Much has been made of the recent closure of the monthly print edition of Shoichi Aoki’s seminal Fruits street-style magazine, with many ready to cry that it sounds the death knell for Harajuku fashion, rather than seeing it as a simple casualty of the rise of new media. Japanese high fashion, meanwhile, has been looking to the past with avant-garde maestro Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garcons’ New York Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition — a profound achievement for Japanese fashion that ultimately centers on the brand’s history as the designer’s legacy continues.
The question is, what comes next? With the end of Fruits but a clear indication that the world still has an appetite for Japanese style, where should we be looking?
Drawing from the history
If the future does indeed still lie in the past, Japan’s mingei- (folk crafts) inspired understated style has been a ready match for the Brooklyn slow-living looks of yesteryear that are currently on-trend.
At the upper end of the market, designers have looked to traditional kōgei, a unique category of particularly fine Japanese craftsmanship, for creations that are worth keeping a close eye on. Typifying this movement was the most recent collection from Hanae Mori Manuscrit (pictured), helmed by young designer Yu Amatsu. Presented as part of Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo, the collection took its calls from natural wood patterns, using flexible razor-thin slices of black kurogaki persimmon worked into a textile. You may think that this can only be a gimmick designed for the runway and not retail; however, high-tech 3-D-printing floundered before it became a fashion norm, so who knows how wooden fabrics will progress.
After all, other designers, including Hanako Maeda of Adeam, have already achieved mainstream success using inspiration from boro (fisherman’s patchwork), kumihimo (traditional braiding) and calligraphy.
The past perfect
The dynamic and fast pace of fashion seasons, media coverage and sales has left some consumers feeling as if they haven’t been able to savor a garment during the season it was created for. When prices are slashed, however, it may devalue items in material terms, but it doesn’t affect their appeal to those who truly appreciate good design.
It’s no surprise then, that over the past decade we have witnessed a surge in second-hand stores, both on the streets and online. It’s a consumer-led trend, but one that has gradually become more formalized with the advent of more targeted sales. It’s a reminder of the benefits of slowing down the fashion system, as well as a comment on the public’s appreciation of garments that can be worn for years or even decades into the future.
Fake Tokyo knows all about this — the collective has been selectively acquiring and selling both vintage and new pieces from innovative brands since 2008. Now in a new location in Shibuya, Fake Tokyo’s basement showroom is currently home to a retrospective of 1980s-2000s Comme des Garcons — timed perfectly to coincide with Rei Kawakubo’s show at the Met. For fans who can’t make it to New York, the Comme des Garcons’ “wearable archives” collection is an opportunity not to be missed. Absorb Kawakubo’s timeless pieces and even purchase them, as all the items are also on sale via Fake Tokyo’s online store.
Future sweet goodbyes
Though kawaii (cute) fashion may be the casualty of Fruits’ retirement, it’s the specifics, such as Lolita fashion, that are becoming harder to spot. Kawaii is still all the rage, but the repertoire of styles is becoming limited as they lose traction and head back into the subcultures from whence they came. Neb Aaran Do, the success story of Taito Designers Village — an artists’ community set up in an old elementary school — has, accordingly, admitted defeat, with designer Eily confessing that “the fight with kawaii is over.”
The brand’s retail locations will operate until June 11 — perhaps a sign that Japan’s fashion may finally be making tentative steps toward a break with the cute, despite the international attention it has garnered for the nation.