My mentor in all things fashion, a Parisienne buyer who prefers to remain unnamed, once confidently asserted in her usual grandiose manner, “You know that fashion is over when designers start relying on irony.” She was referring to the “it’s cool because it isn’t, you probably wouldn’t understand” school of thought that is the realm of the least self-aware hipster.
Since Gucci, Balenciaga and their ilk started to follow the pied piper of Vetements in that direction in the mid-2010s, admittedly with great success, I had to ask her “What comes after irony?”
“Well,” my friend said with a sigh, “whatever will sell, but what will people buy after you have made a mockery of style?”
This kind of conversation is de rigueur at fashion weeks and parties the world over, and to a certain extent it seems that some people wish for the fashion apocalypse, because the golden years of their own style era are over. It’s hard to accept that the party will go on without you.
Even if the death of fashion has been exaggerated, it’s hard to deny that in Japan, fashion styles these days rarely make it to the cultural consciousness level. They bubble up as isolated trends, but are increasingly hard to characterize in group terms.
Even in streetwear, the only solid youth grouping to survive the post-irony crash, there is a curious obsession with going back and forth between the trends of the late ’90s to 2000s. There’s never quite the confidence to break free and start a new fashion revolution, with the industry repeating niche fads before consumers have even got comfortable with the previous one.
There is still, however, a huge amount of innovation and success in the Japanese fashion scene — it’s just that it’s the old guard who are doing it. You could walk into any number of chic Aoyama boutiques and be fascinated by new textiles, fresh plays on tradition and relentless creativity. Take Bao Bao Issey Miyake, for example: The geometric bag designs have become such a staple of the Japanese fashion scene that this month, Issey Miyake successfully sued one imposter at the Tokyo District Court for infringing on its design.
When was the last time a relatively recent fashion item became so much in demand and iconic that it was worth faking?
The problem with the old guard is that many of their items are out of reach price-wise to younger generations. They are also brands that built a following during a different era — today’s parents, or maybe even grandparents are still attracted to them. In a rapidly aging society, new fashion magazines, such as publishing company Takarajimasha’s Sutekina Ano Hito, which will launch as a monthly in September, are now targeting new demographic — the upper age ranges. This may not be the worst commercial trend, but where does it leave the youth?
Rummaging in the archives
If 1990s and 2000s streetwear revival is the order of the day, then you’d think that the first port of call would be vintage shops. It’s true that certain shops, including west Tokyo’s vintage haven Koenji’s Slut, are able to get customers lining up before they open, just so they can get first pickings of new “old” hauls.
But that doesn’t mean big brands are not cashing in on the trend.
This month sees a relaunch of some of the most iconic items from the Tommy Hilfiger subbrand Tommy Jeans’ back catalogue. The collection is available now and exclusive to the Omotesando flagship store.
Meanwhile, in Osaka, until June 30, you can shop at a restrospective of Raf Simons items — all from 2000 to 2006 — at Hankyu Men’s. The huge prints and splashes of text of such pieces are pretty much the source material for a sound portion of current streetwear trends — so why not wear the originals?
A 1990s assault
Nike, too, has re-released a special version of its 1994 Nike Air Max2 Light model, available at footwear store Atmos, while Adidas joins in with a re-release of its 22-year-old the Feet You Wear S-97 model. Both are on sale now.
Moving on from the all-important kicks, how about some edgy ’90s “The Simpsons” T-shirts? Japanese label Soph. Co., Ltd.’s subbrand F.C.Real Bristol will have you covered. Or what about lyrics and graphics from English ’90s rock legends? Adam et Rope now have a full Oasis Song Lyrics T-shirt Collection for you to rock. Both these time-tripping items have just hit racks nationwide.
The Heisei Era (1989-2019) generation who are now finding their fashion feet must have a penchant for nostalgic times that they weren’t part of first time round. But then they have access to internet archives of fashion on an unprecedented scale — hence the drive for authenticity. Surely this makes their consumption anything but ironic — a desire to devour a streetwear culture with substance that they perhaps only heard about in revered tones.
In time, will they build their own culture and prove the pessimists wrong? Let’s hope so.