Fashion Week Tokyo: The menswear question — to be showy or simplify?

by Samuel Thomas

Special To The Japan Times

The February bankruptcy of Takeshi Osumi’s seminal brand Phenomenon, and its departure from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo (FWT) before this season’s March 17-23 shows, left a chasm apparent to all. And indeed, it’s a mystery who may be able to fill the rather large shoes of the man who added such spice to the runway as wicker vests and medieval armor-inspired bomber jackets.

As it was, the majority of fellow streetwear brands this time around seemed content to continue the path of bold stark layers Phenomenon was known for — though they generally neglected to put on quite such memorable shows.

Bucking that trend with unexpected showmanship was cult brand Mikio Sakabe, whose creations drew gasps from a packed audience as a gaggle of boxer short-clad oiled models hit the runway in pink nightdresses, sakura petal-strewn overcoats and Japanese high school girl-inspired tailoring. It was a play on gender and fetishization of youth in Japanese society that may have bordered on the avant garde at times, but the number of men in attendance wearing Sakabe’s head-to-toe pastel creations showed that his vision is taking hold.

At any rate, while it is doubtful this style will extend beyond the fashion set for now, it raises the question of whether Sakabe’s presentations aren’t rapidly becoming the Tokyo version of fashion happenings such as designers including Jeremy Scott bring to New York.

Elsewhere, Dresscamp, back under the control of its prodigal founding designer Toshikazu Iwaya, delivered a fittingly flamboyant collection packed with bold animal prints and floral-inspired camouflage. While it might be expected that glamour would be a big hit on the Tokyo club scene, this FWT made plain that the overall trends in Japanese menswear are resolutely pointing to a minimal take on the “urban modernist.”

This was exemplified by Seishin Matsui’s Sise label, which pitched the same camouflage — but so subtly as to be barely noticeable until the models got up close.

This understated approach to quality may have dwindled as fast fashion has begun to corner the market on basics, but there is clearly an eager domestic audience for a perfectionist approach to modern urban fashion. And, even though it might be at odds with some foreign impressions of “wacky” Japanese streetstyle, it would be an easy sell abroad as well.

Taking this search for menswear simplicity to its logical conclusion was young brand Liberum Arbitrium, which — in only its sophomore contribution to FWT — delivered a considered mix of shapes and slabs of colors that could well be an indication of trends to come. But if not, it at the very least offered a genuine alternative to the saturation of color and detail from the aforementioned Dresscamp.

Street-style favorites, too, seemed not immune to this surge to simplicity. One of these was Discovered, whose open-to-the-public collection was presented in the skater’s natural habitat of Miyashita Park in central Shibuya as part of the March 23 FWT closing-day festival, and which payed homage in a surprisingly muted fashion to 18-year-old London musician King Krule, who was formerly known as Zoo Kid and who sometimes gets bracketed with Joe Strummer.

The show was inspired by that city’s “chav” fashion — a usually derogatory term for working-class youth style. However, this was rendered elegant in Tokyo with a mix of beige checks and long flowing layers that brought a smile to this British reporter’s face.

  • http://www.tokyoup.com/ Tokyo UP

    Interesting article, thanks for posting. As someone not too familiar with the fashion scene, what do you mean when you liken Sakabe’s presentations to Jeremy Scott’s presence in NY?