Menswear bursts the bubble

by Paul Mcinnes

It comes as no great surprise to see so many international designers turning to Japan for artistic inspiration, because it’s well known that the fashion pack often come to the Far East for fresh ideas.

Take Raf Simons. His latest collection for Jil Sander, shown in Milan, used an image of Japanese artist Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968) as a main styling point, and he adorned several shirts with some of his work. In addition to this homage there was Costume National’s practical reinterpretation of Japanese male cosplay (costume play) and Dries Van Noten’s “Tokyo Meets Calcutta” collection.

It’s often said that many Japanese designers create in an artistic bubble, outside the network of Western trends. However, at the spring/summer 2010 menswear collections held in September, many domestic labels showcased looks that complemented trends seen this summer in Paris and Milan. Nice to see the European love affair with all things Japanese being partly reciprocated.

One of the biggest hits of this season was Koji Udo’s Factotum. In an interview with The Japan Times, Udo described the collection as “inspired by The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ album — a journey from England to India. I was also inspired by people who traveled at that time.”

It was essentially a sentimental collection of red checks, military jackets straight from Peter Blake’s seminal “Sgt. Pepper’s” album cover and floating paisley prints. Romantic and languid, it brought to mind Lucas Ossendrijver’s Lanvin.

In contrast, Arashi Yanagawa’s much-hyped John Lawrence Sullivan has, for some, been slightly haphazard in its consistency. However, the collection, triggered by modern Russian men, was an indisputable success. After a fashionable 30-minute delay, and with a who’s who of Tokyo fashion filling the front rows, the clothing beheld was a beautiful reflection of the “masculine elegance” that is the brand’s signature look. Not as hard and gothic as Rick Owens, and not as effete as Lanvin, Yanagawa settled for a middle ground. His use of sheer tops (some with shoulder pads) was something of a trend in Europe.

Transparency was a major talking point in collections such as Calvin Klein. It was a theme commented on insightfully by legendary British fashion critic Suzy Menkes, who wrote recently in The New York Times that, “If fashion always holds up a mirror to the current moment, then ‘transparency’ is definitely the postrecession message.”

JLS, though, doesn’t seem like an overtly political label, with the clothing simply enhancing the brand’s sexy, brash and flash image.

However, Yoshio Kubo, a former haute-couture assistant and graduate of Philadelphia University’s School of Textile and Science, is an intriguing designer who weaves social themes through his wearable, aesthetic apparel. Unofficially titled “Intelligence Gangsta,” his collection had more of a sporty/leisure feel (another strong trend in Europe), which sought to reassure rather than provoke. Inspired by Los Angeles gangland style, he used urban map patterns and aquamarine colors in addition to bandanas tied round the arms of jackets and used as neck-scarves. It was a simple trick but ultimately a neat subversion of both formal and street styles.

Other menswear talking points included N.Hoolywood’s collection, “Auto Junktion,” inspired by the Detroit automotive industry. It was unfortunately a disappointing example of how designer Daisuke Obana, on occasions, burrows himself into a conceptual hole. While Mika Okawara’s superb “Humanity” collection for GalaabenD, showing as part of JFW, displayed a stylishly skinny silhouette rich in reds and textures with polemical revolutionary red armbands.