Tokyo fashion week: Young menswear designers take the helm

by

Special To The Japan Times

Tokyo menswear always used to be the easy sale of the city come fashion week, with womenswear collections characterized as thinking altogether far too locally to capture a global audience.

Regarding menswear at least, they were correct, and the names who made successful appearances in recent seasons such as Christian Dada and Kidill have gone on to find the international acclaim they deserve, leaving their legacy in the hands of a very capable but largely unknown field.

Acuod by Chanu
Acuod by Chanu | SAMUEL THOMAS

Taking the lead for the new generation were young brands such as Acuod by Chanu from Chanwoo Lee, a Korean designer who has made Tokyo his home. This brand, which was launched only last year, drew cheers with a topical unisex collection themed around breaking through — rather than building — walls. Packed with zips courtesy of Japanese manufacturer YKK, the young designer included clothing with elements that could be unzipped and exchanged, and sleeves that could be zipped together so a couple could share a sleeve. It was a sure-fire hit with the attendees fully kitted out in attire suitable for the current season, but a season or two off commanding the main hall.

DressedUndressed
DressedUndressed | SAMUEL THOMAS

Of the few old guard remaining true to the week, the lion’s share opted for a unisex or mixed runway over a dedicated menswear lineup. Exemplifying this move was DressedUndressed, which looked comfortable taking the main hall at Shibuya’s Hikarie Building with an assured collection that showed they had nothing left to prove; gone was the forced play on gender and, in its wake, a collection that was entirely irreverent toward it. Vulnerable trench coats ran with deep slits up the side, and boxy dress-striped shirts hid the chests of men and women alike, but the collection was equally punctuated with flashes of lace and stern neckties that showed the design duo behind the brand thinking about the individual rather than making a statement. Pointedly, the first look of the show was a helmeted model with their face obscured: Was it a man or a woman? It didn’t seem to matter.

Still, you can’t help but wonder how buyers from abroad navigate their way through the domestic landscape with so many relatively unknown quantities on the runways and the established names increasingly keeping to the Tokyo showrooms or going abroad. One buyer visiting the week for the first time asked aloud where they could buy what the model was wearing. The regrettable answer, of course, was that the brand’s exhibition would be held long after the official week was over. What’s more, the scattered calendar of exhibitions was not even limited to the single month of March, making it virtually impossible to see all the city has to offer.

However, change is afoot, with the buyer-friendly “PR01. Trade Show” and “Nest +plus Passage” group exhibitions being brought into line with the official Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo schedule (in addition to cult subcultural brands such as Hatra and Balmung providing easy fodder for media looking for something that screams “Tokyo”).

So with change in the air, does the week need a new heir to the menswear throne, and to be better at retaining talent before they skip town for Europe — good luck keeping hold of 1piu1eguale3 — or does it need to reach out to the brands who make Tokyo menswear but eschew the schedule? With other Asian fashion capitals eyeing up Tokyo’s position as the gateway to Asia, anything less than all three may be dangerously complacent.