Identity quests unite labels

by Misha Janette

Maybe the abundance of “safe” fashion on the runways at the 2010 Autumn/Winter Japan Fashion Week in Tokyo last month was the designers’ way of spinning themselves a taffeta and jersey-cotton cocoon from which they hope to emerge next season with their businesses and egos left intact.

While there were some trends that popped up — such as copious amounts of fur, and bright color palettes more akin to blossoming spring than the dead of winter — this slew of shows was more about brands solidifying their identities in the market, rather than pushing boundaries or cavorting with fantastical trends.

Mintdesigns focused on their forte, which is textile design with giant graphics inspired by European half-timbered houses, all executed in jersey, flocked velvet and a metallic jacquard turned inside-out. The collection was titled “New Hope,” and it seems to only make sense when the state of the market is taken into context.

Matohu, meanwhile, continued their exploration of the unique aspects of Japanese dress with a collection that layered colors using blocking and gradation.They were given names corresponding to common Tokyo scenes such as “rain and oil” and “tail lamp in the twilight.” Their long, soft robes and column silhouettes are instantly recognizable as Matohu.

Miharayasuhiro, on another hand, sent out asymmetrical trench coats and slouchy sweaters accessorized with bungee-cord wallet chains that referenced its utilitarian take on street wear.

Together, though, Matohu and Miharayasuhiro successfully married cozy casual wear with high-end design that has a purpose.

Looking for a little va-va voom? Then head straight to GVGV, who took off on a tangent of glam and anarchy with liquid-like velvet gowns paired with pentagram-branded cardigans and saber-tooth necklaces.

Voomed out? Then those seeking unique, ladylike suits with structure and top-of-the-line finishing, might try Somarta — if they succeed in negotiating the theatricalities of their over-the-top presentations, that is. The brand’s continual effort to bring some “oomph” to their show is appreciated, even if it means the clothes sometimes end up taking a back seat to the visual spectacle.

Dresscamp showed skirt-suits and ’70s-style blouses, but that was all extremely uncharacteristic for the eight-year veteran brand. And although newly-appointed European designer Marjan Pejoski had seemed to grasp the essence of the label in the past two seasons, with cocktail dresses in off-the-wall prints, he wasn’t even mentioned in the show notes this time. Perhaps that’s because the brand is desperate to establish a more accessible image for working women absolutely as soon as it can.

In contrast, for moody, cool clothing, look no further than the brooding youth inhabiting Tokyo’s circle of new designers. For one, 24-year-old Aguri Sagimori usually creates mannish looks that drop hints of femininity with slim tailoring and some draping. This time she tried for lighter fare with a butterfly theme that saw some ruffle accents on tuxedo jackets and the use of butterfly prints, but the collection still came off as dark and mysterious.

Along with Sagimori, newcomers Wataru Matsumoto and Kenta Kakinuma of Entoptic showed a strong debut collection with black dresses that looked aerodynamic, and knitwear with patterns resembling machine circuitry. They also experimented — in a manner that spoke loudly for avant-garde integrity — with an ink dye that made a jacket turn from white to purple under UV-rays.

Finally, we come to the brands that, in all of their kooky glory, uphold Tokyo’s reputation of regarding fashion in ways unlike anywhere else in the world.

Three veterans especially take a devil-may-care stance on what stereotypical “fashion” constitutes by working with themes of cacophony: Fur Fur with lace and props; mercibeaucoup with vivid colors and cartoonish silhouettes; and Nozomi Ishiguro with textures, color and a dose of irony.

It may not be everyone’s cup of green tea but this kind of defined viewpoint allows these creators to come back season after season where others may recede into dull-dom obscurity.