News reached us this week that cult men’s brands Phenomenon and Swagger (both helmed by designer Takeshi Osumi – aka Big O) have filed for bankruptcy protection just shy of one month ahead of Tokyo Fashion Week this March. The trail leads right back to Alison, the company behind the brand, who too is scheduled to be disolved due to accumulated debts (some 547 million Yen – a truly staggering figure). Without exception everyone I have spoken too has been surprised by both the news and the numbers involved, but looking beyond the hype you can start to put the picture together. After all, Phenomenon has been particularly bombastic with its presentations the last three Fashion Weeks, the three since Mercedes-Benz put their hand on the wheel and the three where the price of putting on a show has rocketed well into the stratosphere. It must also be said that obviously in these kinds of situations everyone is quick to compare the situation to Nigo and BAPE, but I would hold off on that until we know the full details.
So if the money has largely gone on the promotion and creation of hype that came naturally to the ura-hara scene in the late 90s, then why wasn’t it coming back? The short answer is that looking at (particularly) Phenomenon’s takings, the figures read quite well, but just maybe not quite well enough for the amount going out. But putting aside the financial side of things (which will no doubt unfold in time), is there anything in the design that has lost the support of the backers? Certainly the avant-garde street level anarchy the brand used to be synonymous with, and which I have fond memories of from the Shinjuku 2-Chome days of Candy, where street wear was spliced with armor and iconic pieces of street art seemed to effortlessly fall on to the racks, seems to have all but faded. This does makes sense for any developing designer, especially as Phenomenon was looking like it was ripe for international expansion, but was it starting to feel a little too conservative?
Personally, I always used Phenomenon as one of the key barometers of menswear in Japan, I think it nailed trends one after the other and made some of the most innovative menswear out there. Granted the most recent collection did feel a little too safe for me, maybe a bit too European for the face of Tokyo menswear, but still a fine showing none the less.
At any rate you can make your own mind up:
So where does this leave us? Currently Alison is looking for a potential backer for Phenomenon and that is going to determine both the future of the brand in the long term and whether we will see it on a runway this March.
I sorely hope that a buyer is found who can keep the brand kicking and Takeshi Osumi designing the work that has quite rightly earned him the reputation as the face of Tokyo menswear. Certainly if this kind of talent is allowed to fall by the wayside, Tokyo will have made a serious mistake.