Obsess from designer Tetsuro Kitada was one of the founding members of the Dinner group, which keen readers of this site should know is the fashion incubation that gave birth to the leading lights of the new Tokyo avant garde – Balmung, bodysong and Runurunu. However, while those designers have been busy refining and redefining the Japanese scene, Obsess has been quiet to the point of silence. It turns out that he has been hiding himself away in London, working alongside friend of the site Kei Kagami (most recent exhibition here) and reflecting on what his contribution to fashion will be. That last issue of “justifying” your existence as a designer is becoming increasingly relevant of late, with more and more people wanting to enter the seemingly open and democratic landscape but ultimately completing their run through the fashion education system with the uncomfortable conclusion that they actually have very little that is new to bring to the conversation. Not that that is a bad thing as such, there needs to be a tension between those preserving the status quo and those pushing it on, and lord knows that behind every truly great progressive designer are a gaggle of talent who know how to actually sew a seam. In the case of Obsess, it is clear that his time away from Japan has been key to justifying his existence within the fashion system, in that he has returned with an outsider’s perspective on Tokyo fashion, a fashion critic – not using words, but fashion itself.
Many like to bemoan that there is no real criticism in Japanese fashion, and while it is true that there is no real public fashion criticism to speak of, it would be a major mistake to assume that people in the industry are not critical. Even if the anonymity of social media does occasionally yield the occasional acerbic remark, the lion’s share of criticism is still face to face at events, showrooms and parties, indeed, most criticism is very direct and saved for when a buyer or fashion critic goes to the showroom where honest feedback can be given in private. I can’t help but feel that the latter method is relatively constructive, certainly in comparison to cities in Europe where lip service is paid face to face – “fabulous darling” etc, and the critic smugly attacks in a public space where the designer has no right to reply.
However, I think we all know that critiquing the fashion itself is something of a distraction these days, the sensation that we are all in the belly of a very sickly beast primarily comes from the knowledge that the system itself is rotten to the core, and even as we pack our wardrobes while we can, we know that Rome will fall. What we should be criticizing is not what the system produces but the system itself, I have talked in the past about the danger of the seasonal construct, but I think we can all agree that the biggest problem facing fashion, and particularly Japanese street fashion, is the relentless rise of fast fashion.
Fast fashion is the first target that Obsess takes aim at with his first public exhibition since returning to Japan held in the Garter Gallery of the Kitakore building, Koenji. The photos strewn in the entrance were taken at an H&M sponsored party held in Harajuku, and the cheering and middle-finger toting photos from the event are contrasted against images of protest by factory workers in Bangladesh after the factory collapse in April last year that you ought to be familiar with.
The imagery finds its way on to H&M’s own t-shirts as you can see below, and although the method is a bit blunt to say the least, it certainly communicates Obsess’ manifesto.
Elsewhere fast fashion is mocked by being remade so that the labels are on the outside, acknowledging that it is easy to ignore where the clothes are made when the label is at the back of your neck, but when it is on your chest it becomes a source of shame.
The second element of Obsess’ conceit is the use of DuPont protective textiles used to shield radiation, again a blunt reference to how one can ignore the elephant in the room if one chooses to, but also alluding to the idea of false comfort in fast fashion. The idea here is that these protective textiles give some protection against radiation, but ultimately you are still exposed, likewise in the case of Japan, the comfort of consumerism yields some comfort, but in reality does little to bring you happiness.
Obsess’ splicing of juxtaposing ideas and textiles is well borne out, but I really wanted to see him apply this logic to a more structured garment so as to really put the boot in as it were.
Upstairs and still the party snaps look back at you.
Obsess saves his last three looks for the rubble strewn Garter Gallery itself:
I like how the labels and DuPont fabrics seem to be spewing out of this dress.
Below we find a cunningly reworked Forever 21 jacket in a nod to how the current generation of Tokyo street fashion finds value in reworking old items rather than consumption of the new.
And finally we find a piece closer to Obsess’ output from the Dinner days (he can really cut a suit) mixed with solar panel powered speakers and antenna capable of independently transmitting signals – which I am sure I don’t need to stress is precisely what Obsess is doing throughout this capsule collection.
I will be sure to keep you all in the loop regarding Obsess now that he is back in the country and his label is reborn. For now I don’t even have an official homepage to send you on to, so you are best off following Obsess on Tumblr for now.