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Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008

New stars are a-rising

Special to The Japan Times

Fashion is sometimes like soccer, in that you can't always rely on older players and expensive foreign imports. Until recently, Japan Fashion Week tended to bank on the same names from season to season. However, to keep the progression of new talent and new faces you eventually need to invest in young blood and, to use soccer parlance, "a youth team."

News photo
Rooms: A colorful display in the event's Argentinian design group show LISA PALMER

What seemed refreshing about this season was the prospect of a whole new gaggle of designers ready and willing to make the step up to a bigger stage. For once, credit goes to the JFW organizers for introducing initiatives such as the Shinmai Creators Project, which will bear fruit from next season. Plucking a handful of designers from fashion schools around the world, the lucky few — who include rising star Sachio Kawasaki from Central St. Martins in London — will be beneficiaries of "an entre into the Japanese fashion market."

JFW also joined forces this time around with the New Designer Fashion Grand Prix, now in its 25th year. It's a great idea in principle, as it involves some 13,000 young and ambitious designers applying from 38 countries around the world to be among just 30 chosen to show in Tokyo.

The talented winners this year were freelancers Chitsantisook Titipon and Satoko Ozawa, who were selected by superstar judges including kooky German designer Bernhard Willhelm, Toshikazu Iwaya (formerly of Dress Camp) and the grande dame of Japanese fashion, Hanae Mori.

What didn't work about the event was putting 50 or so sleeping salarymen in the front two rows; not exactly the kind of thing that young designers and attendees should be subjected to. The fact that this program was cohosted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government may explain this.

But JFW also tied up with Rooms — a biannual 400-brand design extravaganza with creators from Japan and abroad. This season, its 17th, was bigger and brighter than ever. Held in Yoyogi National Stadium in central Tokyo, it included some experienced and well-known designers including Hisui and Gaspard Yurkievich in addition to many lesser-known labels.

Aptform, run by Tokyo-based Michail Gkinis, uses the very best of Japanese textiles, which also have the benefit of being environmentally friendly.

Akira Naka, who was showing as part of the JFW Designers Exhibition, displayed an elegant collection that was inspired by chic Russian women and was worlds away from stereotypical cute and cuddly Japanese designs.

Rooms also yielded some smaller gems, such as the quirky and cosmopolitan jewelry of Argentine label

Las Katz, named after designers Mishal and Eugenia Katz.

In a chat with The Japan Times, executive producer Mika Sato claimed that Rooms "in terms of business is succeeding," and felt "Rooms provided a place for young designers" in an industry in which "one in 1,000 can be successful as fashion creators."

Bernhard Willhelm's succinct words of wisdom to young designers were, "It's all in the mix" — and maybe this should be hijacked as a motto for future initiatives. If Tokyo wants to be a global fashion- business player, then finding the right mix of creators, programs, funding and support is imperative for all concerned.

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