Traditional masculine archetypes have all but disappeared from the mainstream Japanese media - the Kenshiro-esque heroes from the 80s have long been replaced by preened pretty boys and just you try and find a TV talent whose whose butchness is not also exploited for comic effect.  Parallel to this metrosexual dominated mainstream media we also find ourselves in an economic enviroment which deprives men of their traditional gender roles as dreams of providing for a family singlehandedly and measuring ones status by the formular of “university x car x salary x height = quality of man” becomes a distant (and slightly bitter by all accounts) memory.  Thus it is not surprising in the slightest to see a degree of discord on the concensuss of what it means to be a man in the mainstream, but this phenomena is exaggerated ten fold when you take it into Japan’s subcultures.

In the case of Japanese men the curious dynamic of Moe, Idol worship and other otaku tastes often manifest themselves in men who surround themselves with these objects of affection, frequently as objects of direct physical desire, that ironically has the dual effect of both depriving the male of real physical relationships but also of surrounding said male with cute girly imagery.  This offshoot of bishoujo as the male variant of traditional shoujo style has meant that aesthetically men’s and women’s manga and anime culture has never been closer and it is starting to show in the urban realm as never before.

This phenomenon was at the heart of Mikio Sakabe’s SS 2013 collection in which he presented a gang of hikkikomori men who ambled onto the stage fearfully avoiding eye contact with the snapping cameras and settled down to read shoujo manga on stage, all the while clad in pastels and tailoring inspired by Japanese school girl uniforms.

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Contrasting with the rather weak willed men, who even had some of the hair on their legs dyed a cute pink in order to rob them further of traditional masculinity, were the bubbly twin drum unit – Band Jyanaimon! – who gently mocked the men as they came on stage between songs, themselves the embodiment of the genki kawaii culture that the men idolize.

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The ladies costumes too were designed by Mikio Sakabe, with the intended contrast that they were the epitome of cuteness, but at the same time see-through to conventional gym-wear underneath, robbing the costume above of its coquettish illusion of concealment.

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The band performed their mix of Shibuya meets Akiba pop with gusto, highlighting further the weakness of the men’s defeated posture with every beat.

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Thematically the girls were inviting the men to join in in the cute world the models were obsessed with.

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The pastel colours will likely prove difficult to wear, as will the dandyish detailing straight out of a BL manga, but men of Tokyo are long overdue a real challenge and they don’t get much bigger than this.

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As with Jenny Fax’s collection the collection was packed with references to current street style, but here the garments that currently define Tokyo femininity at the street level were worn by men.

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Mercifully there was a decent amount of tailoring to keep the collection vaguely on this planet, but only just.

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As with his AW collection Mikio Sakabe’s muse of re-imagining the Japanese school girl uniform as a male garment was central, a garment ironically inspired by men’s naval uniform.

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Here you can see the pastel coloured leg hair, as well as his take on the aforementioned iconic pleated skirt as shorts.

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The feminine tailoring, seen here with heart cuts outs on the pockets, could be straight out of a school themed anime.

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A further level of tension in an already complicated performance was achieved by the suggestion that the men might be adhering to a female fantasy as demonstrated by some of the men reading adult women’s manga.

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The boys relaxing on stage…

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Regardless of how this fashion will eventually be worn you cannot deny that Mikio Sakabe has his finger on the pulse of both Japanese fashion and culture as a whole.  Who else can introduce sociological issues like this so effortlessly while putting on a fantastic show at the same time?

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4 Responses to Mikio Sakabe – SS 2013 – New Masculinity

  1. Andrew says:

    Thanks so much for delving so deeply into all the sociology and cultural themes being played with in this collection! I think it’s interesting not only that Mikio Sakabe CAN release a collection like this, but that he does, since, although it’s not such a leap for those already familiar with the brand, Japanese culture and fashion, etc, it obviously requires quite a bit of both knowledge and effort to begin to understand it. I can only imagine the kinds of reactions this collection would/will get from others who view it without those contexts (although obviously Sakabe is not worried about it).

    Going along with your points about the culture behind the message of the collection, I’m curious what your thoughts are about the message that actually wearing these clothes could potentially convey. Of course I’m thinking that mostly buyers will attempt to blend just one or two pieces into their as-is wardrobe, but I mean, some of these pieces are so obviously taken from Tokyo femininity, as you say, I think it’d be impossible (and maybe defeat the point of the collection) to hide them. We know Tokyo is 100% accommodating of almost any conceivable fashion worn by anyone, but IS there a message one might be sending by wearing these clothes, individually or in the aggregate? Or is it simply, as you noted, an aesthetic challenge for those who dare to take it?

  2. Samuel says:

    @ Andrew

    I think the reason Mikio Sakabe is able to produce work like this is because he lives in the context that creates it – I doubt he could even imagine a world without that context! Within that he has a captive audience that will doubtless keep the brand alive regardless so I don’t think he worries about anyone who just doesn’t “get it”.

    As for how it should be worn, you are right in assuming the majority of people blend in pieces into existing wardrobes – an interesting point in and of itself as that is actually quite a hard task and one that requires a sacrifice that a lot of people seem willing to make. As for the message that it sends out to society, well that is a long discussion that I might go into at a later date, but I think it continues the “dame” narrative established by otaku culture in the past of relishing your anti-societal position. There is a lot made of young Japanese men opting out of conventional society and relationships and this strikes me as an embrace of that stigma.

  3. Very interesting read. I think one misconception people from outside of Japan tend to have is that it is very easy for anyone in Japan to wear this sort of thing, because they see that the collection exists in general. I think there are certain social pressures and “understood” responsibilities that many Japanese are “expected” to fulfill that is hard for anyone outside of being raised in Japan to completely understand..But I like what you said here.

    “There is a lot made of young Japanese men opting out of conventional society and relationships and this strikes me as an embrace of that stigma.”

    I agree, and I think that this collection is definitely a collection that more “underground” fans will love…But I can’t help but think that this sort of alternative thinking and disconnection from societal norms is slowly being embraced more and more by mainstream society in Japan.

    Sorry, that was a bit vague, but in my honest opinion I see Japanese culture, at least as far as thinking and societal norms go-changing a lot within the new 10-20 years. I may be wrong, but this collection at least makes me ponder.

  4. Samuel says:

    @ Lactose Intoler-Art

    I would agree with you 100% – I think that a lot of foreign observers miss out on how edgy and rebellious a lot of Japanese fashion is in the context of Japan itself. Yes it is probably the country most accepting of avant-garde fashion at a street level, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a massive conservative majority from which the fashionable are often distancing themselves from.

    On the other hand things are definitely reverting to the level of street level experimentation that Tokyo enjoyed in the early 90s and looking at the sociological, economic and political similarities to that era it is not all that surprising really. However I would say that there are new spikes of increased rebelliousness, particularly at the otaku end of the spectrum and that is one of the key realisations that led me down the path I am currently on.

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