Menswear designers play it by the book

by Samuel Thomas

Special To The Japan Times

Followers of men’s fashion were close to getting exactly what they wanted at this month’s inaugural Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo, with many designers — while mindful of the uncertainly in the air — pitching their collections directly at their existing fan base and seemingly keen to return to their core aesthetics.

That trend was typified on the last day of fashion week at the “Versus Tokyo” events on Oct. 22, where the giants of Japanese menswear sold the vast majority of tickets to their shows directly to the general public rather than to the usual industry insiders.

Likewise the presentations themselves felt toned down for direct consumption, with even the flamboyant genius Takeshi Osumi’s brand Phenomenon seeming relatively muted and unusually accessible. That’s not to say that even in rather restrained mode there wasn’t still plenty of the heavy color-blocking, progressive-pleated skirting and showy stuff that has won this brand its acclaim among the Tokyo avant-garde.

But while Osumi may have been tempering his collection to the times, the undisputed masters of Japanese streetwear, Nigo’s A Bathing Ape and Masaaki Honma’s mastermind JAPAN, took their genre to its logical conclusion by collaborating on a clothes line together in a show that also marked the latter’s fitting return to the Tokyo catwalks he’d forsaken for those of Paris.

It was a show that both reaffirmed the global strength of Japanese streetwear brands and also celebrated the iconography that has itself become a part of the city beyond fashion. While not especially alluding to any significant progression in menswear, even in a shaken Japan one thing here remains certain: No matter what price tags these new items turn out to have in the shops, they are sure to sell out on launch.

Just as the conventional menswear brands that took part in “Versus Tokyo” at Tokyo Midtown were catering directly to their fans, so the experimental, artistic brands at the other end of the spectrum were showing much evidence that they were tuned into their market segment, too.

A particularly interesting innovation emerged at Fashion Week’s collaborative RoomsLINK event at swank Roppongi Hills, where new brand Shiroma presented an entirely female show on the catwalk — but its designer, Shiho Shiroma, also provided a men’s “lookbook” to showcase her collection’s potentially unisex items in a non-female context.

This understanding that fashion-forward men are ready and waiting to adapt women’s items to their wardrobe may be nothing new, but it shows a designer directly in touch with her public and prepared to in part build her collection around that idea — though it was sadly not explicitly referenced in her catwalk presentation.

Conversely, though, the influence of the public on designers through their own repurposing of clothes was directly referenced in the “Vivid Ranger” collection from Banal Chic Bizarre.

Proving itself to be ever the rebel, this brand from the backstreets of Harajuku opted to not appear on the official schedule of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo, but to go it alone and show its aggressive collection using unknown masked models who pounded the catwalk like a gang of rogues.

Although that singular event started prosaically enough with an on-trend dose of color-blocking and formal wear, the collection became steadily more and more deconstructed until the hacked-up clothes resembled a punk’s uniform. All in all, it was a very literal reference to trends on the streets of Tokyo — yet, with the sharp clean cuts and the accessibility of the punk influences, this brand is surely ripe for international attention.

With Japan’s masters of dark artisanal fashion Julius and Tomoaki Okaniwa, having long ago forsaken these shores to show their The Viridi-anne creations on the catwalks of Paris instead, an overdue spotlight has finally fallen on Greek-born Tokyo designer Michail Gkinis’s brand Aptform — as evidenced by his recent success at this year’s Tokyo New Designer Fashion Grand Prix.

Although Gkinis’s dark but artistic aesthetic seems to be what the Tokyo fashion scene is crying out for, like many before him his future may be abroad in light of a high-profile placement at the esteemed H. Lorenzo boutique in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, it is to be hoped his uniquely sensitive take on this internationally credible style will take its place on the Tokyo fashion map before too long.

Looking back now, this Fashion Week Tokyo feels to have been like a love letter to the city and its fashion. It has reaffirmed its aesthetics, strengthened its fan base and ultimately achieved an apparently successful regrouping after March 11 and its near demise. And maybe the mutterings at catwalk shows bemoaning the lack of bombastic presentation or true innovation were based more on unrealistic expectations than any dearth of creative talent.

Certainly, fashion lovers ought to be thankful that the stage is well and truly set for the next Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo in spring — and that the designers here have done enough to ensure the world will still be watching then.

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