The length of a fashion show averages about 10 minutes, a short span during which design prodigies can be born while others fail, dragging small fortunes into fashion oblivion with them.
In Tokyo, it is a fine line between fashion as art and fashion as business, and that line is wavering in the wind, as was evident at the 8th Japan Fashion Week in Tokyo recently.
JFW is a biannual, six-day parade of shows established four years ago to bring a semblance of solidarity to the monthlong season known as the Tokyo Collections. But JFW is just a link in the chain of popular Japanese fashion, flanked by the hugely popular Shibuya-girl movement, Harajuku kids, Tokyo Girls Collection, Kobe Collection, Yohji Yamamoto and his Paris-based ilk, and the aforementioned off-schedule Tokyo Collection brands.
JFW is supported heavily by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and in turn JFW subsidizes show venues and helps share logistic costs for participating designers. Being part of a concentrated fashion week also guarantees media and buyers from around the world might be in attendance. But JFW is costly, and it has yet to turn a profit.
“JFW was given six years to become independent of government money. We must act quickly,” said Akiko Shinoda, who took over as head of JFW last May at the behest of the organization.
Shinoda, in her Gut’s Dynamite Cabarets blouse, is wildly different from the previous JFW panel of “suits,” or the CEOs and directors of major corporations who tried their best to make JFW relevant — but have not yet been able to do so.
An industry veteran who brought labels such as Roberto Cavalli to Japan, Shinoda apparently wrested power from the Dentsu advertising group and gave it to Itochu Fashion System and Avex Group in a coup. As for Avex, it is one of the powerhouses behind the wildly popular Tokyo Girls Collection and sports a roster of pop stars and megaidols who could give JFW some much-needed domestic street credibility.
Yoshiko Go of branding company Itochu Fashion System said by e-mail: “We’ve started our project to energize the whole JFW scheme, and now we’re focusing more on the business aspect to attract buyers.”
That may be an oxymoron, but what they have in mind can perhaps be seen in JFW’s unfailing support for, and heavy investment in, talented young designers.
This season introduced the first annual Shinmai Creators Project, which invited five young labels from around the world to present collections in a special JFW event. The Shinmai (which means “fresh rice”) designers all studied at top fashion design schools, but this was the first time for them to present their collections at an official show. Entries were chosen by a who’s-who panel of fashion luminaries, including Richard Collasse, president of Chanel KK, Nobuyuki Ota, president of Issey Miyake Inc., and Valerie Toranian, editor in chief of Elle France. All the collections were unique, focused and had a strong voice.
“I am very impressed at the level at which JFW supports its young designers. This is truly where the future of fashion lies,” said Dean Stadel, a professor at the Parsons School for Design in New York City. “The Shinmai project is wonderful, and it really gives JFW a global feel.”
While being government-sponsored during a crisis that has left the fashion world teetering on its stilettos may be a boon, JFW must hold steady against other Asia-based fashion weeks that are throwing elbows with some mighty big festivities themselves.
India’s Lakme Fashion Week, in Mumbai, for instance, had the world buzzing when Naomi Campbell staged a charity show there this season, and Seoul is guided by the Wizard of Oz-like IMG agency, which also started Australia Fashion Week and runs the creme de la creme New York Fashion Week.
“Japan has an immense opportunity right now to harness the attention of the fashion world. Things are ready to be shaken up, and the time is now or never,” said Simon P. Lock, senior vice president of IMG Fashion & Models Asia Pacific.
While other fashion capitals are jumping to grab their 15 minutes of global attention, JFW shines with its own quirky highlights, including Hello Kitty upstaging front-row fashionistas at Gut’s Dynamite Cabarets, a female lifelike robot as MC at the Shinmai Creators Project, and a collection made of tinfoil courtesy of Writtenafterwards.
If only these elements, along with the other talented off-schedule designers — and the street culture that makes Japanese fashion so diverse — could be brought under the same umbrella, JFW would be a massive force to strike heels with.
The JFW organization may have the right idea, as seen in the Happy Together project, which managed to get rival chain boutiques such as Beams and Ships to use the same charity shopping bag during JFW, but a much larger-scale marketing scheme is certainly called for.
In the meantime, JFW is scrambling to stave off pressure from both inside and out. A text I received this season from a New York-based fashion journalist read: “I hear Korean fashion is so hot right now.” It probably is. So then here’s hoping the Land of the Rising Sun makes like a chic supernova and burns a bit hotter.