Fashion Week Tokyo gets back into gear

by Misha Janette

Special To The Japan Times

Fashion Week has come back to Tokyo for its 13th iteration, now under the wing of posh car-maker Mercedes-Benz and with the snazzy new moniker, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo.

It has been a full year since Tokyo has seen a proper fashion week, as the regular event in spring that showcases upcoming fall/winter collections was canceled after the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11.

Even before that disaster, though, there were fears for the future of Tokyo Fashion Week, as it was known, since it relied on government funding and that funding looked set to be cut off.

In July, however, along came the global sports, fashion and media megacompany IMG and, hey presto! — Mercedes-Benz, which also sponsors the New York, Beijing and Berlin fashion weeks, arrived in the nick of time with a five-year Tokyo deal.

“Tokyo is considered one of the most fashionable cities in the world and Mercedes-Benz is happy to be associated with it,” said Nicholas Speeks, president of Mercedes-Benz Japan.

Consequently, rather than the event’s usual chorus of fashion folks’ groans and gripes and grumbles, this time around the mood among designers and attendees alike has been far more celebratory from day one (Oct. 15), and it is obvious that a fashion recovery is in the air.

This was especially true on the final day, Oct. 22, dubbed “Versus Tokyo,” when non-industry fashion Joes and Jospehines were able to buy charity tickets to see some of the city’s best brands, including Phenomenon and Mastermind Japan. Shows were packed to the hilt, and people squeezed into any space they could at the Tokyo Midtown venue to get a peek.

Mastermind designer Masaaki Homma hadn’t shown in Tokyo for six years, but he closed out the week in considerable style. Afterward he got emotional as he explained: “I was asked to do this before the earthquake, and then I really had a conviction that if I could do nothing else … the least I could do would be to put on a show.” And it was a show of true influence, with celebrities lining the front rows, media from countries all over the world, and a live concert by J-pop group Asia Engineer to kick it off.

Things seemed to be on a good track in other ways as well. Getting the media in Japan — let alone worldwide — to give Tokyo Fashion Week a buzz had always been one of the biannual event’s weak points. This time, though, the newly reinvigorated Japan Fashion Week Organization had the good sense to invite Suzanna Lau of Stylebubble, one of the world’s leading fashion bloggers, to take in the sights and report to loyal followers.

“I thought it was a golden rule around the world that fashion shows started 30 minutes late. But … here, I am 20 minutes early!” Lau wrote on her blog.

Being on time, though, doesn’t save a week that could see a denser schedule of strong brands, since many spurn the event in favor of showing their collections independently.

Lau said to me later, “It feels more like fashion month here. The brands should hold their exhibits together with fashion week as it makes it too difficult for international press to coordinate efforts to come when it’s so spread out. I hope Mercedes-Benz can rope them in.”

Aside from earlier worries about funding for the event, there had also been fears that the March 11 megaquake and tsunami may have been disastrous for brands using factories there, especially in knitwear. Fortunately, however, most have managed to recover and keep the show on the road — including Takayuki Suzuki, who announced with obvious relief at his eponymous brand’s exhibition: “My factory in Tohoku is running okay now.”

But that leaves a more pressing issue that some designers aren’t taking lying down — the issue of radiation.

Hisui designer Hiroko Itoh showed a collection titled “Melt” that featured lead dresses and “drip” details set in a metallic sunflower garden. Hisui’s notes explained that some tests at Chernobyl in Ukraine following the 1986 Soviet-era nuclear power plant blast there found that sunflowers appeared to aid significantly in cleaning affected soil. Fittingly, she provided sunflower seeds as parting gifts.

“The colors in my collection are bright, because there is still always hope. But we cannot ignore what’s going on,” said Itoh.

Nozomi Ishiguro, too, was vocal on his views with a “Cream Puff and Coup d’ Etat” collection showing defiant, strong clothing with graphics shouting out.

So, the week may now be over, but there is still an event to come that may give the local fashion scene a kick in the pants. That’s Fashion’s Night Out, which will see the world’s luxury brands, local boutiques and celebrities roil things up in Omotesando and Harajuku on Nov. 5.

Created by Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of U.S. Vogue, this annual international shopping-block party is descending on Tokyo this year in especially poignant fashion since 17 Vogue editors from around the world will be attending to show support for the local fashion economy.

Although it is a disappointment that the Japanese edition of Vogue largely skips the local twice-yearly fashion weeks, this is still a proverbial cherry on top of the fashion fest’s sundae.