Fashion Week Tokyo: opening the floodgates

International brands are no longer shunning the country's biannual fashion collections

by Samuel Thomas

Special To The Japan Times

International brands showing at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo have for too long been limited to fleeting shows of strength by European powerhouses, as ably demonstrated by Missoni’s appearance last season and Diane von Furstenburg this year. While the gravitas of these brands has its positives in presenting good promotional opportunities domestically during the official week, they have tended to do little to further the position of Tokyo as a gateway to East Asian fashion on the whole, leaving regional brands little choice but to make the pilgrimage to Europe when seeking a larger platform.

However, the latest edition of Fashion Week Tokyo saw a larger number of international brands making an appearance, not least Andrea Pompilio’s collection for Onitsuka Tiger, who chose to show in Tokyo over Milan this season. There was also a noticeable spike in interested buyers from key East Asian markets such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. This came without the financial incentives offered by Fashion Week Tokyo, through the government’s JETRO program, to Western boutiques such as Atrium NYC from the U.S. as well as Italian boutique Nugnes 1920. At the helm of this new Asia-centric view of Fashion Week Tokyo is the roomsLINK trade show organized by H.P.France that has also had associated events in Seoul and Taipei that focus on establishing a fashion identity for the area as a whole without compromising the individual identity of the countries involved.

Key among the East Asian brands exhibiting at roomsLINK was Fleamadonna from South Korean designer Jei Kim, a designer who pointedly studied at home while her contemporaries were studying abroad, and who sees Japan as the best gateway to reaching the world at large — a point proved by her most recent collection, which combined 1990s urban references with pastels and cute flourishes in an A-Z of current Tokyo youth trends. Likewise, the Creative Taiwan group show coordinated by roomsLINK showcased 12 youth-focused brands who could all see easy success in Japan, with Fu Yue from designer Jerry Wang justifying the “creative” moniker with his well-observed “Sherlock Holmes”-inspired collection.

Asian brands enjoyed positive attention on the official fashion week schedule too, with an adult and stoic collection from Mongolian designer Ariunna Suri and Indonesian designers Major Minor and NurZahra garnering praise. The latter brand, in particular, proved to be a positive ambassador for Muslim women’s fashion, with her progressive headscarves proving particularly engaging.

The Los Angeles Fashion Council also staged an informal fashion show that exhibited seven of their leading lights, proving that the sizing and climate differences that trouble many Western labels need not be a stumbling block to success in Japan. Beyond the obvious advantages of the high yen against the dollar the lineup proved attractive in providing light layers befitting of Japan’s autumn as well as slim sizes in a tale of fashion localization that Japanese designers looking to sell abroad would do well to take note of. Even if the LA glam of Bohemian Society stole the show for many, the social message of participating brands such as Linden, which takes pride in being a female-owned and ecologically conscious company, struck a chord beyond their minimalist clothes.