Style & Design

Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo: Womenswear collections shake up the system

by Misha Janette

Special To The Japan Times

The six days that constituted Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo from Oct. 17 to 22 featured a wide range of styles, from pop and punk inspirations to commercial and avant-garde creations. It was the first collection to be sponsored by Amazon and, while many wondered if the involvement of the online retailer represented something of a shake-up, it was business as usual during the week: There were a few hits as well as some misses, but the lineup as a whole failed to impress. That said, there were still some tangible brighter moments.

Saturday was most definitely the highlight of the week, with no less than three designers showcasing items that would look equally as impressive on the runways of Europe. In the evening, Mikio Sakabe produced an applause-worthy 50-piece collection that was a perfect representation of Tokyo-made quality and creativity. His collection featured oversized, unbalanced shapes and odd mismatched fabrics that challenge the idea of dressing “pretty,” or even “fashion” as a whole. Over the past 10 years, Sakabe has been viewed as a designer who sits apart from his peers, producing engaging shows that have gone so far as to employ idols as models on futuristic stilts or use male models in a schoolgirl-inspired womenswear collection. This year, Sakabe was selected as a finalist in the prestigious LVMH Award in Paris and, while he didn’t win, it seemed to embolden him. Asked if he would be decamping to Europe soon, he said: “I still want to show in Tokyo going forward. In Paris, I’ll show it differently than what I would here anyway.”

Earlier that same day, a couple of Sakabe’s proteges, Akiko Aoki and Keisuke Yoshida, presented collections that featured even more subversive and dark vibes: corseted flower print dresses (Aoki) in conjunction with moody school uniform-inspired outfits (Yoshida). Sakabe runs a fashion school called Coconogacco, which both designers graduated from. Their gritty, purposely unrefined style has become a huge movement in global fashion, suggesting Sakabe is building an army of like-minded peers in Tokyo that could successfully disrupt the stale ideologies that are sinking the domestic fashion industry.

Another highlight of the week was veteran brand Mintdesigns, which has cultivated a strong identity over the years that is anchored by original quirky, fun patterns. This year, designers Nao Yagi and Hokuto Katsui took their inspiration from the New York subway, with dashes of sporty neon and child-like graffiti prints presented alongside wild styling that alluded to the rave scene of the 1990s. Remembering that Marc Jacobs or Chanel’s own spring/summer collections in New York and Paris also featured colorful throwback influences, it’s worth noting that cyber styles appear to be making a comeback.

Many non-Japanese participants in Tokyo fashion week actively seek out shows that are inherently “Tokyo,” whether they focus on pop culture or something more traditional. The good news is that the spring/summer collections offered both.

In terms of the former, audiences needed to look no further than Yukihero Pro-Wrestling. Guests were treated to a 40-minute Broadway-style production in which four members of idol group Yumemiru Adolescence played alley-cats that danced and sang while models displayed retro Andy Warhol-like soup cans or banana prints on easily wearable wardrobe staples.

Anyone looking for a more modern take on tradition had two notable collections to choose between. First, designer Mihara Yasuhiro debuted his new line, Nehanne, which focuses on the fusion of Japonisme and fashion. He teamed up with Kyoto-based textile maker Hosoo, famous for it’s traditional and highly sought-after Nishijin-ori fabric, and illustrator Yuta Okuda to produce dresses that hung in loose folds and kaftans that featured an enlarged samurai motif.

Last but not least, Yoshikimono, which aims to modernize the kimono, deserves a special mention. Yoshiki is the label’s lead designer and it’s not a coincidence that the former X Japan member also happens to be the son of a kimono shop-owning family. Yoshikimono was inaugurated in 2011 and it debuted at Tokyo fashion week last year to great fanfare. This year, Yoshiki upped the ante and produced a two-part collection: The first saw traditional kimono in shiny metallic fabrics on Japanese models; the second focused on dresses that highlighted shoulders and legs in feminine patterns. Throughout the show, Yoshiki played a drum solo that was only topped by the appearance of rain on the runway. One can only imagine that traditionalists’ jaws probably dropped at the thought of kimono fabric getting wet during the show, but laying down such a challenge to the establishment on the catwalk is arguably what is required to improve the week.