Style & Design | ON: FASHION

Returns, regroups and debuts: Versace, Tokyo Runway, Julius, K-fashion, Alexander Wang

The Medusa is back

In 2009, Italian fashion house Versace closed its four Japan stores and left the Japanese market, citing a need for the luxury brand to reinvent its image and restrategize its business operations. Now, its famous Medusa logo is making an official comeback. It appears prominently on T-shirts embroidered and embellished in jet-black beads, as well as on a selection of other Versace items that went on sale Feb. 1 at the Isetan Shinjuku department store.

Versace’s exit from Japan highlighted a tension in the fashion industry, as many questioned the endurance of high-end brands in light of the nation’s ailing economy. Last year, however, the fashion house announced that it was ready to try again — this time with a completely new strategy and a new team of employees.

Instead of licensing of its logo and name, it created a subsidiary, hiring Hiroshi Saito, the former CEO of Jil Sander Japan, to start rebuilding its empire here. In full control of branding and sales, it’s treading carefully by presenting just a few racks of goods to be sold alongside other luxury brands in the Tokyo Isetan store. From March 1, those goods will also be sold in Daimaru Shinsaibashi in Osaka.

Last fall, Versace collaborated on a collection for the Swedish fast-fashion chain H&M, which proved popular among a much younger crowd than the luxury brand usually targets. That success and Versace’s affinity with the current 1970s and ’80s revival trend should make its return a welcome one as it inches back in to Japan’s market. (Misha Janette)

Isetan Shinjuku 3F, 3-14-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3352-1111;

Ramping up Tokyo Runway

The Kobe Collection, conceived as an antidote to the elitism of high fashion, showcases casual, easy-to-wear local brands on-season. At its 2002 launch, it went straight for consumers’ hearts by including on its catwalks popular magazine models such as Yuri Ebihara (known as Ebi-chan) and Moe Oshikiri.

Several years later, however, Tokyo Girls Collection (TGC) eclipsed the Kobe Collection by holding similar shows and upping the star-power ante every season.

Now, the Kobe Collection is looking to take back its crown. From the upcoming March 20 show, it’ll change its name to Tokyo Runway. More than 30 brands will be featured, most of which, such as Vicky, Smacky, Glam and Blondy, come straight from the heart of Shibuya gyaru (gal) style. Foreign brands, too, will be introduced, with the likes of Jill Stuart, Armani Exchange and Tracy Reese offering a more sophisticated touch. Staying true to the show’s casual roots, it has invited back Ebihara and Oshikiri to make rare appearances. And to appeal to a wider Asian audience, a handful of Korean and Chinese models will also be strutting their stuff.

The one-day event will be held during the opening weekend of Tokyo Fashion Week, and a special collaboration, possibly between high-street and high-end fashion brands, has been promised. Tickets went on sale Feb. 4 at ¥3,000-6,000 each, and can be purchased via outlets such as Lawson Ticket, Pia and eplus. (M.J.)

Japanese menswear designers impress in Paris and Milan

Japanese designers have already been making their mark in Paris and Milan, ahead of next month’s Tokyo Fashion Week.

Italy’s Pitti Uomo event proved itself to be an opportunity for Japanese menswear brands, such as Phenomenon, to reach an international audience, while established heavyweights Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons reinforced their menswear dominance at Paris Fashion Week in January.

Paris was also the stage for Tatsuro Horikawa’s brand, Julius, to show that it has graduated from its Tokyo underground cult status to become an ambassador for Japanese fashion abroad.

Inspired by the futuristic clean lines of Zaha Hadid’s architecture, Horikawa has tempered the military infused streetwear that Julius has long been known for domestically and helped the brand reach out to foreign buyers and critics. Clearly this new direction is working, as Julius has won, among other accolades, the unprecedented location of an entire floor at the illustrious H. Lorenzo boutique in Los Angeles.

Julius’ next winter collection, Resonance, continues the exchange between the underground fashion of Tokyo and fine art, ultimately presenting a brand of elegance fortified with the aggression of youth. Perhaps the factors that for Horikawa that have helped take his reputation worldwide are his self-confessed rejection of the “superficial art sources copied from anime Japanese culture” that had been an influence in the past, and his embrace of a minimalism gleaned from the designer’s experience with Tibetan Buddhism. (Samuel Thomas)

ITO-Daikanyama 2F, 2-17-8 Ebisu-Nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 5728-4900;

Korean TV dramas and K-pop are big hits in Japan now — but how does its fashion fare?

Korean brands have yet to gain a foothold in Japan. So, to help introduce them to the market, Kiss (Korean International Style Show) was held Jan. 25-27 at the Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo. The event invited 14 well-known South Korean designers, such as Lie Sang Bong, Doho and Who.A.U, to hold 20-minute catwalk shows alongside five Japanese brands that included Dress Camp, Sly and Moussy. Popular models Melody Yohko, Elli Rose and even supermodel Ai Tominaga also joined the event.

But what really helped popularize the festival and to sell out its 33,000 tickets were the 15 K-pop groups that had fans screaming in their droves in between each of the catwalk shows. These included boy-bands Beast, CN Blue and FT Island, as well as major female acts T-ara, 4Minute, Kara and Girls’ Generation.

Ahead of the show, Paris-based designer Sang-Bong said, “Before, I didn’t think Japan and Korea could work well together in fashion, but thanks to (Japanese using) social-networking sites, more people have got to know my brand. This is why I decided to participate.”

There’s been no word on whether the experimental Kiss will return, but if it does it’s surely the pitch-perfect way to make an entrance to Japan’s market. (M.J.)

Alexander Wang opens long-awaited boutique in Japan

On Feb. 4, Alexander Wang opened his first — and long-awaited — Japan boutique at Tokyo’s Isetan Shinjuku, which has given ample space to showcase the U.S. designer’s young and sporty take on casual wear.

At 28, the wunderkind, who grew up in California and is now based in New York, shot from obscurity to fashion fame in lightning speed, thanks in part to an athletic aesthetic that proved not only comfortable but also reasonably priced at the lower end of high-fashion goods.

One of the best-selling fashion trends today is high-end athletic wear, such as collaborations by Nike and Adidas with popular fashion designers including Jun Takahashi of Undercover and Jeremy Scott. But Wang has reversed that logic, taking glamorous high-end clothing and infusing it with athletic design elements; his body-hugging dresses in silk jersey aren’t for the gym, folks.

The Isetan store is fully stocked with hooded sweaters in bright neons for under ¥20,000 and floaty blouses for just a little more. There are also limited-edition leather bags, available only at Isetan Shinjuku, from ¥81,900 to ¥101,850.

As a Chinese-American, Wang is one of a new wave of young Asian designers to get major recognition in the United States — others include Jason Wu of Taiwan, Thakoon Panichgul of Thailand and Prabal Gurung from Singapore. In Japan, he is especially popular with the younger generations, and his aesthetic is often copied by local high-street brands.

When he came to Tokyo to help launch the Opening Ceremony store in Shibuya, he told visitors that he got his break through perseverance. “After dropping out of fashion school,” he said, “I drove up the California coast with a trunk full of knitwear, and I showed it to every store that would look.” (M.J.)

Isetan Shinjuku 4F, 3-14-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3352-1111;

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