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Home » Archives » April 2006 » On The Brink of Fashion

On The Brink of Fashion

Thursday, April 13, 2006 Posted: 07:46 PM JST

(by Kseniya Ruvinskaya) - Has Japan arrived on the world fashion market? With its ‘cool’ street style one would surely think so; but has Tokyo produced brands that attract foreign buyers? On March 17th, Japan unveiled its 2006/2007 Fall/Winter Collections during Japan Fashion Week (JFW) in Tokyo. About fifty Japanese and foreign designers participated in the event.

In an attempt to boost JFW’s popularity, Fashion Strategy Forum condensed all collections into one week to follow the practice accepted in other cities. With a renewed interest in Japanese pop-culture and street fashion, designers in Japan are re-defining their brands and trying to bridge the gap between Japan’s fashion industry and international markets.

JFW was the second event of its kind in Tokyo, organized with government support to advance Japan’s fashion industry; since in the past decade, the industry has been losing talent to Paris and Milan, and lagging behind China and South Korea. As a prelude to the collections, JFW began with a symposium—“Fashion and Culture of ‘Cool Japan’”—featuring Suzy Menkes, the fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, as the keynote speaker. This symposium set the tone for the rest of the week—the main theme being Japan’s ability and desire to capture foreign buyers and press and export its fashion abroad. Suzy Menkes was skeptical. “But can fashion in this city hit three high “Cs”: cool, cute and creative?” she wrote in the Herald Tribune two days into JFW.

Unlike the political message established in Paris (Jun Takahashi, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren covered models’ faces and heads in what was seen as a reflection of Islamic influences), Tokyo’s was essentially commercial. Fashion Strategy Forum organized JFW around three main axes: the artistry of Japanese designers, Japan’s innovative textile industry and Japan’s business operations. In the words of Masahiko Miyake, the JFW Executive Committee Chairman, the JFW was about “the creativity of [Japanese] designers, the technological expertise of [Japanese] textiles industry, and a system of product delivery driven by the world’s most demanding consumer market.” The aim was to draw attention away from increasingly popular Western brands and promote Japanese fashion and textile industries on foreign and domestic markets.

Japan’s fashion industry aside, the week also included blatantly commercial shows by Theory, (an American label) themed “Business-to-Consumer,” and Edwin, Lee Something, Wrangler collective, titled “Jeans in Japan.” Capitalizing on celebrity power, the latter opened to Brad Pitt on the screen and pop star Anna Tsuchiya with actor Hiroki Narimiya on the runway. These weekend events, open to the public, played on the willingness of the Japanese consumer to pay enormous amounts of money for foreign brands, but ignore some of its talented domestic designers. Unfortunately, such commercial displays show that Japan is still seen as a consumer of high fashion, not its producer.

JFW proposed a variety of ideas, styles, and trends without one clear message, but with several main directions. Among the big names showing in Tokyo were Junko and Hiroko Koshino, Toshikazu Iwaya, Yukiko Hanai and Takeshi Mori. The collections of Keita Maruyama, Toshikazu Iwaya, and Yukiko Hanai were a trip down memory lane—their garments evoked an antique past of ballrooms and aristocracy. Other designers such as Eri Utsugi, Kazuaki Takashima and Hiroko Ito combined cute, serious, conservative, fun, classic, and fresh, to present an inherently Japanese contrast of ideas and concepts. Junko Koshino was one of the few designers that explicitly used Asian motifs in her pieces. Many designers looked to the Western past of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s (some even further back) for inspiration and did what Japan does best: redefined it in Japanese terms. Others, such as A.D.’s Hideo Nishimura and Ylang Ylang’s Ryunosuke Aoyagi struggled with identity crises

The collections presented during the week were serious and mature, with fur and velvet playing an important role in establishing the mood. Black and white dominated the catwalk with grays and browns as supporting colors. The general trend was toward bubble skirts and jackets, furs, elaborate headpieces, corsets and over the top glamour. JFW took its observers to a distant and mystical past and future with shapeless forms, oversized pieces and asymmetry at Lilith (by Lily Barreth) and Yab-Yum (by Patrick Ryan and Mami Yoshida), and strict lines and defined silhouettes at Takeshi Mori, Yuki Torii and Yukiko Hanai.

Despite the commercial undertones, and identity struggles of some designers, JFW was a mixture of creativity, elegance, coolness and class, but lacked electricity and social glamour of a true fashion week. A low-key event, it failed to excite the attendees.

Flavor of the Week
The Menagerie of mercibeaucoup

Mercibeaucoup, Eri Utsugi’s debut collection, was the second show on JFW’s schedule and already it overwhelmed the audience with a mix of ideas. This collection, implicative of Shibuya girls in animal character costumes, looked more like a zoo than a catwalk. Utsugi’s trench coats, dresses and shirts were worn with hats and hairdos in dramatic animal shapes. The collection was warm, cute and at the same time jarring with its contradictions.

Japanese motifs, kimonesque forms, animal prints, box pleat dresses set against animal headpieces, made for the most avant-garde collection of the season.

21st Century Geishas by Junko Koshino

Junko Koshino put on an electrifying show that evoked all the enchantment of fashion. Her skillfully crafted dresses and robes, highlighted with elaborate headpieces, had a hint of a futuristic past. Hers was an extremely modern take on the theme of kimono and the sexuality of geisha. Black fitted dresses were decorated with obi-like inserts slightly above the waist and accompanied by wide kimono sleeves. Koshino combined bustiers and corsets with dragon printed skirts under kimono-patterned robes. Koshino’s experience with opera costumes showed through in the grandeur of the collection.

