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Sunday, March 23, 2008


Sizing up the season's hot pick of Japan's finest couture


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Sans the usual propaganda that plagues fashion, Matohu presented an effortlessly beautiful collection centered on their signature, long kimonolike coat held with a single button to one side. Traditional floral patterns and chiri-men crepe coupled with modern styling and use of color (royal purple, red-orange, turquoise and soothing beiges) brought a new face to the 16th- and 17th-century keicho-kosode (short-sleeve kimono) look.

Designers Hiroyuki Horihata and Makiko Sekiguchi always center their collections on ancient craftsmanship abstractly reinterpreted. In the past, they have incorporated mica-flaked woodblocking, Japanese washi paper, and elegant designs found on folding screens. Matohu have already announced that their ancient crafts collections will run at least through 2010 — and if what we have seen to date is any indication, they may well be emerging as the Next Big Thing of JFW. (M.J.)

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Ritsuko Shirahama

Ritsuko Shirahama believes in following the three R's: "Reuse, Recycle, Revamp."

With her eponymous banner label, Shirahama has been showing at the Tokyo Collections for 20 years. Lately, though, she has been flying the eco flag, by musing on the "coexistence of technology and nature" and how it relates to fashion's incessant need for disposable clothing.

This time, Shirahama showcased designs based on new ways of recycling plastic bottles into fabric, with her standout creation being a shiny puffy jacket in an elegant gradation of purple, orange and pink overlaid with a print of leaves picked up and then scanned by the designer herself.

As well, pink flower cutouts created volume under bouffant bell skirts and trompe l'oeil prints of pearl necklaces on drop-waist dresses oozing decadence without the guilt.

After the show, Yoshiko Ikoma, editor in chief of Marie Claire magazine said, "I can really appreciate the way she practices responsible fashion through the modern gift of technology. The organicness shines through and looks utterly chic, to boot." (M.J.)

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Hokuto Katsui and Nao Yagi of Mintdesigns have always been heavy hitters in the Tokyo Collections, where loyal followers flock to their consistently fun shows highlighting their unique aesthetic and quirky predilections.

At first glance, their stance on fashion seems less cerebral than many of their Japanese predecessors or contemporaries, but closer inspection of the Mintdesigns mind-set reveals strings of thoughtful prose carefully woven into the fabric of their design.

For this autumn/winter '08 "Trash, Slash and Flash!" collection, shredded paper poured out of pockets and was made into headdresses and ornaments for shoes. Loose-knit cardigans were also layered over apron dresses with punchily quaint, neon floral prints scattered over checkerboard tiles.

For men, boxy cardigans in beige and green stripes, and wool trousers with zigzag patterns looked cozy even without all of the extra stuffing.

All this seemingly played into their viewpoint-changing theme, whereby something apparently unneeded ("Trash!") can be radically reworked ("Slash!") to create something totally new ("Flash!"). Though the clothes may most readily appeal to those of a more playful inclination, closer inspection reveals a simple aesthetic that even the most fashionably inept can exploit . . . in a Flash! (M.J.)

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Hisui's designer Hiroko Ito appears to have gone on a journey to rediscover her ethnic roots — and ended up in a fantastical otherworld she's titled "Utopia."

There, she found beautiful people and adorned them with colorful needle-punch knit and patchwork dresses, rainbow-striped boot covers and puffy scarves which twisted and wrapped around their bodies.

It was a pan-Asian smorgasbord with exotic details such as colorful embroidery on boucle-knit, and sleeves as long as the necks of the color-amalgamated giraffes that seemed to have occupied Ito's imagination.

Meanwhile, bird-of-paradise feathers were perched on the heads of her male and female Utopians, while oversize turbans were this time among the show-stopping details Ito always utilizes to amplify her themes.

Before she started her own line in 1999, this graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York was designing accessories at Comme des Garcons, and this time — among towering, custom-made steel constructions — she staged here show at the entrance to the Takashimya department store in Shinjuku, where her clothes are sold in the brands-only shop New Creators.

"I wanted to be near to where the real clothes are," said the designer — and the creator of a shopper's Utopia, indeed. (M.J.)

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Mikio Sakabe

The debut this season of the Mikio Sakabe label, a husband-and-wife endeavor comprising Mikio Sakabe and Shueh Jen Fang, was greeted by an impressive crowd eager to see a new star burst into the fashion firmament.

Sakabe first drew attention last season with his JFW-sponsored "Designers Met in Europe" show, which brought together Japanese designers who had studied abroad. As a 2007 graduate of the Royal College of Fine Arts Antwerp, Sakabe follows in the Belgian footsteps of luminaries such as Martin Margiela and Dries Van Noten, and before launching his eponymous brand last year he had already garnered a slew of awards for his graduate collection.

Meanwhile, Shueh Jen Fang is a Taiwan national who acts as Sakabe's muse and consultant, fine-tuning details and editing the collection.

Despite this being the first season Sakabe has officially presented in the show format, he was also recently invited to show in Milan, a short skip ahead of his Tokyo unveiling.

"I staged my show differently in Milan than in Tokyo, by playing up the pop image there. In Tokyo I needed more than that — a 'plus alpha' — that extra oomf to impress people."

The collection in question was titled "Industrial Dolls," and it featured the designer taking a jab at what he calls "fashion people" — or those hapless followers of trends and raunchy indecorum.

In the show, Sakabe launched an assembly line of models resembling Licca dolls — Japan's Barbies — bobbling down the runway in dark, sleek skirt-suits with fluorescent rubber detailing on pockets and piping on the seams. To add to the fun, laser rubber cutouts looking like mechanical circuitry were appliqued onto leggings in juicy colors, taking advantage of a new advance in textile technology.

"I wanted to take something that is as un-individualistic as an office uniform and show that a woman can still be fashionably unique despite wearing something that may seem to be the antithesis of individuality. And I also find the uniform to be feminine but sexually demure at the same time."

As long as fashion sheep keep grazing — and fueling Sakabe's frustrations at their follies, then expect more promising collections from him and his partner at Tokyo Collections to come. (M.J.)


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