I seem to spend most of my time trying to show that Japanese fashion is more than the “wacky” stereotype that some people seem to want to desperately cling to, and it is with that caveat in place that I urge you not to put Mikio Sakabe’s latest collection into that camp, because by doing so you would deprive yourself of one of the most stimulating shows out of the whole of Tokyo Fashion Week. In his runway show that he worked on with his partner who helms Jenny Fax, Mikio Sakabe dared to break the proverbial fourth wall of Japanese fashion, and comment on fashion and culture in a way few have done in any media.
It can’t have escaped anyone who is even vaguely involved with Japanese fashion that we are seeing a wave of culture turn the superflat kawaii concept posited by Murakami Takeshi into the excessive kawaii culture of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and aggressively infantile themed fashion in popular girl’s culture, and moe and AKB48 stalking culture on the boy’s side – generalisations, but you get the point. This new kawaii culture is a little bit different to get your head around, and certainly seeing the aforementioned KPP and the likes of Momoiro Clover Z packaged so differently for their appearances in male and female publications does not help. Personally I believe it is potentially a culture of great value when the inherent rebellion and defiance of societal and gender norms is expressed, but not when it does not exceed a squealed “kawaii”.
This is basically a long way of saying, please don’t think of this as a collection of men wearing girls school uniforms – it is, but don’t stop there. The concept behind the work (and I am summarizing so this does not become an essay) was to take the idea of kawaii from a male/otaku perspective, i.e. the imagined purity, the youth, elements of infantilism and mix in the way that Harajuku girls use kawaii as a 6% dokidoki rebellion. In this way you have a team of men holding a mirror up to society that has created this uncomfortable, yet celebrated view of young girls, while at the same time exaggerating the spirit of rebellion that kawaii can also possess. There is a nice parallel to be drawn between otaku culture that enjoys its status as dame outside society, and the no less controversial rejection of norms presented by girl’s kawaii culture.
Well if that is the theme, then what about the clothes? The collection is unisex, using an all male cast purely to hammer the point home for the sake of the show, with a couple of concessions to gender in some items, for example, the skirts are actually shorts, as even Mikio Sakabe understands that might be a step too far. The hints of satin and stacked shoes reference ura-Harajuku favorites like Nadia, while nerdy trainers and sweatpants recall Akihabara. The details too continue that theme, and you can see parodies of the Harajuku favorite Vivienne Westwood’s orb hanging around some of the model’s necks, next to embroidered images of moe heroines. In terms of coordination, the deconstructed uniform finds its way into tailored jackets and relaxed cardigans, which all goes to show that even in isolation it is an item of clothing that borders on the iconic. In the colours we find pastels and awkward off-whites getting across the theme of purity, but elsewhere a merciful amount of black and grey might see this worn outside of the niche group that are already on-board with the Mikio Sakabe vision.
Personally I think that Mikio Sakabe and Jenny Fax have surpassed themselves with this collection. By reaching out beyond the Dempa Gumi and other female idols that have worn the work in the past (and on the front of this month’s Harajuku magazine), they have created something that is abrasive and demands actual thought to understand over the “wacky Japanese fashion” label that you could have slapped on it in the past.
I for one am looking forward to seeing how Tokyo wears this later this year, but I think my skirts will continue to be from Rick Owens…