If Mikio Sakabe’s last Tokyo Fashion Week collection was a dissection of gender roles in fashion, then this time his discussion had moved on to perhaps the biggest taboo in Japanese popular culture today, the fetishization of youth. His young, muscular and oiled models pounded the catwalk, every inch the image admired by female j-pop fans, but rendered emasculated through pastel night gowns and boxer shorts embroidered with this year’s key Harajuku street fashion trend – cats. It was a comment on both women’s desire to stay in ever younger gender roles, but also the men who want to escape to that same kawaii world far away from the adult one forced upon them, indeed, a grown-up looking trench coat made an appearance, but made out of PVC as if it were cosplay of an adult. There was also an extent to which Mikio was drawing attention to just how young the image aspired to is is Japanese fashion, the pastels and sheer fabrics we associate with the likes of Nadia and the Ura-Hara streets is virtually that of an infant, and by putting this image on men and even going so far as to include items that looked almost like diapers, he drew attention to just how uncomfortable a reality that is. The tension between that and the young virile men made for a very provocative show that is almost certainly going to be the talking point of Tokyo Fashion Week for months to come.
If you looked at some looks in isolation you might be tempted to think that this was a positive account of Japan’s on-going cultural infantilism, no, the show may have included pristine, pastel dresses featuring the text “Broadway” (a reference to Nakano Broadway – the hub of otaku subculture in west Tokyo), but by the end this series of Broadway items were ripped to shreds, the dream of hope in the 80s reduced to tatters in the 2000s. High school girl inspired tailoring once again turned up on the catwalk in surprisingly wearable variations and colourways, but also more masculine jackets, but still rendered in pastels as if to deny the coming of age connotations and adult identity. Sakura flowers too played a big role, an obvious symbol for fleeting youth, but also a fundamentally female image, here reclaimed by men in a state of eternal youth.
The key styling point was these boyish boxers coupled with the sheer layers as below:
The curious combination of the masculine and feminine is one well explored in Japanese otaku culture in products aimed at both genders in very different ways. This is not the androgyny of men admired by fujoshi, but a co-existing masculine and feminine, a new gender in and of itself.
On a practical note there were a huge number of items with hit written all over them, and I don’t doubt that women will end up buying this collection as well.
The symbol of the crucifixion has always played a large part in Mikio Sakabe’s work, here it re-emerges through the idea of living and dying young.
The first of the Broadway items.
The tailoring has always been Mikio’s commercial strong point, and his elegant layers were looking like the most wearable way to take this provocative message to the street.
The PVC cosplay jacket.
The sakura petals looking as wilted as the model.
The dreams of otaku culture in the 80s come to nothing and retreating from there back to youth.
The petals blooming.
The show climaxed with some easy wearable pieces, that no doubt we will start spotting all over the city in due course.
The jumpers are always a personal highlight, this variant leaves the anime imagery behind from the last two seasons and settles for that of cute culture for young girls.
The final look concluded the crucifixion motif with an image of the Madonna and child obscured by golden blossom – a reflection of the idealized purity of youth that pervades fashion and indeed all aspects of Japanese pop culture.