With 39 shows, the fourth Japan Fashion Week, from March 12 to 16, was the biggest to date. And, with several top brands announcing their imminent emigration to the runways of Paris,the cosmopolitan cachet was further enhanced by the presence of foreign journalists invited as official guests — among them was one of the world’s undisputed fashion mavens, who here offers her take on a Tokyo gala that has, it seems, some way to go in its quest for global status.
It has been 17 years since my last trip to Tokyo. At that time I was living in New York and working as a fashion designer, but since then I have moved to Paris, from where I work as a fashion talent-scout, write a blog at (ashadedviewonfashion.com), direct short films and run the “You Wear it Well” fashion-film festival.
I am also a contributor to the Tokyo-based bilingual fashion magazine commons&sense, and Kaoru Sasaki, its editor in chief and creative director, wanted to bring me over to see Japan Fashion Week (JFW). We finally found a way to make it happen thanks to multibrand boutique L’Eclaireur Tokyo, which was celebrating its one-year anniversary during the JFW dates.
L’Eclaireur is one of the most important multi-brand shops in Paris, and is known for a very distinctive buying selection. I have known its founders, Armand and Martine Hadida, for about 16 years. As a guest of both L’Eclaireur and commons&sense magazine, I was escorted with courtesy and grace, and I admit to feeling a bit guilty about my wonderful experience considering the treatment received by the other international journalists who had been invited to Tokyo by the JFW organization.
Aside from the lovely accommodations on the executive floor at Cerulean Tower Hotel in Shibuya, and the warm welcome from Kaoru and his team, I was able to select which shows I wanted to attend and had visits to designers arranged for me. The journalists invited by JFW were herded around to five shows a day and, instead of taxis, were forced to take the subway. This is something that is never done when you invite the foreign press to a fashion week.
What’s more, while I was enjoying my dinners with Kaoru and his friends, the other foreign press delegates were forced to survive on candies and pretzels from their hotel minibar, because by the time they returned from their grueling day, their hotel’s room service was no longer available.
I understand that JFW has not been inviting the overseas press for that long, but really, this is not acceptable.
We were wondering how Cathy Horyn from the New York Times, or Sarah Mower from Style.com, would have reacted to being forced to take the subway and not being fed. I’m sure they would have returned to the airport in a flash.
One high point of my trip was a visit to the atelier of Undercover designer Jun Takahashi. We’d met in Paris about a year ago and I’ve been attending his shows for the past five years. I also interviewed Daisuke Obana, aka Mr. Hollywood, whose show was to be held after I left.
[Tokyo fashionista and JT contributor] Martin Webb is a contributor to my blog, and I was happy that he found the time to show me around the Nakameguro area, where we visited two more showrooms. Both were highlights. The first was with Arashi Yanagawa, the designer behind the boxing-inspired John Lawrence Sullivan brand. Most of the collection was still out at the factories, but what I saw I loved. Our final showroom was soe, designed by Soichiro “soe” Ito, where I had the pleasure of seeing a collection inspired by a chapter in Fielding Dawson’s “The Black Mountain Book.”
The collection, and show, that I liked the most was Theatre Products. It was one time when the women’s collection was as strong as the men’s. In general, I found the men’s collections in Tokyo far stronger than the women’s, but here everything worked: from the actual designs to the styling and the show production. I loved the men wandering down the catwalk as if they were lost in space, and the women looking like they had stepped out of a manga cartoon.
Elsewhere, I thought G.V.G.V. had an international appeal; Dresscamp was very . . . camp, but amusing, and very strong on styling. I was very disappointed by the Ylang Ylang and Suzuki Takayuki collections, but I absolutely loved the dancers that opened the Ylang Ylang show: that was a pure delight. In general, I think the production aspect of the shows was of a high standard.
I enjoyed the Ne-Net show but again found the men’s collection stronger than the women’s. The same could be said about the Ato collection. Mercibeaucoup was a funny manga-inspired collection but I felt like there were too many references to Bernhard Willhelm.
Away from the catwalks, I loved my visit to Shibuya’s 109. The salesgirls were a visual pleasure and the overall passion for fashion was a real delight. Afterward we went to a manga cafe, an idea that should be transported elsewhere, as I have never experienced a cyber cafe where you can check your e-mail, take a shower, read books, watch DVDs and be offered free ice cream and cold drinks for under 1 euro (155 yen) an hour.
Martin Webb also took me to the Mizuma Art Gallery, and I had the pleasure of meeting its director, Sueo Mizuma, and enjoyed the work of Ai Yamaguchi and her kawaii-erotica (cute-erotic) inspirations. While I was there I met the media activist Emi Ikematsu, aka Shinsan Nameko, and enjoyed an audio installation by Susan Philipsz. Another highlight was a visit to the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art.
I’ve observed a lot of changes in today’s Tokyo compared with my previous visit a decade and a half ago. The most striking are the equality between the sexes and that people seem to be running less on the street. I did not notice any men with invisible golf clubs trying their swings on the sidewalk. I think that women are dressing far more sexily than in the 1980s. What is left to say? It’s been a bombardment of visual stimulation from morning to night.
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