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Sunday, Sept. 9, 2007

JFW HIGHLIGHTS

Extragalactic androgyny cuts a dash in roster of chic, high-energy shows


Special to The Japan Times

While trivial matters such as global warming get blamed for weather going awry, Japan Fashion Week being moved forward this season by more than a month has caused more angst than a whole panorama of melting ice caps.

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A laid-back model sports a sultry summer look from hot new label Yuge PHOTO COURTESY OF JAPANESESTREETS

Luckily, though, all was cool, as this season's week showcasing 38 brands came and went without a hitch — even though designers had had far less time than usual to come up with the goods.

The first day of scheduled shows found JFW veteran mercibeaucoup ready to rev things up. Designer Eri Utsugi, applied her signature finger-paint approach to fashion to the theme of "stars." Models skipped down the catwalk in loose, colorful blouses and wide overalls smattered with various star patterns. The label's display of kitsch pop style ended with a cute rendition of a Japanese dance by the models and the gleaming designer herself.

The same night, though, saw a more sophisticated offering from Hiroko Ito and her brand Hisui at Academy Hills Library on the 49th floor of the swanky Roppongi Hills Mori Tower.

But tensions were high there overlooking a breathtaking nocturnal cityscape as models in laser-cut satin minidresses and metallic skintight leggings made their appearance.

Androgynous makeup coupled with hair stuffed in stocking caps strapped down with electrical tape made for an extragalactic feel. Singer/songwriter Olivia was spotted in the front row, expressing glee as gigantic crystal pendants worn as earrings and necklaces gleamed by.

When asked how her label slipped seamlessly from a primitive theme one season to being a futuristic fantasy romp the next, Ito explained it was "a simple evolution of the line."

"Actually, I've been inspired by the '80s, and the architectural lines of Art Deco," she said. As for the electrical tape, "I just liked the futuristic feeling. And it goes so well with the city backdrop."

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Another high-energy show was showcased by DressCamp, arguably the biggest ticket of the week — especially as they've set its sights on Paris for next season's outing.

Designer Toshikazu Iwaya didn't disappoint as he delivered a display of his most chic and technically accomplished collection yet (see Paul McInnes' accompanying report).

Finally, when it was done, Francophile veteran of the Japanese fashion scene Francoise Morechand exclaimed, "I love it! I would wear every piece."

Subsequently, those in the know were treated to two rocking after-parties, where high-profile fashion insiders and celebrities such as actor Hiroki Narimiya, a longtime follower of the brand, schmoozed into the night, raising their champagne flutes with abandon to the continued success of the maison.

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A futuristic look from the label Hisui PHOTO COURTESY OF JAPANESESTREETS

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Summer holidays, however, appeared uppermost on the minds of Takumi Yuge and his Yuge label, taking a bevy of bronzed beauties on a fantasy trip to the Riviera (in stark contrast to the pasty-princess look so in vogue elsewhere at JFW). The lineup included pieces from OshKosh, for which Yuge designs an upscale line, here manifested as jumpers with beach-towel stripes, little foam-green shorts quietly accented with fur, and swimsuit coverups that served to round out a series of ensembles ideally suited toto a breezy day under a sun-kissed canopy anywhere from Tokyo to Tenerife.

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In JFW this time, Theatre Products and Kingly Theatre Products — now with stockists in nearly 30 shops nationwide, including their own store in Shibuya Parco — went "Honeymoon" and "Vietnam Airlines" respectively for their themes.

The former (the ladies' line) was like a scene from a postcard from Turkey , with deep reds and exotic floral patterns on shirt-dresses and form-fitting skirts accented with lace tape and embroidery. The latter (for men) saw mid-calf pleated pants and sky-blue polos with the "Vietnam Airlines" logo displayed. A pantomime and live band crooning wedding-reception mainstays such as "Love Me Tender" thoroughly entertained attendees.

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In contrast, Gut's Dynamite Cabarets put on a raucous performance with an ode to the "Rocky Horror Picture Show," complete with models and drag queens strutting in hot pants, lounge sequin gowns and enough chain accessories to satisfy the most picky de Sade.

When a shirtless model with pink feather extensions came out dancing, a glance across the runway caught Robb Young, writer of "The Business of Fashion" for the London-based Financial Times, popping his cheeks and scratching his head, obviously not quite sure what to make of it. Call it fashion debauchery if you will, but designers Cabaret Aki and Jackal Kuzu's shenanigans managed to transport the onlookers to another realm — albeit one where shock-frocks reign at the registers.

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Next up, duo Hiroyuki Horihata and Makiko Sekiguchi presented their label matohu, which quietly won the collective approval of the audience. The intelligent collection focused on a simple aesthetic, with designs inspired by traditional Shino chawan tea bowls.

Cracked white leather and rusted watercolor techniques graced spindle-line coats and roomy pants, while leggings with seams that wound up the models' legs were reminiscent of the swirl found at the bottom of fine pottery.

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But by the end of the week, a look at the attendees mostly unenthusiastic facial expressions was a reminder that it is still business as usual.

Somarta, however, had its audience of who's who in the industry, and creator Tamae Hirokawa employed the advanced software for the computer-controlled knitting machines she uses to create a trippy journey through tribal India. Elaborate golden armor and black and red henna tattoos on models' faces, as well as a chain-mail dress comprised of charms, played up the label's creative forward thinking — but at the same time nearly drowned the elegant and surprisingly simple clothes themselves.

Already considered the leading light of JFW after just three short seasons, much can be expected from Somarta.

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Newcomers to JFW also had their share of the limelight, including Masaru Kumiki and his eponymous Kumiki brand. A psychology major, the young designer studied in Paris before starting out on his own. This consistent debut collection was built around the theme of the upcoming Beijing Olympics. Models slinked down the catwalk in well-made sexy bronze and gold body-suits, hooded mesh parkas and flat Grecian-style sandals. Cheeky necklaces fashioned to look like medals expressed the theme quite clearly. Matteo Barti and accessories editor Orietta Pelizzari of the Ars Arpel Group from Italy expressed keen interest in the shoes seen at the show.

"The shape was good, and the colors were very, very nice," said Pelizzari. "I would have liked to have seen even more pieces."

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Meanwhile, the impending absence of powerhouse DressCamp is already being felt. Sophie-L. Dewulf of Italian fashion magazine Mood lamented, "I understand how (the designer) must feel, but it is a shame. He is what makes Japan Fashion Week 'elite.' "

But let's not overly despair. There is still no shortage of thought-provoking and high-quality brands in the industry, though many labels opt to show off-schedule. Mintdesigns, once a JFW regular, went "guerrilla" this time around by staging a show inside the swanky new Midtown complex immediately after JFW official closer Hiroko Koshino's show came to an end.

Throughout the week, attendess exchanged ideas on how to round up more buyers and attract more press. Yours truly suggests adding more "show" to Tokyo's notion of a "fashion show." But however it is achieved, with five seasons under its belt and government funding all gone, JFW must concentrate its efforts to become a leading event. Otherwise, rival events in other cities will surely strut their stuff where Tokyo could have.



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