I don’t mind admitting that this has been a good year for us here at Tokyo Telephone, not least because as those close to us will already know, that we are engaged with a ridiculous Japanese-style wedding planned for next year, but also because we have expanded our operations to include buying for foreign select shops, a teaching position at Bunka university and we might even be working on a book to be published late next year.
All this has meant that we have been broadening our horizons both at home and abroad and it has really got us thinking about what “Japanese fashion” really means. It strikes me that people’s awareness of Japanese fashion has never been higher internationally, and yet what they mean by that can differ enormously. Just taking in the case of foreign observers in the last year I have met acolytes of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, collectors of Number (N)ine, people who know everything there is to know about The Virgin Mary (and the culture that surrounds it), people whose knowledge of Japanese brands ends outside Tokyo Fashion Week and more than enough vintage Comme des Garcons and Yohji aficionados, all claimed to like “Japanese fashion”, but obviously what they mean by that differs greatly.
But then again, why wouldn’t it? Even for Japanese people it takes an extraordinary level of awareness to know about say, all the A-Net brands, all the Mark Styler brands, all the heritage brands, all the TFW brands, add to that the culture that surrounds individual shops, the vintage scene and the music and culture that accompanies fashion and it is a dizzying universe that is quite simply too much to take in. No wonder it is easier for Japanese people and foreign observers alike to look to Paris and Milan as the proven entities of fashion allowing them to ignore the intimidating vast swathes of untaped Japanese talent just waiting to be explored.
I am a strong believer that it is this issue of identity that Japanese fashion needs to overcome in order to expand both at domestically and internationally, but that is rather easier said than done. After all since the 80s there has been no real definitive face/ambassador of Japanese fashion, relying instead on wacky street fashion (that is often an aggregation of non-branded items) or else figureheads like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu who make a name for themselves and not individual designers. The only brand close to changing that is to my mind is Anrealage, but even they will struggle to present an image of substance as the brand concept changes each and every season.
So if that is the problem, then what is the answer? Well I have my own opinions, but it is Christmas and I would rather mull over that with a drink and a mince pie (the very devil to get hold of in Tokyo) than answer right now and I would encourage you to do the same.
In the meantime I would like to present one perfect physical representation of Japanese fashion courtesy of WrittenAfterwards and Wut Berlin. A Christmas concoction made in parts of traditional Japan, including a tatami mat shell, but decorated with foreign designers and models. As metaphors for the current state of Japanese fashion go it is pretty literal, so drink in the details and make your own mind up:
The year of the snake is approaching fast!
Viv as the angel of one of the trees.
Merry Christmas everyone!