Style & Design

Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo: Menswear sells out

by Samuel Thomas

Special To The Japan Times

While Tokyo’s womenswear seems to be content fighting for a place in the domestic market, the endlessly repeated adage that Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo’s menswear is the collection’s most viable export product appears to have finally come true, with many of the brands tipped for greatness either gracing the schedules of fashion weeks abroad or lining the racks of showrooms at home.

A look back at past seasons’ winners of the week’s most prestigious industry award — the Tokyo Metropolitan Government-sponsored Tokyo Fashion Award — reveals an almost entirely menswear-dominated selection that includes Ethosens, Avalone, Coohem, D.TT.K and Whiz Limited, despite being a competition that is open to all. Womenswear proved stronger this season, with brands Yohei Ohno and cult favorite Roggykei joining the indubitably saleable assets of Taak and Bed J.W. Ford among others. Hopefully, as a result, we will start to see the women’s talent plucked out of the present domestic market introversion in due course.

Needless to say, this is good news for Tokyo fashion on a global scale but less so for the biannual domestic collections, with many of the brands who made their names at the week in previous seasons plucked off the schedule, with the notable exception of Noriyuki Shimizu’s Name. Add to this the ongoing exodus of headliner-level talent such as Masanori Morikawa’s Christian Dada, which chose to make the fashion pilgrimage to the menswear collections in Paris this year, and 99%is’ Bajowoo, who returned to his native South Korea for Seoul Fashion Week.

Where this leaves the Amazon-sponsored week in Japan is as a springboard for domestic talent, not as a destination. It’s a situation that is not necessarily a change to the status quo, but it is somewhat lamentable given the effective relaunch of the week with the new titular sponsorship.

While talented domestic brands appear to be seeking qualitative approbation abroad, even as Japan remains their primary market in terms of sales quantity, the week has managed to make itself the destination of choice for a surprising diverse array of foreign designers.

Overseas designers were primarily presented in the showrooms but they also appeared on the runway via joint shows from the Philippines in “Asian Fashion Meets Tokyo” and, most notably, in the shape of Italy-based Turkish designer Umit Benan. Benan actually moved his show from Paris to Tokyo this season after seeing an opportunity to capitalize on his domestic popularity with a “Los Bastardos” titled collection that appeared to be inspired by current affairs in the United States, offering a Mexican American-themed collection that was outright louche machismo beyond the middle finger.

Also thinking politically was domestic favorite Plastic Tokyo from Keisuke Imazaki, with a timely immigration-themed collection that saw a luggage carousel of inbound visitors to Japan walking his runway in a parade of culturally diverse garments. Interestingly, one of his models didn’t complete the route and return, but instead walked off the runway — in the designer’s words — “to stay.” Imazaki clearly had a global audience in mind, presenting a toned-down collection that hid the dense graphics he built his name with in the clubs of Tokyo. Indeed, it will perhaps be interesting to see if he targets the ever-rising number of visitors to Japan’s shores, or if he follows his older counterparts in taking his collection to an overseas audience.

So where was the distinctly “Tokyo” aspect of the week? Fortunately, Hiroaki Sueyasu’s Kidill was on hand to lead the charge with a gritty street collection in the fug of the downtown Tokyo Kinema Club, where a mostly Japanese cast of models swaggered down the stage to a grungy live performance from Coyote Milk Store.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese designer Johan Ku, who has made the city his own since 2011, presented an authoritative riff on fashion punk inspired by the 1978 classic film “Jubilee.” The show was aimed squarely at the demands of his rising male fan-base and, arguably, matched more than any the wardrobe of the young extroverts who crowded the venues.