Ok­i­nawa fash­ion

> New style for Ja­pan's trop­i­cal is­lands

The Sun (Malaysia) - - STYLE -

OK­I­NAWA, the Ja­panese ar­chi­pel­ago home to thousands of US troops and pop­u­lar with scuba divers, is look­ing be­yond its beach re­sorts and World War II bat­tle sites to bag a spot in high fash­ion.

A two and a half hour flight from Tokyo and closer to Tai­wan, Ok­i­nawa couldn't be more dif­fer­ent from the Ja­panese cap­i­tal, where the fash­ion set reach for tights and tai­lored jack­ets on even a balmy au­tumn day and look down their noses at home­spun "re­sort wear".

But rather than bend to Tokyo's will, two fash­ion houses on Ok­i­nawa have wider hori­zons: putting the sub-trop­i­cal is­land chain on a map of its own.

Both di­rec­tors jet­ted into Tokyo for fash­ion week to meet buy­ers and jour­nal­ists, but in­stead opted to stage their run­way shows on Ok­i­nawa Is­land – live stream­ing them on­line to reach a wider au­di­ence.

"Fash­ion is not only for peo­ple in Tokyo. That's what I want to prove," Roberto Yoshida, cre­ative direc­tor of Ok­i­nawa­made, tells AFP.

Hold­ing shows in other parts of Ja­pan, a coun­try made up of hun­dreds of in­hab­ited is­lands with a pop­u­la­tion of 127 mil­lion – around dou­ble that of Bri­tain – will make fash­ion week more in­ter­est­ing, he says.

The 38-year-old, the grand­son of a Span­ish woman, who also de­signs biker gear for Honda and runs a high-end line pa­tro­n­ised by the likes of US rocker Lenny Kravitz, held his cat­walk show on in an old ele­men­tary school with Ok­i­nawan women star­ring as his mod­els.

"I wanted to es­tab­lish a brand that rep­re­sents Ok­i­nawa," he says. "It has been my dream since high school."

The brand is of­fi­cially menswear, but his ap­peal is broader: 70% of his cus­tomers are young women from their teens to 30s, he says, and 30% come from out­side Ja­pan, mostly China, Tai­wan and Hong Kong.

US in­flu­ence For fel­low la­bel Le­quio it's also about more than the is­land's blue skies, crys­talline sea, hi­bis­cus flow­ers: it's about pro­mot­ing the is­land's unique cul­ture and his­tory.

"We want to present orig­i­nal prod­ucts that can be made nowhere else," direc­tor Yoshi­nari Kakazu tells AFP.

Le­quio's spring/sum­mer 2017 col­lec­tion fea­tures a tra­di­tional Ok­i­nawa indigo dye and Kakazu wants to move into agri­cul­ture to sup­port its pro­duc­tion with farm­ing on the wane.

He shows a beau­ti­fully soft indigo T-shirt dyed with in­tri­cate white pat­terns, which come from a ki­mono his mother wears for do­ing tra­di­tional dance.

Le­quio also has a sec­ond line, Made In Oc­cu­pied Ja­pan, that fash­ions US mil­i­tary at­tire into bags. The same cloth has been made into a hooded sun­dress for spring/sum­mer 2017.

Around 47,000 Amer­i­cans troops are sta­tioned in Ja­pan, more than half of them on Ok­i­nawa, which was oc­cu­pied for 27 years after World War II.

While US cul­ture has deeply in­flu­enced the is­land, rapes, as­saults and hit-and-run ac­ci­dents by troops, their de­pen­dents and civil­ians have also fanned con­tro­versy and protests.

"We're us­ing this name iron­i­cally to turn neg­a­tive her­itage into a plus point," says Kakazu.

Global am­bi­tions But nei­ther Kakazu nor Yoshida want to be drawn on what they think of the bases, which also pro­vide lo­cal jobs. Both have Amer­i­can friends and say US cul­ture has been a huge in­flu­ence.

Le­quio's show was held in the court­yard of an old Amer­i­can of­fi­cers' mess in what Kakazu calls "the Bev­erly Hills of Ok­i­nawa". It was live streamed on the first day of Tokyo Fash­ion Week.

For his AFP in­ter­view Yoshida wore his own sweater printed with Mickey Mouse and Ok­i­nawa, as well as wide-brimmed rap­per­style cap.

He is in­spired by French de­signer Hedi Sli­mane, who in 2016 took Yves Saint Lau­rent's run­way show to his home base in Los An­ge­les.

Yet un­like the un­re­lent­ing US drive to­wards mass con­sumerism, he has his eye firmly on cul­ti­vat­ing ex­clu­siv­ity.

Ok­i­nawa­made sells on­line but has just one, tiny Tokyo shop, which only opens at week­ends and where he says peo­ple queue for the limited chance to snap up the clothes.

"A small brand that com­petes with ma­jor brands is more in­ter­est­ing," he said.

"If I con­tinue this way, I hope some­day Nike or Supreme might ask me to col­lab­o­rate in the fu­ture." Le­quio also has big am­bi­tions. "Our clothes are lux­u­ri­ous re­sort wear with a ca­sual twist," says de­signer Hiloki De­liva. "I want peo­ple all over the world to wear them." – AFP Re­laxnews

Ja­panese Le­quio fash­ion brand's de­signer Hiloki De­liva (left) and direc­tor Yoshi­nari Kakazu pose next to cre­ations of their Ok­i­nawa- based brand in Tokyo.

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