A daily bulletin of news & opinion

24 October 2009

Some cities grind to a halt during fashion week. In Tokyo, one of the few clues that a major fashion event is unfolding is the occasional spotting of long-limbed off-duty western models in the streets.

Tokyo has long been a metropolis famous for its trend-triggering street culture, innovative creativity and sophisticated retail industry. And so, in theory, it is not wildly unrealistic to assume that it should also be home to a headline-grabbing fashion week to rival Paris, New York and London. But Tokyo is a city of contradictions – and testimony to this is its unexpectedly low-key Japan Fashion Week. Despite the city’s impeccable creative credentials, the ninth event will close tomorrow (Sunday) having once again failed to cause a ripple on the international fashion scene.

Fashion retail may be an area at which Tokyo excels – as reflected in the queues at Uniqlo, award-winning Muji minimalism and cult brands such as Bathing Ape. But the urban paradox of the city’s off-the-radar fashion-week event is as consistent as it is perplexing.

It was in 2005 that Japan Fashion Week Organization was set up to bring together the fashion industry with biannual government-funded events. This week, 48 labels have been showcasing their collections at Tokyo Midtown, with visitors figures expected to match the 20,410 people who attended March’s shows, alongside 600 journalists, a third from overseas.

Highlights so far range from the ethereal, sculptured shapes of mintdesign to the futuristic vinyl textures of Dress33. Lowlights include the amount of international mainstream press coverage given not to the designers but to a “best jeanist” award bestowed upon the new prime minister’s alien-friendly wife for her denim-wearing skills.

All in all, for many young designers and fashion industry workers in Tokyo, the event is struggling to earn the credibility and respect bestowed upon its more high-profile, all-singing, all-dancing international counterparts.

The reason for this? In part, the exodus of numerous big name designers – the nation’s fashion triumvirate of Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto have long shown their collections in their adopted Parisian homes. Dress Camp and Yamamoto’s daughter Limi Feu are among younger generation labels following suite and opting for a Gallic collection setting. The fashion talent drain continues with numerous young designers following the tradition of studying or working in European fashion houses.

One fashion veteran says: “I remember going to a fashion-week opening party and finding a room full of salarymen. There was no sign of Tokyo’s creative fashion scene. Many independent young labels prefer not to be associated with it.”

If you looked hard enough, however, there were some interesting events this week – off schedule. One took place in the minimalist confines of Museum at Tamada. Featuring a sound-and-fabric installation from the Pelican Avenue label with Alex Murray-Leslie from Chicks on Speed alongside several runway shows, the event was creative, unexpected and fun.

As one guest said at the end: “This is exactly the kind of thing Japan Fashion Week should be staging.” If that does happen, only then will Tokyo’s fashion week get the attention it truly deserves – and maybe even reverse the city’s exodus of talent, giving London, New York and Paris a run for their money.


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