touchMe event puts fashion within reach of all

by Samuel Thomas

Special To The Japan Times

Just one week after Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo had drawn to a close, the capital’s fashionistas were drawn back to the runway for a slew of shows that have been gaining in popularity.

The touchMe presentations, now in their third year and seventh iteration, run parallel to both of the city’s two seasonal fashion weeks. This time the two-day event showcased an impressive 12 brands from Mark Styler, a fashion group that manages a roster of brands under the motto of “affordable luxury.”

Seats were invitation-only and the catwalks were lined with international models. Unlike the shows of Paris, Milan, or even Tokyo for that matter, touchMe delivered on fashion that is financially accessible and readily available — the clothes are sold at numerous retail locations across the country. In short, it was a celebration of Japanese fashion’s strong middle class — neither fast nor high — but obtainable and inspirational.

One of the best looks that walked the runway was a yellow shirt-and-skirt combination by Dazzlin that had cutouts on the shoulders and a bare midriff, a look appropriately styled for impact on the catwalk, but nothing so bizarre that the average suburban teenage girl would shy away from.

While touchMe has predominantly focused on the domestic market until now, this time organizers invited some guests from overseas: Kate Lanphear, style director for the U.S. version of Elle magazine was asked to coordinate the show for Murua; Jennifer Eyemere, editor-in-chief of France’s JaLouse magazine, was asked to style the show from Dazzlin. Bringing in this expertise from abroad was evidently designed in part to separate the group’s brands from a Western preconception that equates mid-level Japanese fashion with the relatively small gyaru (gal) subculture of Shibuya fashion that may have declined internally, but remains a prevalent image abroad.

As popular brand Emoda kicked off the event it became clear that the show’s reach would extend beyond the gyaru niche. Dominatrix-inspired, clear latex headgear was matched with razor-sharp leather dresses to allude to a femininity much tougher than Tokyo is used to. The edge was balanced out by brands such as Jouetie, whose pop-culture-infused collection titled “Plastic Love” was entirely representative of Tokyo street fashion on the whole, packed with sharp, sherbet-flavored colors and knowing references to trends from the 1990s.

Bringing a touch of high fashion to the event was Han Ahn Soon, whose work would not have been out of place at Fashion Week. However, Han purposely chose to position her show as part of touchMe in order to connect directly with her fans. It is interesting to note that Sise, a menswear brand recently acquired by the Mark Styler group, showed during Fashion Week to critical acclaim. This might be an area that the group expands on in the future as it develops its menswear portfolio.

The touchMe shows may have concluded with a series of raucous after-parties for fans across Shibuya — the neighborhood they grew out of, but it’s clear that this is a group with aspirations to represent the entire country abroad by virtue of their increased use of Western models and stylists. It’s a strategy that appears to be working, judging by figures from Mark Styler showing that more than 30,000 people from around the globe watched the shows streamed live online. After all, the group’s brands are already a proven quantity at retail outlets in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Hawaii, but with these crisp fashion-show presentations they might just have palatably packaged themselves to move beyond Asia.