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Sunday, March 23, 2008


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



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Aguri Sagimori

Aguri Sagimori

Oh, the horror.

A veritable swarm of birds encircled the young woman's neck, pulling her twig-ratted hair as droplets of blood ran down her bony chest.

But fret not; this is not a horror movie, but rather a fashion show — a scene straight from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," and Aguri Sagimori's unabashed homage to it in her debut collection.

The "birds" are actually leather cutouts on a scarf, and the droplets of "blood" are strategically placed crystal beads on an elaborate necklace. The mostly black and red collection revolved around intricate cutouts created with high-tech lasers in not only bird motifs, but also detailed lattice and graphic floral patterns on body suits, denim gowns, tailored suits and even lingerie.

At a mere 23 years of age, the recently graduated Aguri Sagimori may still be a baby chick of a designer, but her feet are hiding claws; the focused, imaginative debut centering on high-tech loom and cutting techniques was impressive, and the presentation refreshing. Here's hoping for an adequate box-office pull so we can be treated to a sequel. (M.J.)

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Somarta was created as the fashion division in designer Tamae Hirokawa's Soma project to be a sort of a melting pot for her whims in fashion, graphic design, sound and visual imagery. In its short life, though, Somarta has already become widely recognized for its extravagantly styled shows displaying Hirokawa's techno-advanced, seamless knitwear.

Although her complex show this time featured a moon goddess, an ice-encased forest and a phoenixlike bluebird, the underlying collection was actually comparatively toned down relative to past offerings. Soft creams governed the chunky knit coats, ponchos and sweaters, while plastic laminate in powder blue gave luster to elegant lacy skirts and drop-waist dresses.

A turquoise coat was the highlight, with paisley lame inlay and gold and silver, orientalist trimming fit for Eurasian royalty or magical moon goddesses alike. (M.J.)

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Kamishima Chinami KJELD DUITS PHOTO

Kamishima Chinami

Since she began showing on the Tokyo circuit in 2002, Hokkaido-born Chinami Kamishima has become known for her unique twists on contemporary knits. Her effort at this Japan Fashion Week was characterized by a renaissance in elegance. Or is it elegance in renaissance? Juxtapositions never looked so intriguing; as seen at first glance we beheld a chainmail corset over a cozy turtleneck and full princess skirt that trailed on the floor. Kamishima parlayed yards of fabric and thread into a world of magic and fantasy, in superlong manteau capes on androgynous models, armor breastplates, and girls' bodices wrapped with thin strips of black leather for an edgy look. Josette skirts dyed in black and white degrade also made for some stunning visuals. As we were swept between the soft looks to the darker ones, it was impossible not to wonder who the heroine of this story was — the princess or the sorceress? Thankfully, it's just a runway fantasy; but we can pull on a cozy Kamishima cardigan and dream up the next chapter in our own story. (M.J.)

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Motonari Ono

Japan Fashion Week newcomer, 27-year-old Motonari Ono, certainly doesn't lack ambition. The ballsy young designer and illustrator attempted, with his first runway collection, to fuse the opulence and grace of European high fashion with the eccentricities of Tokyo's downtown "geek capital" of Akihabara.

In an interview with The Japan Times, he said, "My design source is from manga, games and anime" — but he also cited Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga's head designer Nicolas Ghesquiere as heroes.

A self-confessed nerd, Ono, a graduate of the London College of Fashion, and former chief pattern-maker with U.K. designer Bora Aksu, displayed a collection of sexy, fitted and provocative designs fit for his muse Paris Hilton. He aimed to show off a collection of what he calls "new erotic" clothes blending the kinkiness and restriction of S & M, the lace involved in maid costumes and Japan's famed "costume play," and the sensuality of contemporary women as embodied by American it-girls.

He is also a strong believer in first impressions and sent out — to Tokyo's bold and beautiful style community — the most ornate and inventive invitations ever seen at JFW. Using his illustration skills, he came up with a long, boxed, black floral invite that had an immediate wow factor. For him "the label and collection starts with the invitation," and he declared he wanted to "start my label in the best possible way."

Using mainly silk, lace and wool, with a color palette of black and white and a subtle use of pink and beige (because it resembles skin), the collection took Ono and his four assistants six months to create. The assemblage of checks, pleated shirts, heavy stitching, see-through dresses and some unorthodox structural shapes was, at times, a little confused and hinted that Ono was attempting too much too soon. However, with fans such as Kill Bill star Chiaki Kuriyama (who was in attendance), and some high-profile Japanese magazine editors filling the front row, Ono, it seems, is a shining star of the Tokyo collections.

As for the future, Ono says, "I'll start making my new collection from next week." He also vowed to continue "mixing otaku (geek) culture with other sources" for next season's anticipated show.

With other quirky and niche labels such as Mikio Sakabe and h. NAOTO showing some strong collections this year, it appears that Ono will have his work cut out. However the confident, Tokyo-based designer isn't fazed, and insisted that next season's collection should see him crowned as the "otaku king" of Japanese fashion. (P.M.)

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