Style & Design

The changing face of fashion in Japan

by Samuel Thomas

Contributing Writer

The idea of selling the off-shoot products of fashion is nothing new. The designer selling an audience the essence of a fashion collection in the form of a perfume, watch or pair of sunglasses is arguably a way to make the brand inclusive, ensuring that anyone can feel part of the designer’s world, even if they can’t afford to wear a catwalk-ready ensemble.

The idea of sharing a part of a designer’s world through a different medium, even if those items are outsourced to another designer, is also just a logical progression of design process: If you design clothes, at some point you are going to wonder what scent matches the ensemble, what kind of sofa its wearer would sit on, and so on. Next thing you know, there are Chrome Heart’s branded hand saws and Supreme branded crowbars.

Of course there may be gimmicks along the way; but overall, if designers design, then why not let them spread their wings?

Incidentally fashionable

There was a turning point in this trend in 2012, when Yoshikazu Yamagata’s Writtenafterwards’ “Bye Bye” collection held fashion shows without clothes, choosing to forgo the idea that the world revolved around the designer’s clothes to instead focus on a world that incidentally included fashion. The brand’s eccentric 30-minute fashion show was a landmark of a cultural shift that asked the bold question: “If only a handful of people are actually wearing haute couture gowns that are currently regarded as ‘real fashion,’ why not redefine ‘fashion’ as other items, like perfume, and be honest that the fashion show is a ritual to sell them?”

Michael Kors' bags sporting Masami Yanagida illustrations | MICHAEL KORS
Michael Kors’ bags sporting Masami Yanagida illustrations | MICHAEL KORS

Questioning changing the parameters of the fashion world is even more pertinent when considering fashion’s more recent love affair with collaborations and brands’ increasing reliance on external creative forces to make something new.

Aug. 28 will see a Japan-exclusive launch of a Michael Kors capsule collection featuring artist Masami Yanagida. Having Yanagida’s psychedelic ’60s-inspired designs adorning the MK Signature + line handbags is a bit like the brand hanging an artist’s painting on the wall of its own home.

S’YTE x JUNJI ITO
S’YTE x JUNJI ITO

Likewise, another anticipated collaboration between Yohji Yamamoto’s online-only brand S’YTE and horror manga maestro Junji Ito definitely feels like the artist is a welcome guest in the designer’s world. As it happens, Yohji Yamamoto is on a manga and anime roll, and is also collaborating with “One Piece” through its sub-brand Ground Y for another collection that has just hit the shops. Here, the ball is very much in the fashion designer’s court with Michael Kors and Yohji Yamamoto being the bigger draw for shoppers.

But what if Yoshikazu Yamagata’s fashion prophecy is right and we start to see One Piece clothing that just happened to be designed by Yohji Yamamoto?

Right now, it’s clear who is taking inspiration from whom, but with the fashion industry’s relentless use of collaborations to court attention, it can’t be long before designers will be asked to bring someone else’s world to life rather than their own.

Michael Kors: michaelkors.jp S’YTE: bit.ly/yohjisyte

Smart wear: Menswear store Fabric Tokyo is offering to tailor 'men's style' suits in women's sizes. | FABRIC TOKYO
Smart wear: Menswear store Fabric Tokyo is offering to tailor ‘men’s style’ suits in women’s sizes. | FABRIC TOKYO

Dressing for the cause

One of the reasons that fashion has had to reel in customers with other cultural references is the old issue of relevance. In the era of “woke” fashion — which plays well on Instagram, but, beyond sassy slogan T-shirts, not at the tills — many brands have been guilty of using current affairs as a marketing gimmick, alienating just about everyone outside the designer’s immediate bubble.

Thankfully, however, issues like inclusivity and social change have started to fall into the hands of brands with real consciences.

MOON PANTS
MOON PANTS

Take the Moon Pants pop-up, currently on until Aug. 27 at the Ikebukuro Seibu department store. The Taiwanese brand’s eco-conscious mission to make washable “period-proof” underwear fashionable has the potential for real change when it comes to how we view menstruation and the use of disposable sanitary products.

Meanwhile, until Aug. 31 at the bespoke menswear store Fabric Tokyo Omotesando, a special fair is taking place for women to order neutral “men’s style” tailored suits to test demand, while from Aug. 28 to Aug. 31, Isetan Shinjuku’s petite section is holding an event aimed at women at 150 centimeters tall and below. The highlight of the Isetan line-up is a 7-Way Dress that, as the name suggests, can be styled seven different ways and acknowledges the differences in dressing the shorter woman’s body.

Moon Pants: moonpants.jp Fabric Tokyo: fabric-tokyo.com Isetan: bit.ly/isetanmistore

Blasts from the past

Finally, if you are one of those people still scouring the streets of Harajuku hoping to find traces of fashion tribes long gone, there is a new book that documents the here and now of Harajuku street fashion. Brought to you by KERA, the sub-culture bible that itself went into print hiatus in 2017, the photo-book offers a taste of where these iconic looks and models are now.

TRANSWORLD JAPAN
TRANSWORLD JAPAN

Shot over 18 months and using Harajuku as its stage, it really brings home how street snapshots were a lifeblood of the scene. Without photographers playing editor by selecting who to showcase and where to shoot them, it is no surprise that the area lost its community of street fashion icons. Yes, anyone can shoot themselves and post on Instagram and hashtag “harajukufashion,” but with the lack of curation, who wants to sift through all that?

The “Harajuku Wonderland” book brings back the discernment and a taste of the present, past and future of Harajuku fashion.

Harajuku Wonderland: bit.ly/harajukuw

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