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Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010

'Underground' surfaces in fine Tokyo style

Staff writer

Deliberately distancing themselves from the mainstream of Japan Fashion Week, designers from a quartet of rising young Japanese brands got together and staged an extravagant "underground" fashion show of their own instead.

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Edgy: Big sleeves and an A-bomb motif by Mikio Sakabe.

The creators, hailing from the labels Mikio Sakabe, banal chic bizarre, Yuima Nakazato and Takashi Nishiyama, comprise the four cutting-edge names in Japanese fashion that are attracting the most attention at the moment.

Though each of them has a different style and philosophy, the designers — who chose to show in Tokyo to coincide with JFW that ran through Oct. 24 — shared a common goal of using their overseas experience and training and cooperating together to make fashion fun. Oddly enough, the fact that such promising young talents chose to show on their home turf rather than head off overseas was a fresh and surprising move in today's Japanese fashion scene — as, indeed, was the famed Yohji Yamamoto's first show in Tokyo in 19 years.

Titled "Yohji Yamamoto the Men 4.1 2010 Tokyo," that landmark event back on April 1 was a surprise to many in Japan because the really big names such as him who have built Japan's worldwide reputation now generally opt to show abroad and not at home. As a result, the twice-yearly JFW events have long been considered poor reflections of the best the country has to offer.

On Oct. 19, at a venue they named "roomsLINK" set up in Yoyogi National Stadium, the doors to the gang's shows opened at 8 p.m. A large crowd of young people dressed as if they'd just jumped off the pages of a Tokyo street-fashion magazine lined up while members of the press slipped past them.

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hologram chic by Yuima Nakazato. CHANGE FASHION PHOTO

At 8:40 p.m. Mikio Sakabe kicked off the fashion show series with the appearance from behind a black curtain of a blonde Japanese girl in a pyjama-like white shirt bearing KFC's iconic image of Col. Sanders' smiling face.

For its spring/summer 2011 collection, Sakabe collaborated with artist group Chim 017 Pom. Sakabe told The Japan Times that his initial inspiration for the collection of men's and womenswear was a controversial performance work titled "Pika" that Chim 017 Pom staged in Hiroshima in 2008 with the aim of encouraging young people to overcome ignorance about aspects of their history such as the atomic bombings of 1945.

With "Pika" in mind and to reflect the bizarre mix-match style of Japan's street fashion, Sakabe observed how, "Nowhere in the world but Japan would people wear a cross without being a Christian." Similarly, he pointed out how — with Tokyo's original street fashion now showing up as "fast fashion" — anyone can dress themselves up as a hippie without knowing anything of the history behind it.

Consequently, Sakabe's show was filled with irony and parodies of the current street fashions that inspire the designer himself. Then, after his models had paraded in clothes adorned with incomprehensible images or script prints, the show closed with a dance party featuring beloved cartoon characters, from Hello Kitty to Disney's finest.

Later — pointing to a Mickey Mouse head with a Chinese hat — Sakabe said, "The funny thing is, Chinese buyers don't seem to notice the finale's parody scene of, you know, a Chinese Disneyland!"

After Sakabe's show ended, staff took on the roles of sheepdogs, rounded everyone up, and got them to flock into a curtained garage with seats along the sides.

Then, as bright light flashed over the audience, the show staged by banal chic bizarre began. True to its "eccentricity in simplicity" concept, the unisex brand presented casually dressed young men sporting slightly avant-garde touches and the odd rough edge such as military patches or cut-off denims. As for the natural-looking men in high heels, skirts and other gender-bending attire — well, for sure we'll be seeing them on the streets of Harajuku very soon.

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Headliner: Casually dressed models in helmets portrayed unisex brand banal chic bizarre's "eccentricity in simplicity" concept.

Having glimpsed the near future courtesy of banal chic bizarre, it was time for Yuima Nakazato to show his menswear creations. Amazingly, though already famed for designing some of pop star Lady Gaga's stage costumes, and kitting out U.S. pop star Fergie, this was to be his first official collection.

Explaining why he was third in line, Nakazato said, "The leader would be Mikio Sakabe, but we all came together to throw this event and I simply chose to do my show later in the evening because it had a darker mood."

Though "dark" was the designer's view, it didn't really seem that way afterward. In fact, Nakazato had prepared a simple set featuring a tepee-like structure, from which an all-male string of models appeared one by one in dresses and high heels of hard-to-believe construction.

Nakazato told The Japan Times that, due to websites and the Internet, choosing where to show his collection is not a key concern of his — especially as it was works he'd put online back when he was a student that had caught Lady Gaga's eye. In fact, he explained that his theme is "borderless" fashion that crosses nationality, race, gender and age. And to put his theme into practice for this show, he explained, "Fashion schools in Japan, they teach such sophisticated craftsmanship when designing clothes, and that is why I asked one of them to help me put together the pieces for this show — especially the final hologram dress. I simply would not be able to easily find someone with such superior techniques elsewhere."

To repay the fashion school's favor, Nakazato also invited some of its students to take part in prepping the collection and staging the show — in hopes, he said, of "inspiring their future directions."

"While the fast-fashion trend seems exciting from outside," explained Nakazato, who admitted juggling to find the perfect balance between his haute couture concept and street-fashion market, "for the fashion students, it is the career direction many of them are naturally headed to and it can be waste of such great skills."

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Thinking big: A men's coat from cutting-edge designer Takashi Nishiyama, who drew on the video game "Monster Hunter" as the theme for his contributions to the "underground" show staged by four leading young designers outside of the JFW framework, but coinciding with that event. CHANGE FASHION PHOTO

Finally, to round off the exciting event, it was the turn of Takashi Nishiyama, to wow the audience. Though the youngest of the four, he has already won the ninth ITS (International Talent Support) Grand Prix of Italy.

For this spring/summer show of his menswear, Nishiyama drew on the video game "Monster Hunter" as his theme. While the performance was quite simple and undramatic, the designs were lavish in monstrous ways. Heavyweight, layered materials and long jackets of ripped fabrics that trailed along behind the models on the walkway came together in his animation-like character creations.

Then, looking slightly nervous immediately after the show, Nishiyama explained how his biggest inspiration was Tokyo's popular culture — such as office workers on trains playing "Monster Hunter." And although he said some of his designs may look avant-garde, he modestly confided that his works are simple reflections of the street culture he observes — and that he himself wears his own designs in his everyday life.

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