Style & Design

Behind the mask: The show must go on

by Samuel Thomas

Contributing Writer

What is this season’s most in-demand fashion accessory? Why, the humble face mask, of course. With hay fever symptoms kicking in, the face mask has always been a common sight this time of the year, but now it’s ubiquitous. The impact of COVID-19 has left shelves at convenience and drug stores completely stripped of them. If you don’t have one now, getting hold of one won’t be easy. When the MoMA Design Store offered a limited release of the Airinum Urban Air Mask 2.0 — a super serious five-layered filter mask — despite its hefty price and unusual dystopian allusions to a gas mask, it sold out fast.

For precautionary reasons, various large-scale gatherings, including some trade exhibitions, have been postponed or canceled, which leaves the clothing industry, currently heading into fashion weeks across the world, in a bit of a quandary. It can seem unseemly to focus on the relatively trivial business of style at a time of great concern — and there are ramifications that are sure to continue long after any order returns.

MoMA: bit.ly/arnium-jp (Japanese only)

Fashion week fears

At the time of writing, Shanghai Fashion Week for A/W 2020, scheduled for the end of March, had announced it was being postponed, with the possibility of it being canceled outright still hanging in the air. Adding to the fashion gloom, Japanese giants, including Uniqlo and Muji, have all but shut down their mainland China retail presence, with 280 and 25 stores closed respectively. Meanwhile, widespread factory closures in China have left many Japanese brands that rely on Chinese labor worrying about their supply chain.

Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo goes ahead. | JAPAN FASHION WEEK ORGANIZATION
Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo goes ahead. | JAPAN FASHION WEEK ORGANIZATION

While the shelves may still be stocked with everything (except face masks), retail sales are down across the board, with every major department store recording a downturn from the previous year, especially those outside major cities. Of course, inbound tourist numbers are down, but with the Takashimaya group reporting an increase in tax-free customers (sales are up 11.1 percent on the previous year), it looks like retail is still capitalizing on the shoppers who are making the trip.

Despite all this, Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo 2020 A/W is still set to go ahead from March 16 to March 21. Its official visuals feature the youthful 17-year-old Instagram star Lala Takahashi, clad in the edgy clothing of fashion brand Writtenafterwards in a campaign directed by graphic designer Kosuke Kawamura. Hopefully, the COVID-19 outlook will have improved by then, or at least the face mask shortages will be solved.

Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo: bit.ly/fashionweek-jp (Japanese, English)

Youth matters

At the start of this year, two youth retail forces swept to the fore, each showing the potential to shape the fashion landscape of tomorrow. The first was Workman, the in-vogue Japanese utility brand, which announced the rerelease of its phenomenally popular heated vests, which sold out on launch late last year. The second was the mass rollout of Isetan’s millennial-focused gift store service Moo:d Mark.

Workman’s re-released heated vest | WORKMAN
Workman’s re-released heated vest | WORKMAN

Workman has recently added to its existing consumer base of technicians, engineers and laborers by becoming a surprise hit in the fashion world. The utilitarian wear is a level-up from Uniqlo and offers a serious sense of practicality, not to mention a hint of machismo, that’s lacking in current popular streetwear. The vest’s combination of tech (it has two rechargeable electronically heated panels) and everyman design made it a hit, especially at the very reasonable ¥9,800 price tag.

Isetan, meanwhile, is doing its utmost to bring youth market into a conventional model of fashion retail — the gift store or “gift salon,” a staple of Japanese department store culture. Such stores offer a range of gift products that can be bought in bulk, for example as tokens of thanks at weddings. For many millennials looking to buy such gifts, a prim store setting and matching cost-prohibitive goods can be alienating. Isetan’s solution — Moo:d Mark — is an e-commerce model of the gift salon, offering a youth-oriented lineup of lower-priced items. The lack of over-attentive instore staff also probably helps if your budget is less that a ¥1,000 per person. By going to millennials on their own terms, this kind of move could be a sound way for department stores to build connections with a new kind of potential long-term customer.

Getting them young: Moo:d Mark's online gift salon is aimed at a youth market. moo:D mark by isetan
Getting them young: Moo:d Mark’s online gift salon is aimed at a youth market. moo:D mark by isetan

Workman: www.workman.co.jp Moo:d Mark: moodmark.mistore.jp (Both Japanese only)

The new state of undress

The term “genderless fashion” has well and truly taken over from “unisex,” albeit by losing the distinction in the process. Founded in 2017, underwear and accessory brand Reing has long understood the crucial difference, its output drawing attention away from gender, rather than being identified as items specifically designed to be worn across the sexes.

REING
REING

Now with an online shop and a strong digital presence, Reing is on the rise with its underwear collection for the de-gendered generation. The ethically sourced lineup stands up to scrutiny beyond the buzzword, with numerous small ateliers across Japan making the underwear, and its motto — “every relationship is beautiful” — is one that even the most cynical can warm to.

At the end of the day, fashion is a matter of choice, no matter who you are. If you want to go “hypermasculine,” that’s fine. If you want to be decked in frills and lace, no problem. If you want to do both, why not? There is room for all.

Reing: store.reing.me (Japanese only)

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