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Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008

Tokyo's fashion menu gets more appetizing

Special to The Japan Times

The Michelin Guide top-starred Tokyo as the world's gastronomic capital this year, but the city's sartorial scene may now be just as appetizing as it gradually garners more and more global attention with its fashion menu extending from streetwear avant-garde to "quirky-cute" confections and a veritable smorgasbord of couture-like detailing. Altogether, indeed, the Spring/Summer season's Japan Fashion Week that's just ended served up a feast of 37 shows over five days — and to savor the best of Tokyo's fashion fare on offer, simply read on . . .

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G.V.G.V.: Designer Mug goes the way of power-dressing body-con. SEAN WOOD / MEKAS

The ever-popular Mintdesigns kicked off the official JFW schedule on the Midtown Tokyo terrace. Designers Hokuto Katsui and Nao Yagi had Tokyo Collection regulars perking up as they delivered a more sleek and muted Mint than usual, with a hint of architectural lines and sharp folds. Their "Death Pop" theme was a funky take on the ultimate demise of extinction; Stegosaurus and T-Rex bones danced on loose A-line dresses in tones of black and white, and blue and pink. The patterns were a whimsical juxtaposition on ultrafeminine details such as ruffles and ribbons as the label is poised to extend the reach of kawaii (cute) Tokyo fashion by apparently getting distribution in such places as Jordan and Russia.

Bones were also on the mind of Hiroko Ito for her brand Hisui, but these were of the human variety in her collection titled "Physical." Her details abstractly mimicked the skeletal form, with thick straps draped to form rib cages, and tucks and folds conjuring a spine. While rather chic, Ito couldn't shy away from a kitsch touch, adding stuffed-animal-type bones stuck to collars and arms.

Also in the vein of kitsch was Writtenafterwards, which told a perplexing story through its creation of a transgender Prince Charming wearing striped seersucker bloomers and a white blouse with metallic bra straps. Both graduates of the renowned Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design in London, Yoshikazu Yamagata and Kentaro Yamai now work together, often touching on surrealism when showing their sleepwear-for-day collections.

Mikio Sakabe and his wife, Shueh Jen-Fang, were shepherds of a flock of blonde-bobbed models in futuristic career-wear for Mikio Sakabe. "It's technically a cruise theme, but I was inspired by a ringing sound. You know, when you've been out in the sun too long and hear a high metallic pitch in your ear," explained Sakabe somewhat elusively.

As strange as it may seem, however, this "metallic" sensibility made sense in the androidesque styling with silver shoes, shiny cellophane woven into Chanel-type jackets and holographic tubing on neon leggings under chic pencil skirts.

Eri Utsugi's mercibeaucoup was a collection designed around the many forms of "water," although many would have been hard pressed to infer that from the Madras stripes, harem pants, pompoms and ethnic embroidery on a palette of colors that could rival a 6-year-old's crayon collection. This brand is a law unto itself; it's no use trying to pick apart the layers and logically picture the collection, because mercibeaucoup is and always will be the loose and colorful embodiment of Japanese quirk. Go figure, or don't; it is the joy of the brand.

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Hisui: Skeletal style from JFW veteran Hiroko Ito SEAN WOOD / MEKAS

JFW sophomore Aguri Sagimori has already been commanding global attention with her cool pieces incorporating men's tailoring techniques. But in the throes of fashion microstardom, her fate's now an open book — literally — as she said she draws her inspiration from her favorite novels that are now "battered, as I fold all the pages of passages I like." Jackets had panels that jutted out of hemlines, were folded down into dog-ear corners or opened away from the body. Meanwhile, original jacquard prints smattered with the characters from inspirational passages were crafted into jackets and a jumpsuit for a simple and thoughtful collection.

Matohu presented its newest collection of modernized traditional clothing, this time based around the tsuji ga hana dyeing technique that first appeared in the 1400s in the middle of the Muromachi Period of Japanese history but disappeared in the early 17th-century dawn of the Edo Period due to its exhausting difficulty. The technique involves outlining patterns with stitches before dyeing, then outlining them again in black ink. All this is done by hand for Matohu by a young apprentice in his 20s in Kyoto.

"This way of dyeing was called the the 'illusionary technique' because it disappeared for over a hundred years, and has only been brought back recently," says designer Makiko Sekiguchi, who works with partner Hiroyuki Horihata.

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Guts: Gaudy, brash, kaleidoscopic and in-your-face pimp-wear

Here it was utilized on brightly painted blouses and flowing skirts, as well as the signature Matohu robes with some chic belts and wilted flower corsages.

In the last two JFW outings by Osaka-born designers Cabaret Aki and Jackal Kuzu for Gut's Dynamite Cabarets label, we've seen more shenanigans than actual clothing. So it was a surprise when proper models came out in their signature nocturnal-delight pimp-wear of animal prints, velour and studded everything, passing regally by their best drag-queen fans in the front row. But these chaps weren't about to leave their audience disappointed: Next, a raunchy group of ladies, boys, and ladyboys (transsexuals) paraded out, accosting all from the catwalk and boisterously dancing in teensy Guts briefs with "Hello Kitty" splashed across the tush.

"Finally! We already know the Japanese can do the virginal, hiding-the-body thing a la Yohji Yamamoto," raved Florence DeMonza of Fashion News Daily. "So it's nice to see something that is sexy, energetic, and coming from the streets. This is the new wave of Japanese fashion!"

Later that night, the '90s-style power women were on the prowl and ready to kick a hole in the glass ceiling at G.V.G.V. Some may cringe at the thought of such a recent decade being accorded a heartfelt fashion comeback, but designer Mug offered an electrifying take on the early body-conscious era, and a complete collection that went from day to night. Office attire of tailored flair-hem skirt suits were followed by sexy, skintight dresses for evening. The zippy looks were pieced together in graphic shapes in shades of nude and black, paired with some sparse ethnic patterning as seen on the wild leggings. But Mug, who designs to delight herself, has always liked color and the final pieces dished out some seriously searing neon for only the most daring of the bunch.

The week closed with the eponymous Ms. Koshino and her legendary Hiroko Koshino brand. She runs a powerhouse that always delivers top-notch cutting-edge collections that must have touched the senses of recent Olympic fencing medalist Yuki Ota watching front and center. The collection was muy caliente (very hot), with elaborate embroidery and bejeweled details on Spanish matador-style cuts. It ended with a pinch of el Japon in dresses made from traditional washi paper decorated with slight and soft calligraphic illustrations.

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