Jenny Fax’s latest SS 2014 collection has been one of the most talked about shows of the Tokyo Fashion Week season, with the common thread of most of the discussions involving it hinging on the simple point that everyone loved it – but they were just not sure why. Indeed, there were an awful lot of people at the show who seemed very out of place, I bumped into an editor for a high-profile publication usually only concerned with the cut of men’s suits who had found himself drawn there by virtue of every female staff member of his staff insisting that it was “the” show to watch. This almost incomprehensible draw is all the more remarkable when you consider that everything Jenny Fax designer Shueh Jen-Fang does is a personal story plucked from her own memories, and given that those memories are exclusive to the specific upbringing of a Taiwanese designer outside Japan just why does she have such appeal?
The answer is that even though the latest collection was spitting out references to Chinese cabbage, ghost stories and illustrators probably unknown to the majority of the audience, the sense of nostalgia, awkwardness and exploration of femininity is outright universal. I always feel sorry for Jen-Fang after the shows, not least because she has to answer questions in translation via her husband Mikio, but mainly because everyone wants to ask her personal questions, when she has just spent the whole show opening up in the most incredibly intimate detail.
This time there were two sides to her fashion show story that captured her life caught between Taiwan and Japan perfectly, an outsider in both we find her picking out traditional Chinese dress in fetishistic PVC, while also making gothic lolita fashion inspired dresses using characters from Chinese folk tales. This was all framed through the classic Jenny Fax lens of nostalgia and 90s kitsch featuring riot girl chunky boots and bleached denim paired against kinderwhore skirts harking back to the designer’s youth, and further still with the reoccurring unofficial Cabbage Patch Kids motifs and infantile crying hearts, all making this perhaps the best chance to see all the elements of the Jenny Fax world in one place.
New additions came via work produced in collaboration with knitwear designer Rurumu who contributed a series of deconstructed knits that deliberately failed to give any modesty to the young models. Whether it was in the PVC interpretations of Chinese traditional wear, the lolita fashion bloomers worn as outerwear or the too sheer layers, the models were all robbed of the innocence of childhood usually associated with the items of clothing Jen-Fang reinterpreted, their youth and femininity was sullied, but they marched on regardless. It was a very telling commentary on the symbolic potency that certain items of clothing hold, and given that Mikio Sakabe has explored this topic so thoroughly in the school girl sailor uniform, it is not surprising to find Jenny Fax focused on the same themes.
This piece was perhaps the most confrontational, indeed when I was in the showroom I felt uncomfortable just being in the same room as it.
The crying hearts offering very little protection.
As the show progressed the references switched from Taiwan and Chine to Japanese street fashion. This illustration of Marie from iconic shoujo manga “The Rose of Versailles” is actually by the designer’s own sister, the crude delivery emphasizing a sense of cultural distance.
Here a cute pure white dress is stained with blood – not all symbolism has to be opaque.
A laundry bag is the inspiration behind this very sweet top.
A classic Baby the Stars Shine Bright dress is the inspiration for this lacy affair, after the show Jen-Fang revealed to me that she might have a slight penchant for Japanese lolita fashion, hence her take on the subculture being such a loving homage.
Oscar turns up to balance out Marie, and note the red thread on the wrist – worked that out yet?
Childhood finds itself paired with kinky pink pvc on this romper.
Once again the symbols of youthful femininity offer very little protection.
The grubby faces and greasy hair in the styling were a stroke of genius, as was the direction which had the girls looking dejected or in disapproval at the audience watching them – the coincidental addition of a light sprinkling of rain at the outdoor venue on the day finished off the sense of tragic pathos perfectly.
In the showroom you could really appreciate the quality in what you might assume could be a gimmicky collection.
The riot girl jeans were draped at the waist to ensure that oversized wrapped waist effect.
The excruciatingly detailed dress was all the more grim in person.
The lolita inspired print was fantastically well observed with lots of nice variation, and sat on the “ita” fence in a fashion befitting of Jenny Fax.
Lovely custom lace featured throughout.
Hopefully I have given you enough reasons to buy into the Jenny Fax universe by now, but I have a sneaking suspicion that many people will want to dismiss this out of hand without taking the time to delve into the layers of experience required to see what is going on here. At the very least you have to respect Jenny Fax for staying true to her very personal vision and producing something that requires you to actually process it rather than mindlessly consume.