Tokyo Fashion Week has come and gone for another season, bringing with it a hit of adrenaline as you are presented with the illusion of the new, an excitement that has a tendency to quickly dissipate when you realize that in all the furor you are largely watching remixes of ideas rather than anything that actually adds to fashion. This rather unfair criticism is easily leveled when designers are up against the seasonal clock, with buyers and backers dictating creation and the media stripping away all mystique in the course of their debatable duty. Maybe it was because this season in general and menswear in particular was a mash-up of European classics, whether it was the tuxedoes spliced with punk at 99%is or the “on-trend” urban heritage at Mr Gentleman, the remixes were laudable, sellable and out-right cool, but… were they new? Especially in a Tokyo where you have a world of vintage at your fingertips and a whole host of people re-making clothing on a street level, surely the higher echelons of fashion should be existing to create, rather than re-style with a higher quality of finish? That is not a criticism aimed at individuals, as personally I believe that the sense of a unified worldview that the individual brands create is the justification of their existence in and of itself, but of the culture of remixing European fashion that Japan has for too long limited itself too.
This was the theme central to Mikio Sakabe’s latest collection, held pointedly off schedule and packed with fans as well as industry, the show was almost a parody of the rest of the week: while everyone else was content to remix and repeat Eurocentric fashion from an East Asian viewpoint, he was going to do the same to East Asia from a European perspective. The tendency of de-contextualizing fashion exemplified by striping military insignia of all meaning and applying epaulettes to anything that moves is not necessarily an issue exclusive to Tokyo, but it is a groove that the world at large could do with getting out of, and while Mikio Sakabe’s show had the controversy necessary to make you feel like shots had actually been fired, it was a step in the right direction to finding a Asia-centric perspective of fashion.
This being Mikio he wasn’t going to stop before he had taken this idea to its logical conclusion, and of course it was his idea of unlearning Western views of gender that was placed foremost, and in particular via his use of a mashup of East Asian ideas you couldn’t help but jump to ideas of divine androgyny in Taoism and pre-colonialism acceptance of a third gender in Asia – even through the pop-culture lens.
Needless to say this pop-culture lens was never far from the looks, the idea of making a cheongsam into a bodycon shape is not one exclusive to fashion, but also depictions in anime and manga culture as well as a gulf of sexualized interpretations sold as “China Dress” (try putting that into Google images in katakana). There seemed to be a number of references to that culture throughout the collection, and by placing this sexualized view of other East Asian women as seen from the Japanese perspective on men, Mikio confronted this perspective, using it to challenge his favored topic of gender, but also race in the process. Especially when placing those elements side by side with an image on the t-shirts by Ai Madonna of a manga character in a provocative unknown state of either pleasure or pain, the effect was challenging and started a conversation I hope he plans to continue.
Mikio Sakabe started the show with a number of more accessible pieces that established his key themes of lace, ribbons, silk, kanji and dragons that became a deliberately orientalist brew.
The middle of the show was dominated by sheer layers, excruciatingly well embroidered and beautiful as ever.
Next came patterns derived from kanji as picked by Jenny Fax’s designer and Mikio’s wife Taiwanese Shueh Jen-Fang. The kanji were deliberately unknown to Mikio himself (apparently meaning love and luck and often used on wedding cards according to one of my Singaporean students), in a knowing nod to random use of kanji in Western fashion and built towards some fantastic shapes that echoed the ribbon visual theme.
Here you can see the kanji more clearly – and I love the play on the bow-tie next to the ribbon.
Having introduced all the pieces of his puzzle, the show climaxed with a series of looks that brought all his ideas together and left the audience peering into the smoke to catch every last detail.
The last models were presented almost as a gift wrapped in ribbon for the audience, and indeed Mikio Sakabe’s un-gendered perspective truly is.
In the showroom, Mikio Sakabe’s attention to detail was apparent, as was his love of making kitsch using couture level techniques.
Stand by for more of the best from Tokyo Fashion Week and the showrooms coming just as soon as I have digested it.