Lilith’s French Pierrot

Fall/Winter 06/07 at Lilith can be summed up as classic chic. Lily Barreth, a French designer based in Japan, hid body lines behind shapeless, asymmetrical, and oversized Pierrot garments. Lilith had an element of theatrical clownism—huge bow ties, long sleeves on large corduroy suits, and puffy skirts, accentuated by Dr. Martin boots with colored ribbons taken from Takeshi Dori. The collection, mainly of black and while, was spiced with neon green turtlenecks and red overalls. Barreth craftily managed to combine her French artistic heritage with Japanese pop-culture themes.

Yukiko Hanai’s Breakfast at Tiffani’s

Yukiko Hanai unveiled a beautiful haute couture collection in subdued browns and creams. Models wearing fitted and tiered dresses, lace, burgundy velvet suits, elaborate headpieces, and big flowery accessories ignited the audience. Watch out the power suit of the 80’s and masculine lines. These garments were meant for seduction. The fitted lines and sexy earth tones accentuated female sexuality and sensuality. Resembling cinematographic costumes of Marry Poppins and Holly Golightly, the collection inspired women to be flirtations, elegant and glamorous.

Yub-Yum’s Haunted Tent

Inspired by a recent Nicole Kidman horror film “The Others,” Yab-Yum took its viewers to a haunted house. The tent was transplanted from Tokyo to an enchanted witch forest. Peasant skirts, corduroy jackets and pants in earthen colors, tall black trekking boots, feathery accessories, shapeless forms and layers, all combined to give the collection an outdoor feeling.
Yab-Yum’s Patrick Ryan said after the show that, “There’s pressure to always be new and different, to recreate yourself every season and surprise the critics.” Yab-Yum’s challenge this season was to work counter to its popularity and go back to its roots rather than search for newness. This season’s collection included old ideas and pieces from previous years of Yab-Yum’s 12-year history.

DressCamp: Pirates of the Caribbean on Acid

Renowned Toshikazu Iwaya wrapped up JFW with his highly acclaimed and anticipated haute couture DressCamp collection. Iwaya kept the anxious crowd waiting outside for an hour while he ran a late dress rehearsal to perfect the delivery of his collection. The appeasing pre-show Champagne only worked for the first thirty minutes. But, once the irritated fashionistas settled inside DressCamp’s baroque castle, they were impressed with Iwaya’s crisp brilliance. The curtain opened to Vivaldi’s Summer from Four Seasons, filling the tent with dramatic tension and sexual energy as corseted courtesans and aristocrats in furs paced down the catwalk. Muscular Johnny Depp look a-likes, clad in tight transparent checked shirts, top hats and capes shot cool piercing gazes at the photographers and the audience. Iwaya revealed his “Phantom of the Opera-esque” masquerade with rose petals flowing from the ceiling and vulgar expressions of desire splattered all over the runway.

The collection was exactly what its name suggests—it was camp. Iwaya combined modernity with 17th century Versailles, sexual aggression with class, and everyday wear with theatricality. Headpieces, veils and corsets emphasized the artificiality of the entire show. Animal printed fabrics combined with real foxes on men’s shoulders projected a feeling of fake greatness. Women sported bustiers slightly covered with flower printed transparent shawls.

The final curtain captured the tension on a climactic note and also signaled the end to Fashion Week.


With mild success JFW showed that it has potential to become an influential event in the future, but it still has a long way to go in capturing foreign hearts. There is a conflict between Japan’s street style sense and its ability to export that style abroad. Tokyo, in some sense, is the true capital of fashion, where it is played out on the streets more than on the runway. Nevertheless, while Paris, Milan, London and New York have established their niches, Tokyo remains an open question. What will Tokyo become in the world of fashion? With only 90 foreign press and 20 foreign buyers attending this spring’s collections, the answer stays unclear. If nothing else, JFW will continue to provide a playing field and springboard for designers in Japan.

Kseniya Ruvinskaya is a freelance writer in Tokyo. In the past she has written for Japanzine and has worked with Time Asia. Kseniya graduated from Haverford College with a degree in English Literature. She moved to Japan right after graduation to pursue her interest in Japanese culture. She enjoys writing about Japanese fashion and design, and is currently planning her move to New York to become a fashion writer.

Keywords: culture_news trends_lifestyle

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3 comments so far post your own

1 | At 12:05am on Mar 14 2007, Ini Okopedeghe wrote:
In Japan, what comes first fashion on the streets or fashion on the runway. In other words, does street fashion drive what we see on the runways or do visa versa.

Thank you,
2 | At 08:00am on Mar 14 2007, Kjeld Duits wrote:
I think all over the world, designers nowadays are strongly influenced by what happens on the street. Having said that, not all designers are the same of course. That is especially true in Japan. Designers like Yukika Hanai and Hiroko Koshino have few to no influences from the street, whereas brands like Dresscamp and N-net seem to be almost designed as street fashion.
3 | At 06:56pm on Jun 24 2008, okeke udoka nwamka wrote:
l have a flair for designing and l need a help from a designer in japan.
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