Four days after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake on March 11, Japan Fashion Week, scheduled to take place March 18-25, was unceremoniously canceled with an announcement on its official website. It sent a small wave of panic through the industry as it became increasingly unclear how the fashion season in Tokyo would take shape. Six drawn-out weeks and only a handful of independently held shows later, fashion’s 2011 fall/winter season in Tokyo drew to a close.
Sponsored in part by the national and Tokyo metropolitan governments, cancelation was the only decision JFW’s organizers could make at a time when Japan was exercising restraint. Just 11 days after the earthquake, however, young designer Olga of Etw. Vonneguet bravely showed her mini-collection to a somewhat uneasy-looking crowd, initiating the sentiment that, for the industry to survive, the show really must go on. About 14 designers did choose to independently show collections, though this was less than a third of the 50 or so who normally would have participated in JFW.
Despite fewer shows taking place, there were some interesting debuts, such as by Christian Dada, who presented an aggressive collection of part punk and part opulence, replete with skeletal wooden headpieces in true avant-garde style. The collection was representative of a lot of the brands that did go ahead with runway shows, many of which displayed aesthetics from the far-left side of creativity. Nozomi Ishiguro’s pieces were fun, Macaronic’s on the quirky side, and some, such as those of Somarta and shoe designer Noritaka Tatehana, were classic but unique. Anrealage presented one of its strongest collections to date, with pixelated floral designs and painstakingly detailed patchwork coats. And most of the pieces, despite being winter collections, were extremely colorful and bright.
“We had planned on doing dark clothes this time, but in the end we decided that it would be more appropriate to put bright clothes on the runway,” said Nao Yagi of mintdesigns, commenting on the brand’s color palette choice and the postquake sombre take on the mood of Japan. On the runway, the brand’s collection of playful designs was highlighted by headpieces of twisted tubes of light that drew attention to punchy colors and bold prints and garnered emotional applause from the audience. Staff, all of whom wore shirts printed with the words “A New Hope,” also took donations at the door to help contribute to relief efforts for the northeastern region of Japan.
“We were logistically affected, yes,” said Yagi, when asked about the March 11 disaster. “Our factory up north was damaged, but the staff there borrowed a nearby factory and worked straight through until they finished our samples.”
With the Fukushima nuclear power plant issue still unresolved, designer Hiroko Itoh of Hisui used the runway as a platform to present her antinuclear views. “I am firmly against it and have participated in demonstrations against it in the past,” she said. As the final piece of the show, she presented a huge draped dress printed with a map of nuclear power plants in Japan.
But fashion is not usually about politics and, of course, there were still lighthearted moments at the shows. Mikio Sakabe, for example, ended his dark, grungy collection with an energetic live performance by Akihabara idol group Denpa Gumi Inc. in anime-style wigs and costumes.
The cancelation of JFW underlined the fact that such fashion shows, while seemingly superfluous in nature, are an integral part of the fashion industry, affecting not only the evolution of design but also retail and business’ finances. Sweeping even just one collection under the rug can be catastrophic for a brand. The effects of the earthquake have not pushed any labels to go under yet, but domestic and international buyers — those who order from and help promote brands across the world — were few in attendance for this round of JFW. A majority of more-established brands received orders from clients who based decisions on catalogs sent by email, but new brands that have not yet made those important personal connections with buyers have likely lost out on orders.
To aid the Japanese fashion industry, and help brands promote their collections, JFW’s organizers have been keeping track of exhibitions and shows that did still run and archiving photos on JFW’s official website. A new site, which can be found at www.tokyofashionfilm.com, hosts videos of the runway shows that have been held.
With radiation fears lingering and Japan now in the process of reconstruction, will the next JFW in October also be canceled? It’s still unknown, but for now, fashion fans can at least see aspects of JFW represented online.