Having covered some of our favorite shows at the 11th Japan Fashion Week, we thought it was about time we got round to uniting some of our impressions and opinions of it as a whole and also how it will influence us here at Tokyo Telephone this coming year.
Continue reading for an impressive amount of looks from the show, quotes and completely personal opinion.
First off, to describe Japan Fashion Week as a “week” is a blatant lie. Yes, the majority of JFW affiliated shows are confined to a week, but in reality it is a whole glorious month of events ranging from collections, cat-walk shows, parties etc. But it was this, shall we say, lack of unification that would punctuate the whole “week”. Contrary to other countries fashion weeks and even previous Japan fashion weeks, this time the events were spread over the whole city, across the whole month, across a huge amount of different fashion related industries.
While I embraced the variety on offer, I could not help but be somewhat frustrated in planning my days as we zipped across Tokyo making sacrifices on what we could do. Thankfully I have lived in Tokyo for a number of years (and speak Japanese), but it must have been a little trying for the uninitiated. It should be said however, that the organisers are actively trying to support foreign coverage and the help that we received was exceptional.
However, if actually being there was a slightly fragmented experience between the exhilaration of shows, champagne and snaps, then the online experience for those glued to their laptops in far-off countries was refined and expansive. Whether it was through the official tie-in with NicoNico Douga or Fashion TV uploading to Youtube you could pretty much watch all the key shows of the week vicariously replete with interviews and backstage footage. This has to be applauded and looking at the viewing statistics it seems to have been very much appreciated.
Previous Japanese fashion weeks have tended to focus on buyers and share-holders rather than press or fans and it was interesting to see the organisers developing the online aspect to appease the latter and keeping actual shows a more exclusive affair, but there were an awful lot of shows that embraced their fans and personally I enjoyed the atmosphere of those shows all the more for their presence. However it was the positioning of shows that did get me thinking – for whose benefit do the cash-strapped designers put on the shows for?
Outside of a good number of websites that do very well to publicise their own shots and brief commentary of the shows, it was depressing how few Japanese and foreign magazines were actually covering the shows – particular the lack of the former. There seems to be a rather weak link between the Japanese media and fashion industry outside of the media darlings or foreign brands.
Leafing through some magazines I found this perfectly apt quote from Kazuyuki Yamamuro, editor of WWD Japan – “Tokyo is the only place in the world where major magazine editors don’t show up at the runway shows taking place only a short taxi ride away from their offices” who then goes on to reinforce his point with – “the cancer killing Japanese fashion is the paucity of healthy relationships between the designers and the media”. Along with the press clubs at the core of the Japanese media which encourages insular relationships, under-reporting of competing brands and a continued obsession with foreign brands you can really feel the culmination of the frustration of all new Japanese designers within his words.
Well, and I don’t flatter myself that I am running Vogue here, but I do think that if anyone has the power to subvert this connection between fashion and traditional media, it has to be those of us online who are yet to explicitly swear allegiance to any brand. It is surely our responsibility to promote those starved of the oxygen of publicity, to support those who are taking risks because they have nothing to lose.
Here at Tokyo Telephone we are most certainly not saying that you should be supporting any brand because it is undervalued in Japan, it is more to aid those who are not even valued yet! I am talking about covering the swathe of brands that never turn up in magazines or those that only appear as a note in a street snap. There is so much out there that deserves to be mentioned, maybe not proportionally as much as the designers who are setting the trends, but they deserve to be acknowledged at the very least.
Mariko Nishitani, editor of the wonderful high fashion ONLINE takes a slightly different view of things – “Fashion magazines openly give priority to foreign brands, whilst magazines for Shibuya Gals are only concerned with 109 brands”. I think she did well to mention Gyaru here, as that is one media bubble that predominantly focuses on domestic brands, but only in the very tiny context of 109. This also alludes to a far bigger problem in the industry – that fashion brands share on occasion share holders and indeed parent companies with the media. No wonder that many complain that magazines lack journalism and rarely exceed catalogues of clothes. While this may be great if you can’t read Japanese as a foreign observer, it just strikes me as a shame that people can’t write with the same passion that they assemble the shoots with.
The editor of Popeye – Fumiko Ashitani has gone on record saying “Popeye tries to convey the essence of cool in a casual fashion, instead of suggesting that clothes have to be just another method of cosplay”. Indeed, it is hard to to flick through certain media outlets and see single brand ensembles and not feel like you are being sold a costume rather than an aesthetic produced as a sum of individual preferences and experiences.
Those of us involved in Japanese fashion online can relate to the last point. It is all too easy to lift an aesthetic on to your body and leave your own sense of style under-nourished. I think we must strive to not fall into the trap that magazines with stagnant circulations continue to lay and reinforce the idea that fashion should not be a purely commercial experience but rather a celebration of culture. Ultimately there is nothing wrong with being aspirational about a brand image, but once you have attained it, maybe that is the time to break down the look to the components you enjoy and from there find new things to enjoy.
Perhaps in a world where magazines are relying on free gifts to tempt readers to actually read them (or just look at the pictures), this change will be forced upon them. After all if readers want lookbooks, prices and shop information the internet does exist. For me the core of a magazine is the desire to find things to share with readers, talk to them and help them find their enjoyment in fashion – it is a hobby after all.
Maybe that is why we were rushing around Tokyo making sure we could get into shows and enjoying them no end. Maybe that is why I felt like I had found what I had been looking for all my life about 5 times a day at JFW. Maybe that is why I have devoted a quite obscene amount of time to this article.
Now I should say at this point that I did not intend this to be an assault on the Japanese Media, rather a realisation that there is so much that is under-reported out there that really should be. Of the pictures that hopefully have broken up this text it will be interesting or depressing to see how many of these brands make it beyond Men’s Non-No, Popeye, Huge, SO-EN and Spur.
But to give balance to the media, some people do just want a lookbook to flick through, personally I like some magazines because they are obscenely insular and only focus on a handful of brands that I happen to like already. When I open Men’s Knuckle I never expect to see anything that new or that challenges me intellectually, because fashion does not necessarily have to. It is merely that I remain frustrated that there is so much fashion that does not have the press club links and money behind it to create a 200 page advert each month.
The true crime is that these new brands are taking a risk and investing money into producing a wonderful show for fashion week, only for it to be ignored by those with the power who ought to bring this fashion to their readers. I felt enormously proud to be in attendance and getting back to my computer after the shows lit a fire inside to use this site for a cause I feel so enourmously passionate about.
Perhaps this is an appropriate moment to thank all the brands who participated in JFW and who were kind enough to invite and welcome us. I honestly believe it was a triumph of inclusivity that brought together design and fashion – both high and mainstream to the attentive attention of those at the exhibitions or online. From here we still have a huge amount to cover here at Tokyo Telephone, and in the interest of giving it the justice it deserves that might take some time, I hope it will be worth the wait.
What this ultimately means for us is a slight change in trajectory, or more accurately a widening of scope. There is no reason in our context why we can’t cover it all at Tokyo Telephone, not just mainstream trends, but also exciting up-and-comers. We just want to champion what should be championed in modern Japan, and fashion should be at the fore-front of people’s minds. Maybe one-day Japan could be associated with cutting-edge fashion in the same way as it used to be cutting-edge technology.
Thank you so much for sticking around to the end of this article and we really do hope that you will continue to visit this site – we do have quite a bit more that we would love to share. We have been inspired and we just want to pass that on to you.
Thanks as always go to JFW for their shots and hospitality.
Samuel outside Tokyo Midtown having a ponder – wearing too much paisley.