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Reactionary chic

So far, Japanese fashion’s primary reaction to the strange times we find ourselves in has been one of practicality, with the exception of Kunihiko Morinaga’s latest collection for Anrealage. With its neon spiked headpieces and tented self-contained dresses, it was arguably a literal visualization of both the virus and our sense of self-imposed isolation. Almost every brand out there now is churning out facemasks in their own image, and seldom does a week go by without another brand launching a casual loungewear line. If you are in the market, last week it was Azul by Moussy with its The Home line.

Still, observers on foreign shores, and international journalists in particular, often ask for recommendations for Japanese fashion that challenges the status quo. Given how the increasingly divisive political climate in the West is frequently mirrored in fashion collections, this request is only natural. But there’s nothing in Japan quite as easy to parse as politicized slogans emblazoned over T-shirts, or calls for action explicitly woven into fabric.

Potent fashion: Designer Shueh Jen-Fang’s most recent line is a subversive examination of the 'office lady' experience from the 1980s. | JENNY FAX
Potent fashion: Designer Shueh Jen-Fang’s most recent line is a subversive examination of the ‘office lady’ experience from the 1980s. | JENNY FAX

The potency of Japanese fashion is its potential to be far more insidious. Designers need not state their stance and opinion on a topic before they are taken seriously. Instead, they allow their work to speak for itself. When the enfants terrible of the Tokyo avant-garde — such as power-couple Shueh Jen-Fang’s Jenny Fax and Mikio Sakabe’s eponymous brand — explore notions of femininity, or clad young men in frilly lace dresses, they are doubtless being provocative, but their stance is altogether opaque and designed to help form an opinion rather than tell you theirs.

Jenny Fax’s most recent collection, held fashionably late after the official Tokyo fashion week’s schedule was over, was held through the medium of virtual reality and delved into the “office lady” experience of the 1980s. Through her bruised-looking and vulnerable models you can discern the outline of social commentary, but you would be a fool to think you understood it on first viewing.

The main exception that comes to mind is fashion that tackles issues relating to nuclear disarmament, and the potential revision of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution that forbids military intervention. A Share Spirit waistcoat from 2018, when it looked like Article 9 might be revised, engraved “Article 9” in brass hardware on the breast pocket above two tiny, clasped hands. The designer explains that, “I am not necessarily for or against revision, it is just too important to say nothing.” You might have to look, but the resistance is there.

Bath home: The Sento Forever project curation team partnered with 36 brands and creatives to sustain Japan’s dwindling number of sento through products and design. | PARCO
Bath home: The Sento Forever project curation team partnered with 36 brands and creatives to sustain Japan’s dwindling number of sento through products and design. | PARCO

Home comforts

With much of the nation’s time spent at home, except for the brave and foolhardy out and about with the Go To Travel campaign, it has probably been a while since most have ventured into an onsen (hot spring) or sento (public bath). Well, thanks to Parco, and an ironic nostalgia for sento among Japanese youth, the public bath experience is coming home.

Running Nov. 13 through 23 at Gallery X, “Pop Up Sento Parco-yu” (admission ¥470 after tax) explores the aesthetics of Japan’s bathhouses through art and interior design, with more than enough ways to replicate the experience at home and inject a bit of sento into your wardrobe. The Sento Forever project curation team involved 36 brands and creatives, with the wider goal being to sustain Japan’s dwindling number of sento through these trying times.

bit.ly/parco-yu (Japanese only)

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