It’s all change in men’s designs

by Paul Mcinnes

After seasons of stagnation, Japanese menswear is in the midst of an interesting transitional phase.

For some time now the style and success of Tokyo’s lauded street- and casual-wear labels have failed to be reflected in the city’s biannual fashion event. Add to this the recent announcement that N.Hoolywood and John Lawrence Sullivan — two of the capital’s strongest brands — are ready to tackle bigger challenges, with the former heading to New York from next season and Arashi Yanagawa taking the latter to the glitz and glamor of style-capital Paris.

So, as we speak, it’s out with the old and in with the new as this season’s Japan Fashion Week bade adieu to old friends and welcomed some fresh prospects.

Daisuke Obana’s N.Hoolywood has had a successful 10-year career producing apparel inspired by disparate U.S.-influences. Its upcoming move to the Big Apple is a brave choice for a brand that can be said to have limited appeal due to its conspicuous absence of a fixed identity, which has necessitated a change in direction from season to season. However, this is also, paradoxically, what has made N.Hoolywood so intriguing.

The farewell collection, titled “Coverage,” took the U.S. miliary’s involvement in the 1960s to ’70s Vietnam War as its starting point and the clothing was as military (in the real sense of the word) as you will ever see on a runway. It included basic gruntwear taken from Vietnam but also, in parts, looked closer to gear worn in both world wars and even modern-day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Camouflage, army knits, leather jackets and giant backpacks highlighted a collection that refused to dilute its theme for the sake of commerciality. At first glance, the only viably commercial pieces were (in a nod to 1960s’ hippies) graffiti bootleg jeans, mesh innerwear, cardigans and tees.

With an emphasis on “real clothes,” Koji Udo, the designer at Factotum, usually seeks to incorporate the influence of musicians, artists and writers into his apparel. However, his collection this time around was initially inspired by Tibet. It had a strong outdoors and strangely post-apocalyptic feel, which included some ink-jet down jackets and long-knitted cardigans carefully accessorized with giant gloves and snoods.

It’s a shame, then, that this was its final runway show.

Rugged, bohemian and well-crafted, Factotum will be sorely missed from the Japan Fashion Week schedule. According to a representative from the brand, “a runway show doesn’t seem to be the best way to show the collection.” Now, following several other global menswear brands, Factotum is expected to use exhibitions or installations in future seasons.

However, Miharayasuhiro, known more for his inventive sneaker collaboration with Puma, had a strong collection influenced by 1950s U.S. Beat writers such as William Burroughs. Arty and bohemian, yet very wearable, it included a relaxed and baggy trouser that was also a prominent look at newcomer Sise. Designed by Seishin Matsui and Takatoshi Hirokawa, Sise, along with another debutant, Phenomenon, are — according to one fashion insider — “the new blood of JFW.” The compact, simple collection included slim-fitting, well-cut jackets with a wide and slacker-style trouser and basketball-inspired loose shorts.

Larger than life Takeshi Osumi, aka Big-O, is the brainchild behind Phenomenon and since 2004 he has developed the brand into a streetwear powerhouse. Collaborations with noted English experimentalists Cassette Playa, and other successful tie-ups, have also increased its credibility abroad. Its first JFW collection, huge for a debut brand, was influenced by garage rock, and despite some flights of fancy it was powerful and well constructed. The long plaid shirt/dresses looked fresh and contemporary, with Banal Chic Bizarre, Yoshio Kubo and Odradek also showcasing the male skirt and variations on the kilt.