Tipping a hat to Japan creations

by Misha Janette

I was feeling an itch to don a bonnet.

After all, it seemed that if the majority of Tokyo designers had their way, women would be welcoming spring in frilly dresses, macrame twinsets, oversized layers of patchwork and dusty colors.

It was an about-face from the over-sexualized 1980s looks that dominated the past few seasons, and a new direction for many brands.

Bortsprungt showed a sweet, homemade doll-like collection of loose apron shirts and skirts in washed-out colors, and its models walked on a unique runway through antique furniture sawed completely in half.

Theatre Products had Stepford Wives-style retro brown dresses fashioned with tulle and accessorized with dainty knit gloves and iPhones connected to old phone handsets.

Other brands once known for their rough ‘n’ tough style went soft on us: Gut’s Dynamite Cabarets, the punk brand that is traditionally for the girlfriends of night-crawlers, showed floral prints and stuffed rabbit toys; while biker-chic G.V.G.V. gave us instead a Morocco-inspired collection featuring airy silk dresses that billowed elegantly in the breeze.

It was clear and very easy to see that street trends are certainly influencing high-fashion here. That influence especially seems to be coming from the organic, nymph-like style known as “forest girl” that’s popular in the capital’s trendy youth hub of Harajuku, and from the feminine-trumps-all aesthetic of its Shibuya cousin down the road.

But while the street styles are spontaneous, the runway bandwagon- hopping came off feeling more commercial.

As it became more difficult to look at the shows objectively, I asked Lady Gaga stylist Nicola Formichetti — who’s also Vogue Hommes Japan’s fashion director — how he approaches watching the shows. “No matter what, there is always going to be a good piece in every collection. I focus on the positive, especially since I’m watching so many shows season after season.”

And I came to the conclusion there are far worse things designers could be asking us to wear than floral prints.

After all, these trends are hot, they move the moolah and these are tough times. And there were still pockets of innovation to be seen and enjoyed at JFW after all.

One of the most interesting shows was staged off-schedule by Anrealage. In it, we saw roomy clothing stuffed with balloons for an incredibly over-exaggerated, super-human effect. In the end, all the balloons were removed and we saw the pieces in their store-ready state — an array of pretty knits and draped trench coats.

Fur Fur is also always one to watch, with its loyalty to Harajuku street style and a unique approach to styling. This season we saw colorful, prom-like dresses, bedding turned into coverlets and collaboration items with Peanuts (including an appearance by Snoopy himself). Models sported huge princess bows, wigs with exaggerated foreheads and upturned bobs as they wandered around on the runway space.

Mintdesigns designers Nao Yagi and Hokuto Katsui were the recipients of the Mainichi Fashion Grand Prix this year, and they didn’t waste the opportunity to keep their names on everyone’s lips with this newest collection.

Like all of Mintdesigns’ past efforts, this was also a study in textiles. This time they took on Japanese premium denim, working it into roomy pants and A-line dresses. They created the dark, gutsy blue denim from scratch, decorating it with contrasting white harlequin and jacquard patterns, using zippers on seams to create a sculptured effect.

Olga, from new brand Etw. Vonneguet, kept things simple with a small installation at her favorite store — Candy in Shibuya. There, she showed colorful, draped silk shirts layered over wispy dresses. The prints were created with ink-jet printers instead of dyeing to keep prices down. “I could have gone big and bold to drum up buzz, but I wanted to make sure the people around me would understand my clothes and be able to afford them too,” explained Olga.

It’s a balance that couldn’t be found in one show alone, but as a whole the shows at JFW presented a mix of practicality and creativity that keeps Japanese fashion houses at the top of everyone’s lists and on the brims of their bonnets.