Japanese fashion has never really been a successfully influential vehicle for protest movements and political statements.
There have been attempts, such as the design collective Ha-Ha, which again became the enfant terrible of Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo in March with its ongoing targeted and earnest presentations that address social issues specific to the city, such as tactile paved runways highlighting accessibility issues, and the use of disabled and elderly models to remind viewers of the lack of diversity in fashion. But Japan still hasn’t quite achieved an identity-led movement that brands in the West have been known for.
Having said that, there are refreshing inklings of change underway, even if it’s characteristically insular. Look at the latest campaign for mainstream discount label GU: Shot by photographer Shunya Arai, it features a model with sparse make-up and “Yup, I’m a Feminist” branded across her T-shirt. Maybe Japan is gently beginning to head toward on-trend activism?
Tailoring the workplace
Award-winning entrepreneur Junko Kemi’s brand Kay Me has made a name for itself offering a business wardrobe for all strata of the Japanese workforce, including the frequently neglected executive level who are frequently excluded from fashion choices in the boardroom. Now, Kemi has launched a new concept with Kay Me Club, a venture that joins a wave of women-orientated membership workplaces opening across Tokyo.
Kay Me Club aims to be a third space between the office and home that, like a members club in the more traditional sense, will unite working women and entrepreneurs for both networking opportunities and social support. It is also part of a new Shinjuku store for the brand, which joins the existing Ginza flagship and marks the introduction of a custom-order service to help clients create bespoke working wardrobes of items all handmade in at the Tokyo atelier.
Keeping it inclusive
Recently, underwear brand Triumph collected data from the past 40 years to discover that the average size of the Japanese woman’s bust in on the rise — yet few fashion brands appear to have properly catered to this beyond underwear.
Particularly negligent are work wear brands that tend to follow strict dress codes for the office environment and forget that fitted shirts and tailored jackets don’t hang perfectly on all kinds of figures.
It’s not a surprise then that Over E successfully completed a crowd-funded drive last year to launch a range of plain button-down shirts aimed at the demographic clearly stated in its name. The shirts of the original lineup utilize hidden buttons to keep the fronts neatly closed at the chest. Now the brand has debuted a formal jacket cut to work with a fuller chest, and complete with hooks that keep the lapel line strong, even when the wearer is moving. Over E’s goal is to eventually produce a traditional Japanese kimono — a garment notoriously difficult to wear with a larger chest — for its clientele.
Joining Over E is Heart Closet, which likewise offers a range of smart shirts and jackets for women with fuller figures — possibly a good sign of more to come.
Men, keep your skirt on!
Every season one proposition for menswear routinely rolls out. This season, Thom Browne took it on: His models glided down the Paris runway in, gasp, skirts.
We have seen this from Japanese creatives in Paris, too — at the hands of Julius’ Tatsuro Horikawa — and at the subcultural strata in Tokyo thanks to Mikio Sakabe. And each time the industry and media applauds the bravery. In reality, though, you would be hard pushed to find any man actually wearing a skirt, even on the backstreets of Harajuku. As I can attest, wearing a Rick Owens’ version of the man skirt is quite incompatible with the stairways of Tokyo subways.
Leading Japanese fashion website Fashionsnap decided to take the male skirt to task by asking its Twitter following, “Does the male skirt have a place in fashion?”
With 12,813 votes cast, the answer echoed many recent political upsets with the knife-edge 51-49 percent, the proponents edging to victory.
Jesting aside, the recurring male skirt may just be fashion point-scoring rather than genuine gender revolution. Still, you can step into Civarize in 109 Men’s in Shibuya and walk away with a wrap skirt, while the dedicated men’s skirt shop Cross Gender has been robustly supported since 2010. Fashion may still be questioning the demand for the male skirt, but the people have spoken: It’s not for everyone — but it is there if you want it.