The presence of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) in fashion has gone from novelty to de rigueur alarmingly quickly. For items presumably prized for their rarity, the explosion of designers selling clothing with bonus NFTs has made them anything but. Still, without the real-world runways of the street to show off our finery, we need some way to peacock online and — for now at least — with NFTs it is.
When it comes to fashion, the NFTs in question are usually an image file and digital token of an illustration or graphic based on the collection, or a photograph from the lookbook. In many ways, NFTs are a way of tangibly selling a brand’s image or aesthetic, rather than an actual garment — much like the way high-end brands sell comparatively affordable perfumes or makeup. While it is very easy to be cynical about the value (or lack thereof) of NFTs, they clearly fill a very human need to have a souvenir of a moment that means something to you. An “I was there” memento for the pandemic era.
The latest stylish entry into the NFT marketplace is Anrealage’s “Dimension” collection, which was revealed online as part of Paris Fashion Week. The collection was produced in collaboration with Studio Chizu’s critically acclaimed animated film, “Belle” (“Ryu to Sobakasu no Hime” in Japanese), directed by Mamoru Hosoda. In line with the film’s setting, which flits between real and virtual Japan, the collection dives into Japan’s animated worlds, blurring the aesthetics of virtual spaces with the one outside our phones. That is a vaguely intellectual way of saying “anime-meets-fashion,” but in the case of Anrealage’s designer Kunihiko Morinaga, who has made it his life’s work to pursue fashion that looks like it’s from another world, this is one collection to take seriously even if you struggle with anime.
The digital looks are viewable in an animated film produced by Studio Chizu and ownable as NFTs, first through Anrealage’s own webstore and later through the OpenSea NFT marketplace.
The ’90s are back
Anrealage’s path to Paris was paved by a series of smaller brands and boutiques — most notably, Akihabara’s long-gone Gokai boutique and newer additions such as Akiba Kanden Denki — that have long made the case for pop-culture, or outright otaku-culture-infused fashion. The latter shop is currently enjoying pride of place for Laforet Harajuku’s autumn renewal campaign, where it will bring a retro-Akihabara aesthetic to a permanent space on the fourth floor.
The deliberately blown-out JPEGs, art taken from erotic visuals from NEC PC-98 computer games, and allusions to 1990s stacked socks and overly decorated mobile phones are all nostalgia-drenched references for an era its customers (primarily early-20s women) have never known. Still, beyond the sensational irony of putting once-concealed male fantasies out into the open, the brand has a deeper appreciation of the subcultural digital worlds created before the internet became mainstream.
On Sept. 21, Hiromu Takahara, best known for his work as the designer of Roen, passed away at the untimely age of 51. At the helm of Roen, he helped define the subcultural mood of menswear in the early 2000s, bringing overtly gothic overtones into the ruling American casual wardrobe. The style would eventually become all but mainstream as the men’s counterpoint to Shibuya 109, 109 Men’s, peaked in the mid-2000s. His fanged skulls, studding and snakeskin brought luxury to the underground, and even if the fashion establishment kept Roen and similar brands at arm’s length, its legacy lives on in every man who dreamed of being a rockstar, dangerous outlaw or cowboy riding into the sunset. With women also wanting to opt into the look, Takahara went on to establish a genderless sister brand called Switchblade, extending an invitation to the Tokyo underground to all.
Roen’s legacy will endure in the digital world. Takahara famously designed the wardrobes for the heroes of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XV. But even before then, his designs influenced the wave of gothic-Baroque elements that swept into Japanese video game design in the early 2000s and never left.
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