As Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo opens this week, Suzy Menkes says it has to be seen in the context of designers who show in Europe
Innovative cuts and hi-tech fabrics from Issey Miyake’s S/S 2016 collection
As I am visiting Japan and looking at some of the designers in Fashion Week Tokyo, I wanted to discuss three different visions of Japanese style from the perspective of the Paris shows.
No single country — not even Belgium and the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp - has been as successful as the Japanese in creating powerful and lasting fashion visions. Nor in producing second and even third generations. In the case of the incomparable Rei Kawakubo, she has nurtured other designers, or, more accurately, she has supported designers such as Junya Watanabe without interfering.
Yohji Yamamoto continues to be a Paris fixture and was the first designer to team up with a sport brand for footwear. From Issey Miyake, there is the strength of teamwork that is rare among European or American designers.
I believe in fashion as a bellwether of what is happening in the world. Just as "Swinging London" was a reflection of profound changes in British society, so the first wave of Japanese designers coming to Paris was a post-war generation with strong feelings about their country and the changing universe of youth.
Playful references and a variety of fabrics in Undercover’s S/S 2016 collection
I have followed their path. I enjoyed listening to the different voices in Paris and I look forward to following a new generation of style-makers in Tokyo.
Undercover: Circus Celebration of 25 Years
A ringmaster's waistcoat, a crown's ruff at the neck and a backpack in the shape of a fairy castle — Jun Takahashi of Undercover celebrated a quarter-century in fashion with style and skill.
The designer's ability to create whimsical outerwear has always been his strength. So has nature. I have memories of collections with branches worked into the fabric, faces masked with flowers and a show in Florence on a green hillock in the open air, where the designer had attached hand-made stuffed toys to the bushes.
The Takahashi signature is the romancing of outerwear. That does not mean putting floral patterns on bomber jackets, although fat, flat flower prints played a striking role in the circus-inspired collection for spring/summer 2016. The skill is more in the way that the clothes can be worn by both sexes rather than just a cover-up.
The ability to take active wear and give it an edge by subverting the obvious is the reason why Jun Takahashi designs a Nike X Undercover Gyakusou range as well as collaborating for four years with Japan's stylish fast-fashion brand, Uniqlo.
Perhaps the designer's early escapades as a member of the band, The Tokyo Sex Pistols have given him a sense of theatre. This season's venue in the Paris "Cirque d'Hiver", or winter circus, was a smart choice for the models to step out in their narrow-toed ankle boots, some pairs accompanying a smart checked pant suit.
Other pants had red and white stripes, as for a Master of Ceremony, or the look was feminised with pleated skirts. The designer even took the long route, in his own way: making floor-sweeping print dresses that were hip, rather than a hippie revival.
But the soul of the show was in the great exit lines, which might be just a slither of scarlet seen through a back split, tied with a tidy bow. Or one of the extraordinary attached satchels that showed the imagination of a designer who remains fresh in his ideas.
Issey Miyake: Botanical Delights
In all the razzmatazz at the European shows about established brands finding fresh talent, has anyone noticed that Issey Miyake has been quietly nurturing new designers since he gave up day-to-day design in favour of developing projects such as Pleats Please and A-POC (A Piece of Cloth)?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae has been leading the team since 2011, and he excels in bringing his own fresh spirit to the house of Miyake. From the live music to the lively clothes, here is a designer with a vision that he works into the context of the brand.
Yoshiyuki Miyamae, lead designer at Issey Miyake
This season's theme was "botanical delights", which did not mean predictable florals, but referred rather to the treatments of cloth: plant fibres woven into light summer fabrics as a literal translation of botany into clothing.
The designer also treated his materials like food, baking or steaming stretch fabrics, the effect especially evident when glue was used to mould the material into permanent pleats. The focus of this Issey Miyake garden was in no way the flower petal and greenery we have seen so often on the runway. Instead, the designer used the colours of a garden in bloom, say pink hydrangeas and yellow daffodils, shown in blocks.
More effective still were the pleats in wavy lines, creating a sensuous — and colourful — connection with the body. The designer's range went from vivid shades to the greens and browns of a garden.
In March 2016 The Work of Miyake Issey will open at the National Art Centre, Tokyo, focusing on the entire 45-year oeuvre since he began in 1970. The aim is to show how the designer has explored the relationship between cloth and body, including the space in between. It will also explain the striving for the new, which allows him to make fashion not as an eternal merry-go-round, but as something perennially fresh and different.
Miyake's interest in fashion dates back to 1960, when he was a student of graphic design at Japan's Tama Art University and sent a letter to the World Design Conference asking why clothing was not included. His entire career, including the opportunity he gives to the team he trains, has proved that his cause was just.
Sacai: A Melting Pot of Modernity
Sacai collections were once predictable: a fashion double vision showing front and back as separate units and inspirations. But the collection that Chitose Abe sent out for spring/summer 2016 was colourful, girly and less sporty than in recent collections.
The designer is smart to have given up the front/back idea before it became a cliché. But she retained her mixing skills, making the collection multi-cultural with various references taken from across the world, while colour, pattern and a womanly interest in lingerie were also stitched in.
The result was a collection where there was still back interest, but more in loose shapes than in contrast with the front. The face-off this season was richly gilded fabrics contrasting with a sporty attitude.
In her programme notes, this strong female designer explained that she was playing with "distortion", meaning that she envisioned integrating thrift shop, throw-away pieces into her work. This brought souvenir scarf prints mixed with lace, and gilded fabrics with military tailoring. She had the skill to make these varied references seem streamlined and modern on the runway.
Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo runs from 14th to 20th October