rocket-ship hair and all wore wrestlers masks in line with the “Hero” theme. I was curious to ask designer Kazuaki Takashima why he opened the show with U.S. President Barack Obama’s presidential oath. “I just thought it was fashionable,” he replied.

Sometimes no rhyme or reason is what keeps the world’s rapt attention on Japanese fashion.