Look­ing East

> For­get Paris, fo­cus on Tokyo, Ja­pan fash­ion told

The Sun (Malaysia) - - STYLE -

TOKYO may be the style cap­i­tal of Asia, but with South Korea and China snap­ping at its heels and Ja­pan's most iconic brands rooted in Europe, the city is be­ing urged to haul its fash­ion week into the big leagues.

Tokyo Fash­ion Week kicked off its spring/sum­mer 2017 sea­son show­case re­cently with six days of events in­tended to pro­mote 50 brands, a mix­ture of the es­tab­lished and the new.

Yet Ja­panese la­bels that are house­hold names in the West – led by Kenzo, Yo­hji Ya­mamoto, Issey Miyake and Comme des Gar­cons – es­chew home shores for the bright lights, pres­tige and vis­i­bil­ity of Paris.

Tokyo Fash­ion Week at­tracts only 50,000 vis­i­tors – just a quar­ter of the to­tal num­ber that at­tend New York's two an­nual fash­ion weeks, and also lag­ging be­hind London, Paris and Mi­lan.

Held af­ter the fash­ion merry ground ex­hausts the "big four", few make the ex­tra trip to Tokyo, and not many in Ja­pan be­lieve they are miss­ing out.

Ac­cord­ing to a poll from lo­cal web­site Fash­ion­snap.com, only 20% of the Ja­panese fash­ion in­dus­try, in­clud­ing de­sign­ers, stylists and edi­tors, con­sider Tokyo's events to be of in­ter­est.

The cal­en­dar, the no-show by the big­gest brands, re­luc­tance to open their doors to the wider pub­lic and slug­gish­ness to em­brace see-now, buy-now were all listed as short­com­ings by the 221 peo­ple sur­veyed.

The award-win­ning, Mi­lan­based Turk­ish de­signer Umit Be­nan, wants to change all that.

"Ev­ery­one needs to get to­gether to make the Ja­panese fash­ion week much bet­ter," the menswear de­signer told re­porters af­ter mak­ing his Tokyo de­but, hav­ing an­nounced he would ditch Paris fash­ion week

He called Ja­pan's menswear the "most so­phis­ti­cated you'll see in the streets" and said Tokyo was packed with the world's most cre­ative buyers and de­sign­ers, along with some of the most so­phis­ti­cated con­sumers around.

"I think you re­ally need to fo­cus on your own fash­ion week, try­ing to cre­ate new waves in Ja­pan fash­ion," he said, jok­ing that he loves Ja­pan so much, he vis­ited 40 times in the last five years.

He called Ja­panese fab­ric sec­ond only to Italy's. But un­like in Italy, where high fash­ion is gov­erned by pre­ci­sion, he said the Ja­panese were will­ing to take risks, such as mix ny­lon with cash­mere.

"The Ital­ians don't have the balls to mix ny­lon into a 200 euro (RM920) fab­ric," he said. "In Ja­pan they're very flex­i­ble and very cre­ative, spon­ta­neous... when you touch it you're like my God what is this?"

While Tokyo has long been a spring­board for up-and-com­ing de­sign­ers, neigh­bour­ing Seoul, with its vi­brant street style, and Shang­hai, as the com­mer­cial cap­i­tal of China, are at­tract­ing in­creased in­ter­est. "To me, Tokyo is the Asian fash­ion cen­tre with long fash­ion-for­ward his­tory," said Hong Kong de­signer Vickie Au who brought her "Ur­ban Chill" col­lec­tion to Tokyo af­ter show­ing in New York. The street look, min­i­mal style and clean lines of her House of V la­bel, this sea­son in­spired by Cana­di­anAmer­i­can ar­chi­tect Frank Gehry is well suited to Ja­panese taste. While she has bou­tiques in Hong Kong, China and Tai­wan, and on­line, she is look­ing to break into the Ja­panese and US mar­kets.

Au cited Ya­mamoto, the famed Ja­panese de­signer based in Paris, as an in­spi­ra­tion, prais­ing him as a mas­ter of "modern and avant-garde tai­lor­ing".

Chris­telle Kocher, cre­ative di­rec­tor of up-and-com­ing French la­bel Koche, also said she had learnt from Ya­mamoto and that it had been spe­cial to be the only French brand par­tic­i­pat­ing in Tokyo this sea­son.

"Ja­panese cul­ture is re­ally re­fined and I think may be more than other places, they un­der­stand the beauty of the craft and the beauty of the time to make beau­ti­ful things," she said.

US retailing gi­ant Ama­zon is spon­sor­ing Tokyo Fash­ion Week for the first time, and among the fash­ion set in Ja­pan there are hopes that it can help re­brand the event into some­thing brighter and larger.

The com­pany is al­ready the largest cloth­ing re­tailer in the United States and fash­ion vice pres­i­dent for Ama­zon Ja­pan, James Peters, sig­nalled that he is de­ter­mined to repli­cate that suc­cess in Ja­pan.

While Tokyo still fol­lows a six-month de­lay be­tween cat­walk and store, he said Ama­zon would be happy to help Ja­panese de­sign­ers fa­cil­i­tate see-now, buynow col­lec­tions in­creas­ingly at the fore in New York.

"I think if that's what the de­sign­ers want to do, we're ready to do it," he told AFP at the week's launch party. – AFP

Mod­els dis­play cre­ations by de­signer Umit Be­nan at the Ama­zon Fash­ion Week in Tokyo.

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