Tokyo Fashion Week is coming to Italy this rapidly approaching January, bringing with it the best in Japanese menswear courtesy of Yuichi Yoshii (who curated Versus Tokyo) and Akiyoshi Mishima (the man behind Fugahum) who has taken control of the Neon Genesis Evangelion fashion line – Radio Eva. An odd mix perhaps? But then again this is a move funded by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry as part of their “Cool Japan” promotion program and they clearly have no problem about packaging all Japanese cultural commodities together, unlike the fashion industry. Besides, as I wrote about in my column for The Japan Times this month, the Evangelion fashion line is actually pretty damn cool and on top of that I cannot stress enough that, from my brief spell living in the Milan area, Evangelion is obscenely popular and will almost certainly garner the event a huge amount of media attention in Italy.
The bigger question looming over the event as a whole is quite simply – will it work? In the past the strategy of “reverse importing” by Japanese brands who exhibit in Paris or Milan predominantly to raise their stock and status in the Japanese market without actually selling to any foreign buyers at all (well, maybe a t-shirt or two) is well established and is even now a proven model. On the other hand, foreign media has proved itself unbelievably adept at completely ignoring seasonal Japanese fashion and don’t get me started on the complicit cultural imperialism by the Japanese media that guarantees Louis Vuitton constant celebration whereas the domestic brands only get a name-check when worn by the flavour of the month.
While the latter attitude I find inexcusable, I do have vague sympathy for foreign buyers and journalists because Japanese fashion can be pretty difficult to penetrate sometimes. A quick glance at the sheer number of established Japanese brands (so not even including young brands who haven’t got a foot in the door) will present you with a terrifying number that even a J-fashion expert might not have all heard of, never mind getting your head round all their demographics, influences and histories. I can’t help but feel that most people who approach the subject end up running off with their proverbial tails between their legs because it is often easier to ignore it all than open Pandora’s box.
This is all leading up to me saying – this is exactly why I believe that this Tokyo Fashion Week in Italy is such a good idea. It is a palatable number of brands, presented in an internationally-friendly way and not even a PR conflict to speak of. As to be expected of Pitti Uomo, the list is menswear dominated and is basically the Versus Tokyo crowd with a couple of smaller names thrown in: mastermind JAPAN, PHENOMENON, FACETASM, soe, DISCOVERED, WHIZ LIMITED, plumpynuts, AMBUSH, SWAGGER, .efiLevol, blackmeans, YAECA, STEAM AND THREAD, Black & Blue, HABANOS, NuGgETS, VAINL ARCHIVE, FLAPH, Terrem and T9G.
Looking over that list, I thing we can pretty much agree that with the exception of a bit more underground representation outside of blackmeans, that is a pretty solid showing of Japanese menswear that could be a hit internationally without needing any localisation for the market. It is only a snapshot of the market, but it is representative and could go on to create the same international cultish followings that we saw in the 90s streetwear explosion.
With all that said, I am sure you have spotted the elephant lurking in the room – what about a “Fashion Week” abroad for women’s brands? Well, there has been the Tokyo Eye project and a couple were part of Tranoi, but that is nothing compared to the government funded push that menswear is getting. I might have to eat these words if there is an event announced in the next couple of days, but it appears that Japanese menswear is being thought of as ready for international attention, whereas the women’s is not, despite the best attempts of Lady Gaga to promote it. That will be a discussion for another time, but I am glad to see Japanese menswear finally getting the attention it deserves. It is to my mind clearly cumulatively the best in the world and all it needs now is a couple of iconic designers to become the “face” of the industry to give Japan the same kind of identity it had with CDG and Yohji back in the 80s.
We will have to wait till January the 10th for the exhibitions to get going, and I only hope all the brands get the attention they deserve – and not just Radio Eva.