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Sunday, March 23, 2008

TOKYO GIRLS COLLECTION

Oh what an extravaganza


Staff writer

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Catwalk fans Yuka, Kanako and Keiko, all 24, get close to the 40-meter runway at Tokyo Girls Collection. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTOS

Even the heavens were smiling on Tokyo Girls Collection. Balmy 19-degree temperatures — the year's highest up until then — provided the perfect setting last Saturday for the Spring/Summer edition of this hugely popular fashion-show-cum-showbiz extravaganza, allowing most of the 22,000 teenage and twentysomething female attendees to turn out in their snappiest spring skirts, with bare legs and high heels.

Tokyo Girls Collection was started in 2005 by Xavel Inc., operators of the mobile-phone Web site Girlswalker.com, as a way of promoting the clothes for sale on their site. In order to market the event to their 7 million mostly 15- to 24-year-old female users, they created a hybrid formula of fashion show, rock concert, TV variety program, amusement park and shopping mall. Tickets for the sixth installment, held on March 15, sold for between ¥3,000 and ¥10,000. They sold out. In fact, all five of the previous TGCs sold out, too — a strong indication that the formula is a winner.

One of the keys to TGC's success has been its nurturing of young local fashion models to the status of becoming celebrities. Most attendees The Japan Times spoke to named as the highlight of the day the chance to see this bevvy of beauties walk the 40-meter LED-encrusted runway that cleaved the massive Yoyogi National Stadium in central Tokyo.

"Seeing the models up close is the best thing about TGC," said Keiko, a 24-year-old office worker from Tokyo and a veteran of two TGCs.

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A model shows off clothes by Sword Fish at Tokyo Girls Collection.

"It's great to see your favorite models wearing nice clothes," echoed Mayumi, a 19-year-old student from Yokohama who had attended three TGCs in the past.

Little known outside of their target demographic — and even less outside of Japan — these wide-eyed and leggy twentysomething beauties have emerged from the pages of local fashion magazines and Web sites.

Both Keiko and Mayumi named the popular, early 20s Rina Fujii and Jun Hasegawa — two models of mixed heritage (Hasegawa's father and Fujii's grandfather are American) — as their favorites.

The other key, of course, is the clothes, and at its most basic level TGC is still a celebration of new-season fashion by brands such as Cecil McBee, Spiral Girl and titty&Co, that can be bought on Girlswalker.com and its affiliated PC site Fashionwalker.com (owned jointly by Xavel and Yahoo Japan).

In this season's event, 23 brands participated, having been invited on the basis of popularity among Girlswalker.com users. Brands not already selling on the Web site are occasionally included, but only if they agree to join the site at least temporarily. A requirement that the brands market at least part of their range to the Japanese 15- to 24-year-olds market has meant that only occasionally non-Japanese brands (such as the American kitson this time around), have come to the party.

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Visitors rush through the doors (above) in an attempt to get seats close to the runway prior to the start of Tokyo Girls Collection, in which 72 models showed off clothes by 23 brands (below). YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTOS
News photo

So seamless is the integration between fashion show and cyberspace retail project that at the very moment each brand sends its models down the catwalk the clothes are uploaded for the cyber-perusal of cell phone and computer-wielding shoppers.

That integration often leads to the slightly mistaken impression that TGC visitors spend the day glued to their mobiles, buying clothes even as the models strut their stuff in front of them.

"I don't think I'll buy anything while I'm here," said Yuko, 22, from Tokyo. "I'll go home and maybe look at the Web site later on tonight, but I like to try on the clothes properly before I buy them," she continued. Almost all of the brands listed on Girlswalker.com have real-life outlets, and a Xavel representative said it is in the company's interests for the brands to do good business, regardless of whether that business is through a Xavel-affiliated Web site or not.

Still, Xavel reported that during the 24 hours from 3 p.m. on March 15, when TGC kicked off, over ¥35 million in sales were made at Girlswalker.com, Fashionwalker.com and onsite booths (where a small selection of clothes were for sale).

Cellphones featured in the event in other ways too, usually as hooks for future marketing. At every turn there were "mobile touch sensor" pads, where by swiping your phone you could access an online e-mail magazine registration form and then, when you logged on, you'd be eligible for a complimentary bag.

This season's TGC started when model Jun Hasegawa appeared in a full-length pink dress and feather headdress by Spiral Girl. "Glamour Neo Hippie" was the theme of the show, and American Indian references — tunics, feathers, moccasin boots — were the flavor of the moment.

From there, the pace didn't let up until a full 6 hours later. In total, 72 models paraded the wares of 23 brands in three sets of fashion shows. With astonishing logistics prowess, those shows were interwoven with 20-minute pop music concerts by bands Funky Monkey Babies and chemistry. Celebrity MCs guided the pumped-up crowd through the proceedings, which also included tieup promotions for corporate sponsors and even a filming session for an upcoming TV program.

"You'll all have the chance to be on TV! How good is that?" asked MC Mari Yaguchi, to waves of cheers and applause.

And should the onstage entertainment fail to thrill, there were always the sponsor booths in the central arena to serve as titillating distractions.

With such a specific demographic in attendance, sponsors had tailored their stalls to the point of making nontarget visitors redden with embarrassment. Among the goods on offer were Walt Disney-branded mobile phones, Over Excellent jewelry, Essential shampoo, Koji artificial eyelashes, Extensions Tokyo hair extensions and Elis Megami sanitary napkins. There were even Wanpo high socks that make your legs skinnier and Okkiku Naare drinks that make your breasts larger. ("Some people swear by it," said a naturally well-endowed sales assistant.)

Having conquered the local market and even won over the weather gods above, the next step for the ever-expanding TGC is overseas. With the blessing of the national government's international trade arm JETRO, this unique hybrid of fashion and entertainment is heading to China, where it will be part of Chic 2008, the China International Clothing and Accessories Fair, in Beijing on March 28. After Japan and China — watch out world!



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