Fashion Week’s side shows give the public a rare seat next to their runways

by Samuel Thomas

Special To The Japan Times

Next week is Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo but, chances are, you’re not invited. Before that teen trauma of being excluded sets in, don’t panic — there’s a ton of alternative events to get dolled up for.

The twice-yearly Tokyo fashion fest will run Oct. 14-19 and include shows by Missoni, Dresscamp and Matohu. The guest lists are strictly a Who’s Who of celebrities and industry people, and the whole thing is run by the Japan Fashion Week Organization.

For those in the fashion-hungry public who don’t have industry connections, a parallel series of shows will be held beyond the corporate-sponsored runways of the Fashion Week venue of Shibuya Hikarie. These shows, which comprise mainly urban and experimental fashion, are just as exciting as the main event; Tokyo is known worldwide for its street fashion and freshman designers. There will also be plenty of entertainment to go with the outfits.

The WrittenAfterwards and Mikio Sakabe shows, which will be held on Oct. 12 and 13 respectively, are street-focused fashion events to look forward to. They’re a part of an exhibition titled “Zetsumei — An Unexplored Region of Fashion” currently running at the Parco Museum in Shibuya. The stage will be set by students from the Coconogacco alternative fashion school in Tokyo, and it’s said to include a “save point,” inspired by the “Final Fantasy” series of video games, for Sakabe’s presentation. Also expect a giant wooden spaceship in the shape of a loom shuttle for WrittenAfterwards. Both promise to be impressive shows.

Moving forward to after the official Fashion Week, the Shibuya Fashion Festival will showcase some of the best that Tokyo’s alternative scene has to offer. The festival is slated for Oct. 19 in Miyashita Park, which is nestled between the two trendy hubs of Shibuya and Harajuku. Taking the lead in the proceedings is designer Etw.Vonneguet, who is known for her mathematics-inspired designs and experiments using computer graphics. She will be followed by Discovered, who last season presented a British chav-themed collection; the 1980s and ’90s nostalgia of Jenny Fax; and The Dress & Co. by Hideaki Sakaguchi. The latter show is particularly notable given that it will be the first by the brand to be open to the public. That alludes to either a change in direction for the brand itself or a trend toward a more inclusive Tokyo fashion industry as a whole.

Rounding off the proceedings at Shibuya Fashion Festival will be a rare show from select shop Candy, which is part of fashion spot Fake Tokyo. It will be Candy’s first event since it opened its popular Shibuya boutique in 2010. Given that its last show introduced the world to the work of Christian Dada by Masanori Morikawa — a designer who would later go on to be the main event of the official Fashion Week — this should be the place to scout talent from the city’s underground. The whole thing will be streamed live via the Tokyo Fashion Film website (www.tokyofashionfilm.com).

Rounding out the festival will be an array of DJ sets, musical performances, urban-art exhibitions, markets and eateries to get you into a festival spirit. The lineup’s headline show, however, comes courtesy of Akihabara idol group Dempagumi.inc.

Ever since the aforementioned Sakabe recruited the six-member, all-female pop act to model his autumn/winter 2011 collection, the group has become a regular fixture at Fashion Week, bridging the gap between fashion and Akihabara’s otaku (geek) culture in a way many thought impossible.

This time the women are participating in an eyebrow-raising hunt for their stolen clothes across Harajuku and Shibuya, culminating in a grand reveal at a live performance for those who successfully took part in the search. The manner of the search is yet to be revealed, but entry will be given to all of those who spend more than ¥1,500 at participating shops outlined on the group’s website. The cash must be spent before Oct. 19 and investigations are expected to take between two to four hours.

Moving into more kawaii (cute) territory, Parco is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an event titled Shibukarusai 2013 under the slogan of “A Festival by Girls for Girls.” The festivities kick off on Oct. 18 with live performances, guerrilla fashion shows and art from more than 150 of Japan’s best female creators. Hot artist of the moment, Ai Madonna, will be painting a mural live, and the ever-energetic idol unit Band Jyanaimon is set to rock the Parco-situated 2.5D studio with their “heavy cute” sound.

The contrast between the official Japan Fashion Week-organized event — conceived as a rival to Paris, Milan, London and New York — and the predominantly H.P. France-orchestrated series of alternative fashion events has never been more obvious. The former clearly follows a globalist view of fashion, with its circus of “It Girls” and “It Bloggers,” VIP invites and polished runways. That world is, not too surprisingly, incompatible with the country’s famed street fashion. For all those yearning for progression in the industry, it’s the alternative shows that embrace open-mindedness, risk and, most importantly, your place in the audience.

“Zetsumei — An Unexplored Region of Fashion” runs at Parco Museum in the Parco Part 1 building in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, through Oct. 14 (10 a.m. till 9 p.m., till 6 p.m. on the 14th). For more information, visit www.parco-art.com/web. Shibuya Fashion Festival takes place at Misaka Park in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, on Oct. 19 (12 noon till 10 p.m.). Admission is free. For more information, visit www.shibuyafashionfestival.com.