JFW edges into Asia spotlight

Hopes rise that Tokyo can join fashion elite

by Misha Janette

Oct. 15 through 24 brought to Tokyo an autumnal shift in the weather — and the latest sartorial flurry known as Japan Fashion Week’s spring/summer collections on show for the world to see.

There were a number of notable changes this season, JFW’s 11th, foremost among them a schedule considerably weaker than usual in star power, with veteran brands such as Dress Camp and Mihara Yasuhiro leaving to fend for themselves.

Conversely, the event this time around did see the inclusion of many more edgy and young brands such as banal chic bizarre and Yuima Nakazato putting on shows at roomsLINK, an exhibition and show event held at Yoyogi National Stadium.

While JFW has traditionally been an insular affair for select industry insiders, this season saw an incredible effort made to include more outside viewers.

Town hall-style discussions with participating designers held prior to JFW were streamed over the Internet, and viewers could offer their opinions live in a chatroom. What’s more, JFW streamed its officially scheduled shows via Nico-Nico Douga and Ustream, whose streams could also be seen on the official JFW website.

This was a boon for many brands — and Phenomenon even clocked enough viewers on Ustream to make it the third-most- viewed video in the world that day.

JFW is not without its detractors, though. A prominent complaint is that it doesn’t properly reflect the dynamism of the city’s fashion scene — which is undoubtedly happening out on the street, not on the runways.

To remedy this, the organization invited the labels Liz Lisa and Vanquish — two mainstays of Shibuya 109 mall, a leading youth-fashion mecca — to show on the official schedule.

The former invited customers by lottery to attend the packed show and capitalized on it by setting up a pop-up shop at the show venue. Meanwhile, menswear brand Vanquish invited big home-grown stars to walk its runway in campy style.

While the effort to whip up some buzz for themselves is commendable, some saw it as circus-ification of the runway. Several fashion editors took to Twitter, griping about “celebrity props,” while others directed their complaints at Liz Lisa’s blatant commercialism.

“I saw some journalists walk out in disgust upon seeing that pop-up shop. All I know is that (unlike other young brands) they don’t need JFW’s ‘incubation,’ ” tweeted Womens Wear Daily Japan editor Akira Miura.

All this exposes a rift between what Japanese fashion is often perceived to be — i.e. cerebral, avant garde and forward-thinking — versus what it is, which is street clothing made popular through style blogs, consumer-directed PR events and media idols.

The JFW organization is saddled with presenting both sides of this coin, but it seems to be pleased with the direction it is taking and is shaking off the criticism. JFW Director of International Affairs Akiko Shinoda said, “I have ideas for next season for other brands who have never shown at JFW. And yes, they are from Shibuya too.”

Still, the organization is less concerned with appeasing the critics at this point than it is with merely keeping the fashion week from imploding. That’s in no small part because funding from the Japanese government — which has been supporting JFW as a cultural asset since its inception in 2005 — is set to dry up after next season.

“Our budget is pretty much zero next time,” sighed Ms. Shinoda. In fact, it will actually be ¥33.3 million — far less than the ¥50 million the organization foresees it will cost to keep the shows going.

This financial black hole is set to be filled in by IMG, the world’s largest sports- and events-marketing company, whose role is to bring large corporate sponsors in to JFW. The appointment comes after what is said to have been years of negotiations, and may be the best move JFW could make, since IMG already successfully runs and markets New York Fashion Week and London Fashion Week.

“The fashion week in Tokyo has the highest name-recognition and we’re here to promote that incredible asset,” said Graeme Lewsey, marketing and communications director of IMG Asia Pacific, commenting on making JFW the center of fashion in Asia. ” ‘Potential’ is the keyword here. I believe it’s only going to get better.”