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Keeping up appearances

Anyone who has been out to any of Tokyo’s fashion hubs of late will have been surprised at how buoyant they are with keen shoppers. It’s hard to know where the moral high ground is: Should we remain tucked away at home watching scenes of crowded streets on television in frustration, or should we all be pulling together to support a struggling fashion industry?

If you are in the latter camp opting for either altruistic spending or just enjoying a little retail therapy, the good news is you’re not alone. A look at sales figures for June indicates that for the majority of consumers, a vote for a return to normality is one they’re happy to make with their wallets.

Still, it’s somewhat astonishing that June spending at Japan’s leading department stores is only slightly down on the previous year for the same period. Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings is looking at a 19 percent drop in sales; Takashimaya 16.4 percent; and H2O Retailing, which runs the Hankyu Hanshin Department Stores, is only down 10 percent. “Only” may be flippant considering the sums of money involved, but it is a massive bounce back compared to the previous month, one verging on miraculous given the lion’s share of retail locations operating on greatly reduced opening hours, to say nothing of the abrupt precautionary temporary closures we saw this past month when cases were detected at Tokyo retail locations.

The strategy of holding off on clearance sales until just after the state of emergency was lifted, ensuring as many full-price purchases as possible before reeling in more reluctant shoppers with bargain-basement prices, was a great success. Even Matsuya Ginza, which is more reliant on inbound tourist spending, managed to eke out an 8.1-percent increase in domestic luxury spending, even if overall sales were down 35.5 percent.

The long-overdue move of holding sales online in parallel with brick-and-mortar store discounts also facilitated the bounce back. Isetan Mitsukoshi credits its online efforts for buoying overall sales, given that overall footfall is down. Of the retail roller coaster fashion has been on these past few months, it’s this shift to dual online models that has the largest ongoing ramifications for the overall industry.

Midwest’s Designers Mask Collection gives Tokyo fashion week designers another revenue stream. | MIDWEST
Midwest’s Designers Mask Collection gives Tokyo fashion week designers another revenue stream. | MIDWEST

Status-symbol masks

If the wonderfully camp, post-apocalyptic world of the “Mad Max” films, or its lineage exemplified by the surprisingly aesthetically pleasing “Hokuto no Ken” (“Fist of the North Star”) manga teaches us anything, it’s that fashion always finds a way, transforming from necessity to status symbol. Remember these words when you see the inevitable Swarovski-encrusted or fine-silk-embroidered facemask make its appearance.

For now, high fashion and hype streetwear are having their way with masks. Streetwear brand of the moment Off-White has launched a micro-collection of three mask designs currently on sale nationwide at Dover Street Market Ginza and GR8 Harajuku, among other stockists. They will set you back ¥12,100 each, and one assumes they must be reusable. Off-White’s 2019 face mask micro-collection is equally collectable, if you can find a mask that hasn’t been snapped up already.

For something more wallet-friendly, Midwest has launched the Designers Mask Collection, an ongoing online project teaming up with 10 brands, including Tokyo fashion week big hitters such as Anrealage, Discovered and Yoshio Kubo. The masks are limited to small runs and priced between ¥1,500 to ¥5,000 each (before tax). For brands looking at lean times the orders are welcome, and it’s interesting to see designers come to grips with the mask’s fashion possibilities.

Isetan Mitsukoshi’s #MinnaDeMask (#MasksForAll) campaign has partnered with some 40 brands to offer affordable designer masks. | ISETAN MITSUKOSHI HOLDINGS
Isetan Mitsukoshi’s #MinnaDeMask (#MasksForAll) campaign has partnered with some 40 brands to offer affordable designer masks. | ISETAN MITSUKOSHI HOLDINGS

In the same vein, Isetan Mitsukoshi has launched the #MinnaDeMask (#MasksForAll) project teaming up with some 40 Japanese fashion brands to offer masks for the fashion savvy at an affordable price point of ¥1,500 each (before tax). The lineup also includes kids sizes, and if you’re groaning at the unnecessary decadence of it all, wouldn’t you rather live in a world where the arts tried to add a bit of beauty to our lives?

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