Style & Design

Can a new era prepare Japanese style to let go of Heisei trends?

by Samuel Thomas

Contributing Writer

The start of the Reiwa Era is an ideal opportunity to look back, occasionally with raised eyebrows, over Heisei (1989-2019), which spanned 30 years — long enough to see its late 1980s fashion trends at the beginning of the era resurface in an ironic form before the end. With so much that went on — Remember the garish gyaru (gal style), the goths and increasingly cute conservative styles — you can’t help but look forward and wonder what Reiwa has in store.

The ever-increasing waves of visitors to Japan from overseas is likely to resonate well beyond the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year. But will that put Japan in the driving seat of new trends? Will the nation’s historical precedent of retreating into self-reflection and self-discovery win out? Or will Japan become a passenger of others, following the influence of Asia’s rising fashion capitals, such as Seoul or Beijing?

A rendering of the Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi department store renewal plans.
A rendering of the Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi department store renewal plans. | NIHONBASHI MITSUKOSHI

Same old new

This month, J. Front Retailing announced that Daimaru Matsuzakaya Department Stores would absorb and directly manage Shimonoseki Daimaru as part of a unification of the company’s independent regional subsidiaries.

Changes in shopping experiences, such as online shopping, have led to many regional department stores being unable to keep up with consumer demands. The merger, Daimaru Matsuzakaya Department Stores claims, should improve purchasing power of the regional store and give it the benefits of more resources. Meanwhile, many other major players have simply pulled their small urban hubs in favor of a profitable focus on stores in Tokyo.

Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings has done just that, pouring more than ¥10 billion this year alone into its trinity of major Tokyo stores, with Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi, Isetan Shinjuku, and Ginza Mitsukoshi seeing major renewal work to cement their position on the front line of fashion retail by 2020.

For both groups, the continuation of proven department-stores is unlikely to feel like a wind tunnel of change for the consumer. But consumers aren’t voting with their wallet for an upheaval to the retail status quo any time soon. An aging population, who hold the department-store experience close to heart, may remain the dominant consumer of Reiwa long after the inbound tourist and visitor boom has run its course.

Also playing it safe is the Japan Fashion Color Association, which researches and distributes information on the nation’s color trends, which announced its choice of celebratory colors for Reiwa: ume plum and sakura (cherry blossom) pink, and sumire violet. Attractively gentle colors and definitely not out of anyone’s comfort zone, they got a predictably warm reception.

The work of International Talent Support award finalist Hazuki Katagai
The work of International Talent Support award finalist Hazuki Katagai | HAZUKI KATAGAI

If you are hungry to discover something new from Japan, then perhaps look at what’s being lauded overseas, where no fewer than five Japanese designers are on the shortlist for a prestigious International Talent Support award — Yukika Saito and Hana Yagi for fashion and Yukako Hihara, Hazuki Katagai and Asumi Maeda for jewelry and accessories.

Four of the five are students at the Coconogacco alternative fashion school in Tokyo, itself only founded in 2008. In the past decade, the school, with its staggering ratio of industry acclaimed students, has proved it will likely hold on to its relevance.

Japan Fashion Color Association: bit.ly/reiwacolors International Talent Support : bit.ly/itsaward

Wego × Sailor Moon T-shirt
Wego × Sailor Moon T-shirt | NAOKO TAKEUCHI · PNP · TOEI ANIMATION

Nostalgia bubble

Another Heisei staple that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere is the trend for pop-culture commodities partnered with fashion brands. Uniqlo is particularly prolific at this, collaborating with everything from Japanese manga to the American film director Miranda July. Currently proving a successful nostalgia trip are Jun Takahashi, Nigo and Tetsu Nishiyama takes on “Star Wars.”

Youth fast fashion giant Wego is also following suit with a collaboration with the manga and anime “Sailor Moon,” although it must be said that the extent of these design crossovers is largely limited to printed T-shirts.

| UNIQLO

For something with a bit more fashion clout, the 20th anniversary of the animation version of “One Piece” means it is popping up everywhere including at Ground Y, Yohji Yamamoto’s pop-culture fashion outlet, which has produced a full capsule collection of wardrobe staples.

Are we at peak pop saturation? Not until the cash registers stop singing, and it’s clearly an international phenomena. Just take a look at the fuss over Reebok’s version of Sigourney Weaver’s trainers in “Aliens,” a special release to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the original sci-fi horror classic “Alien.”

| REEBOK CLASSIC

Uniqlo: bit.ly/uniqlostarwars

Fashion escapists

But what happened to all the designers exploring pop culture at the upper end of the market? It seems that many have moved on now that it has become a mainstream mainstay.

VRoid × Chloma
VRoid × Chloma’s Y2K Anorak | PIXIV

At least Chloma, by originators of the early 2000s pop-culture fashion scene Junya Suzuki and Reiko Sakuma, is still powering on and exploring new frontiers. This time it takes its skills to unknown virtual worlds, allowing developers to download Chloma-designed garment models and textures on Pixiv’s new VRoid 3D character maker platform. These Chloma items can then be deployed in various virtual reality games or used for other creative endeavors.

The latest iteration of the brand’s Y2K Anorak can be purchased as virtual reality wear for a VRoid character for ¥5,400, while the real garment (price is yet to be released) will be hitting the racks later this year. Those who pre-order can get free access to the virtual item to tide them over while they wait to sync their real selves with their virtual fashion personas.

VRoid Wear × Chloma: vroid.booth.pm

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