Tokyo Fashion Week: How to make Japanese fashion great again?
Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo 2018 A/W closed on Sunday with a host of fresh faces and events. This season was most clearly marked by the industry’s attempt to promote Japanese fashion as a more global business; and by many brands’ diverging approaches to creating wearable fashion and style. Call it a Japanese reality check.
With Japan’s domestic retail market continuing to shrink, the country has been forced to turn towards the global industry for sustenance: with the launch of the Young Designer’s Support Consortium, a project by the government and private sector to support emerging designers. Its goal: to incubate new talent to enable it to compete in business internationally as Japan continues its search for the next Sacai or Undercover.
It was also a season defined the ever increasing importance of digital. Tokyo Fashion Week, which had already been backed by giant global e-tailer Amazon for its four last seasons, is now becoming a hub to develop the industry both online, with Amazon Fashion’s see-now-buy-now, and offline, with runway support. However, Tokyo’s influence in fashion still remains much weaker than other major cities. Despite its rich fashion traditon and unique creativity, the Tokyo season ranks fifth in the world behind Paris, Milan, London and New York, in that order of importance.
What is current for women?
While the “#MeToo” movement has heated up in certain western cities, this feminist mood was less apparent in Japan. However, even though Japanese women have not overtly said "C'est non, non, non et non", fashion this season did show women’s need to express themselves by wearing what is ‘real’ for them. Some brands proposed an empowering daily wardrobe for women with subtly sensual, very feminine or sometimes hyper girlish items.
Maiko Kurogouchi, who presented the latest collection of her label Mame in Paris, showcased delicate and sophisticated clothing for the first time on runway as part of Amazon Fashion’s “At Tokyo” program. From artisanal knits to elegant jacquard dresses, she used Japanese materials to create clothing inspired by her everyday life. As she intends to give “the power to help women feel secure in various situations,” even the most elaborate pieces in her collection remained easy to comprehend.
Meanwhile, LVMH semi-finalist Akiko Aoki chose a novel format for her installation. From a set of garment racks, she let the models dress by themselves. In this intimate atmosphere, they created their own looks on the spot, composing masculine tailored items cut and reinvented as sensual women’s garments such as off-the-shoulder blouses or flared dresses peeking out from under a cut-out jacket.
Moreover, Memuse, founded by an ex-member of a girl group, proposed manga-like hyper flirty but somehow wearable clothes as a form of “battledress” for modern girls.
Dressundressed questioned sexuality through fashion in its clean and minimal “I’m sexy” collection, while Theatre Products created a series of menswear worn by male models as a collection for women.
Back to the ‘90s Tokyo streets
The ‘90s was certainly the second golden age of Japanese fashion, especially in the streets. Undercover, Bape, Hiroshi Fujiwara, Number (N)ine (Takahiromiyashitathesoloist) and the cult street style magazine Fruits all originated in this street culture. And beyond the wider ‘90s trends, Tokyo this season was largely inspired by its own street energy with layering and mixing.
G.V.G.V. showed her affection for the ‘90s by collaborating with cult brand Hysteric Glamour and famous lowbrow artist Frank Kozik in her dazzling collection of psychedelic prints.
Neighborhood, one of the major street houses founded in the ‘90s, held a rock concert with German hardcore band Atari Teenage Riot for “At Tokyo” instead of a classic fashion show. “There is no limit in fashion. This is my message,” explained designer Shinsuke Takigawa. The series of T-shirts and sweatshirts covered in logos was sold directly after the concert on Amazon Fashion.
From the new generation, 24-year-old designer Shota Tamai showed his modern vision of the Tokyo street on his first catwalk. Despite his theatrical mise-en-scene with a mafia-themed set, his label TTT_MSW offered high-quality garments with commercial, contemporary street cool.
Could fashion become a true industry in Japan?
Any mention of ‘Japanese fashion’ is always, necessarily, in reference to each brand – because there is actually no comprehensive industry system in the country. Remarkably, Japan fashion lacks a real governing body, like the equivalent of the Britsih Fashion Council in the UK or the Camera della Moda in Italy. But things might be set for change, as the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has set in motion a range of initiatives to establish a connected industry in order to be competitive in the global market.
From sourcing to retail, via the Young Designer’s Support Consortium, medium-sized brands will be supported by major players, enabled by small amounts of funding; the matching of local suppliers and designers; or by receiving higher visibility at big retailers.
Sustainability is also on the table with a program dubbed Save the Energy Project, matching young designers with local conscious suppliers. This season, labels Ryotamurakami and Perminute received support from local manufacturers and textile companies for the production of their runway shows.
Tokyo Fashion Week with Amazon
Amazon has continued to reinforce its investment in the Japanese market for the fourth edition of the fashion week. This month, the e-commerce giant opened its largest photo studio in Tokyo, which is projected to add 4,000 jobs to the Tokyo economy, and was also the venue for the runway debut of Mame Kurogouchi.
This highly B to C and digital approach is something that Tokyo Fashion Week lacked before. The event is attracting more and more attention from consumers and indeed designers, especially after huge critical and commercial success of the legendary joint show Sacai/Undercover last season.
The budget for the “At Tokyo” program, spotlighting four Tokyo-based designers, is estimated to cost tens of millions of yen for each edition. According to Amazon Fashion Japan, “At Tokyo” offers exclusive items sold just after the show as well as the designers’ selections of lifestyle products available on Amazon (for example, Ambush’s Yoon Ahn selected coffee and honey).
In these macro movements in industry and retail market, it is a requirement now more than ever that young designers in Japan have a clear vision - balancing creativity with business and production.
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