Fashion on pause
In April and May this column was purposefully put on pause, since the general consensus, mine included, was that there were more time-sensitive articles meriting newspaper space. Now that the state of emergency has given way to a state of unease as we navigate our way back to normality, this column — and fashion at large — is tentatively back in business.
That said, odds are you haven’t made any significant fashion purchases in the past several months, and you’re not alone. Department store sales figures for May are truly sobering. Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings is looking at a drop of 78.1 percent compared to the same period last year; Daimaru Matsuzakaya is down 72.7 percent; and Takashimaya is somewhat better at a 62.9 percent drop. But keep in mind those are national figures, which include stores in regions of Japan where the state of emergency was not so long-lasting, or so stringent. If you look at Tokyo alone, the situation is even more dire: The Matsuya Ginza flagship, for instance, has to find a way to cope with a 91.9 percent drop in sales.
Not to hammer the point home, but it gets worse. The figures above are total sales, not just for fashion. In fact, when key stores such as Takashimaya reopened on May 18, it was in a limited capacity that excluded fashion and luxury brands. There has been some online sales success, up by approximately 40 percent in May for Isetan Mitsukoshi, but it’s worth stressing that the majority of sales spikes have been in skincare, food, fitness and childcare-related, #stayhome-appropriate items.
Most fashion floors have since reopened, and while we won’t have reports on sales numbers until next month, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest there are shoppers keen to update their summer wardrobe after months of comfort clothing.
Forgive one more plunge into the abyss, but there is yet another blockade to fashion recovery that must also be addressed. May also saw an average 90 percent decrease in tax-free sales across all Japanese department stores. Given the decrease in total tourists, you might have expected that number to be worse, but it’s a figure that will remain unchanged for the immediate future, even if the domestic retail market recovers overall.
All this brings us to the long, long path to recovery. We still need to admire each other’s outfits from a socially considerate distance, after all, and this goes double when shopping at usually hectic clearance sales. Isetan Mitsukoshi is trying to ease the crush of in-person shoppers by holding online outlet sales in tandem with in-store offerings for the very first time.
Mid-market mainstays such as Lumine and Shibuya 109 are largely open, albeit with social-distancing measures in place. Parco, however, reopened with aplomb on June 1 with a star-studded subcultural music night, including performances by idol group of the moment Bish and indie upcomers Ninjas, held live on the ninth floor of the renovated Shibuya Parco flagship and livestreamed on YouTube.
Basic face mask shortages are largely over, which is good because they are with us for the foreseeable future. Still, once fundamental garment necessities have been met, fashion has a magical ability to transcend the mundane. Cue fashion masks for all persuasions, if you can get your hands on them: They’re popular!
Want a traditional Japanese mask made from yukata (summer kimono) textiles? Meguro-based gofuku (cloth) kimono store Kapuki has you covered. Rockers or bikers with a responsible streak should head to underground atelier Obelisk, where you can find somewhat intimidating designs in leather. For a Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike-like feminine flourish, look for Celford’s lace creations.
In short, however you want to express yourself, you need not lose your identity — even if we are going to be hidden behind masks for a bit longer.