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Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010

Another side of menswear


Special to The Japan Times

The combined weight of economic woes and the eventual uptake of technology as a means of interacting with customers and selling products have led to seismic shifts in the fashion world.

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Pack man: A military, but medieval, look for chaps from Phenomenon. WILL ROBB PHOTO

This season, internationally, saw the introduction of virtual invitations (with virtual seat numbers) to watch the Gucci show live from Milan; the opportunity to buy Burberry Prorsum products directly from the live-stream catwalk collection; and the full realization of social media by savvier brands such as Marc Jacobs and Hermes.

In Tokyo, the changes were less noticeable and sophisticated but important nonetheless. Some domestic menswear brands produced cinematic installations, or they downsized (due to finance or change of direction) to intimate showroom exhibitions — or they left the country entirely to plow new furrows or went under completely. One positive to come from this restructuring, however, is that it has allowed fresh blood to stake claims in the protean fashion landscape.

Of this season's Tokyo showroom exhibitions, then, Jun Hagan and Tetsuya Omura's debut collection for The River was the most surprising.

Former model Hagan, who also designs the small-scale Hagan brand, is a self-taught craftsman who has created a sizeable collection of European casual- trad looks inspired by 1960s American icon Timothy Leary.

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Star quality: Models parade in Takeshi Osumi's mainstream menswear creations for Phenomenon. WILL ROBB PHOTO

The collection, titled "Timothy Island," is made and treated entirely in Japan and includes collage-print tees, bandanas and shirts inscribed with Leary quotations, polo shirts, wide selvedge denim and an array of rakish accessories all made in materials such as cotton, linen, silk and rayon. It's not often that a debut collection shows such maturity, depth of vision and outright ambition.

In Tokyo, however, the runway has not yet disappeared, and in a recent online interview Cathy Horyn, the New York Times fashion critic, said of catwalk shows, that "there's something about the personalities of models, the personalities of editors, and the spectacle of it and the groupies. . . . There's something about being made up, the humanness of all that."

All of this and more was present in this season's Davit Meursault show. This brand is an intriguing proposition as it's a label with a designer who doesn't actually exist. You see, the real — anonymous — designer creates collections that Meursault, if he existed, would design.

Confused? No matter, the brand showcased — with the help of androgynous male supermodel Andrej Pejic — an accomplished collection of vibrant and contemporary apparel for a sophisticated following.

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while supermodel Andrej Pejic (right) struts his stuff for the Davit Meursault designer who doesn't exist. WILL ROBB PHOTO

This "Another View" collection, as it was titled, was a playful attempt at challenging notions of perception. For one thing, the 1,000 guests at the rugby stadium location had different experiences of the event depending on where they were sitting. For another, the collection was also being shown live on the stadium's massive screen.

The clothing also played at multi- perspectives as, at first look, a camouflage suit quickly became floral pattern at closer scrutiny. Blousons had different details on the left and right sides and both outerwear and bottoms were reversible. Clever, contemporary and cool, Davit Meursault took the catwalk experience into the 21st century — whoever he or she is.

Meanwhile, banal chic bizarre, the label based in Tokyo's youth shopping hub of Harajuku that's known for its unisex philosophy, presented its "Teamer" collection based around a fashion-gang narrative led by a bunch of soushoku kei (herbivore guys) in helmets who love and share a fashion ideology.

Very military-looking with army-logo tees, tops with straps and plastic buckles, light-knit ponchos and a variety of fabrics the collection played out like a fey, modern Japanese version of '80s English soccer casuals.

One European editor confessed it was "very avant-garde and very Tokyo!" Then there was Lad Musician, now a staple of the Tokyo shows, which continued on its arty path with a collection inspired by Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray." Essentially modern interpretations of foppish 19th-century styles, it seemed a natural progression from last season's capes and fangs vampire theme.

For its part, Discovered, designed by Sanae Yoshida and Tatsuya Kimura, excelled in its third season of runway presentations. Taking late '70s and early '80s English youth culture as a starting point, the denim and braces paid homage to skinhead and punk styles while the vibrant checks, also seen in the collections from Lad Musician and Phenomenon, seemed like a direct paean to iconic Japanese fashion brand Comme des Garcons.

And indeed, then there was Takeshi Osumi's Phenomenon, which shrugged off last season's heavy street influences (which some said had limited appeal) and opted for a more commercial direction this time around. Denim on denim, strong military looks, injections of cobalt blue and the use of straw for a range of accessories takes the brand into a more mainstream and creative playing field.

Now we just have to wait and see where they will all be leading us next time round with the fall/winter creations they'll roll out in spring.


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