It is often a struggle to cast an objective reviewer’s eye over Tokyo collections, because fans of the microcosm that is Japanese fashion fall into two distinctly different camps: lovers of over-the-top quirkiness and … regular consumers.
For the former, start with “forest girl” brand Fur Fur, who upped their own ante in this month’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo spring/summer collections with voluminous layers in creamy white and jet black that were hemmed with vintage-y lace and topped with impossibly giant corsages of tulle.
Then make your way to spunky brand Mintdesigns, which showed red lips and polka-dot motifs on baby-doll polo shirts and tinfoil-silver dresses.
From whichever standpoint, both were energetic collections among the many and varied roster comprising Oct. 15-22’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo — and each look came packed with personality.
The especially unique collection of the fashion week’s motley crew though, was newcomer Jenny Fax, designed by Taiwan-born Jen Fang-Shueh, the other half of Mikio Sakabe. Inspired by her subversive boarding-school childhood in the 1980s and early ’90s, it was a schoolgirl-uniform-meets-anime-prom affair, replete with pleated skirts missing backsides and glittery ’80s prom dresses with silkscreened anime eyes on the busts.
“I was inspired by the TV show ‘Twin Peaks,’ as well as my obsession with wanting to experience an American prom,” said Fang-Shueh. No matter how narrow her niche may be, this exploration of desire and obsession is how high-fashion causes movements and trends. Here’s hoping her brand expands this season so we get more shows.
On the flipside, there are perenially reliable brands whose designers are in pursuit of consistently wearable, high-quality clothes. It’s in this zone where we have Theatre Products, which always follows a retro vibe — this time with ’30s-style gowns, floral twinsets and sailor-shift dresses. In a nautical vein, too, the show was staged on a boat in Yokohama Bay — with a ballet performance thrown in to liven things up even more.
Then there is Matohu, whose modernized Japanese robes created with textiles they develop themselves have earned them many loyal fans. They are sticklers for detail and even work on alterations in their Omotesando shop, getting to know customers. Their collection this time was a mix of vivid yellow and bright orange with sophisticated black.
Really, though, it’s hard to fawn over the womenswear collections when, compared with their colorful menswear counterparts, they seemed oh-so-restrained and weary. One thing that is often glaringly absent from the women’s shows is “total” looks, which may include accessories and bags — and that’s despite these items often being best-sellers in Japan’s shops.
G.V.G.V. was one of the only brands that pulled it “totally” off, with a good variety of dainty clutches, oversized pearl necklaces and cat-eye sunglasses paired with jungle motifs on women who looked to be 1960s “Mad Men”-era housewives vacationing in the Amazon.
Not a fan of fauna? Well there were the electric saw-shaped bags in leather at Facetasm, and colorful clutches shown by menswear label Phenomenon (ostensibly throwing a bone to their growing female fan base. Thanks, guys.).
The seven-day affair didn’t come without a few major standouts, though, and to be specific there were a triad of “fashion moments” that hit hard.
The first came from Johan Ku, a Taiwan-born, London-based designer who showed intricate knits the color of pure white … until the lights were dimmed and they turned green like objects in night-vision goggles. The glow-in-the-dark yarn was developed by Ku himself and was inspired by the hectic neon-overloaded Tokyo depicted in the Gaspar Noe film, “Enter the Void.”
“It has always been a dream of mine to have a show in Tokyo,” said Ku, who was forced to postpone his dream for a season due to the March 11 earthquake. For his debut show it far surpassed expectations and this fashion week would have certainly been duller without him.
Next, a feast for the eyes as well as the brain was served up at the show staged by newcomer designer Christian Dada that took its cues from a performance by Kyoto-based art group Dumb Type centered on a character with HIV.
The net result was very avant-garde but thoughtful, with a model in a giant birdcage and a coffin-like box bringing the HIV message home to audience members viewing models looking sophisticated in polished leather and lightweight organdy shift dresses. He is a designer with snuff — and he has the support of industry heavyweights including uberblogger Diane Pernet and even singer Lady Gaga.
Finally, we were treated to an innovative collection by Kunihiko Morinaga, designer of the exceptional brand Anrealage. Titled “Shell,” his show featured models wearing simple white, polka-dot and houndstooth skirt-blouse ensembles — but with bodices exaggerated outward in hardened form. To achieve such creations, Morinaga experimented until he found that melting polyester polymers at 400℃ and cooling them down captured the shapes he wanted — wrinkles, pleats and all.
Morinaga’s work is reminiscent of that of Martin Margiela, and even moreso of Hussein Chalayan — both of whom are celebrated internationally for their experimentation in fashion concepts. Anrealage, though, is capable of being equally thought-provoking both in Japan and far beyond — and the brand is already represented by fashion conglomerate I.T. in China.
All in all it was a rather safe season for Japanese fashion that has yet to get back to soaring. Hopefully, next season the mood will be more adventurous — and the collections will soar to new heights of fashion vertigo.