The Zetsumei series of exhibitions, events and fashion shows finally reached its climax at The National Art Center in Tokyo with a fittingly flamboyant fashion show that saw three runway shows running simultaneously, salary men taking to the catwalk and more chaos than it was possible to take in in a single sitting. The element of “saturation” is one I keep returning to again and again in Japanese fashion, particularly when in connection to the Zetsumei group of designers that is ably helmed by Mikio Sakabe and Writtenafterwards’ Yoshikazu Yamagata, and broadly includes the Coconogacco school of new creators, Jenny Fax, Takashi Nishiyama, Nusumigui, Tiit and a whole host of other graduates and orbiters of the scene. Despite the very varied styles they all work in, as a whole I can’t help but feel that they capture the element of “saturation” that is key to this generation of Japanese fashion, and more importantly to coax out a new sensibility out of the malaise of the lost generation.
The Zetsumei New Beauty exhibition was actually graced by none other than Nobuyuki Ota, chief executive of the Cool Japan project who later spoke of that latter point as being a matter of “sense” or “taste” – an extraordinary admission for someone usually concerned with quantifying Japan’s cultural currency in real terms. But that is the point isn’t it? That above and beyond commercial exports, that Japan’s real currency is Soft Power on the international stage.
Before the show we were treated to a talk between the Yoshikazu Yamagata, Mikio Sakabe and the aforementioned besuited man you will be able to spot below. For all the visible generational gap it was both a relief and pleasure to hear Mr Ota speak, especially as he is a man raised on the Paris-centric view of Japanese fashion who has ridden commercial booms impossible to replicate in the current economy, it was great to hear him recognizing the intangibility cultural value of fashion over commercialism, the importance of nurturing talent domestically rather than at fashion schools abroad, and most importantly of all, knowing better than anyone how that could benefit Japan economically in the future. That is not to say that it is going to be an easy ride from here on out, but if Cool Japan can build a economic model that includes designers reluctant to play ball the way “fast fashion” and the Euro-centric model of fashion has trained us to, both Japan and Japanese fashion has a lot to gain.
As the show ended everyone took their place to watch the show, with Mikio voicing slight concern as to whether the Cool Japan committee would approve!
We began with the first ever catwalk appearance from Nusumigui, graduate of the Coconogacco school and long friend of this site. Lately Nusumigui has started leaving the finishing touches off his clothes, allowing customer to position pockets and buttons at the time of purchase, a customization service of sorts that allows for individuality while maintaining a degree of cost-effective mass-production.
However, as his show was reaching the mid-point another soundtrack began, and another show jostled for our attention, this time from Tiit:
Tiit is a good example of how commercial fashion can come out of this strata of fashion, even if the finished product only has a taste of the Coconogacco-esque approach to fashion, it really does carry.
All through the Tiit show, the elevators were zooming up and down, the escalators packed with descending models with looks from different designers. You might recognise the above children in boro kimono from Writtenafterwards’ last show.
Then the real chaos began, all three runways churned out different designers, to different soundtracks with different routes. With my everyday camera and position it was hard to grab everyone, but hopefully I can do it a degree of justice, enjoy:
Seeing certain designers in a catwalk setting really made their work “click”, but in the chaos you barely had the time to process a single look.
A kyabakura club showed up without warning, before being pursued by salary men.
I love how in this picture above you can just spot Mikio and Yoshikazu perched at their high vantage point, orchestrating the madness.
In so many ways it was a snapshot of the current generation, even of the designers not on the catwalk. Singled out work on this level can be hard to explain, but as a saturation the picture was complete.
This might be the end of Zetsumei for this fashion season, but then again why are we even thinking in seasons? Zetsumei certainly are not, that word has never been used. Maybe we should all be thinking in culmulative terms as well? Even when we reach the juncture of presenting work, why is it treated as a static snapshot bound in a theme? The only way to right the wrongs of fashion as consumerism is to focus on the ideas and not the product, that is real Soft Power and when Cool Japan start to harness that, that will be the game changer.