Mikio Sakabe and design partner Jenny Fax surprised us with a predominantly female cast for his SS 2014 collection held us part of the Zetsumei alternative fashion week of exhibitions held in Parco Museum, Shibuya. But don’t let his mountains of pastel and Harajuku street style kawaii army fool you, this was not a gendered collection, indeed, look back at his last “male” collection here, and you will see the exact same shapes, textiles and colours. Instead it would be more useful to think of him having created a new gender that just so happens to be worn by women, however, the impact of developing these ideas for the past 3 seasons on male bodies and then transferring them to women in this collection should not be underestimated. Sheer feminine skirts give way to clearly visible sporty boxer shorts underneath, the feminine cat prints and embroidery last season are gender neutral dogs this time round, and the addition of bold rounded shoulders in the pattern allow for a surprisingly aggressive silhouette.
Likewise, the name of the collection may be “Save Point”, but don’t jump directly to the Final Fantasy lifestream-inspired ideas that I did, thanks to the “crystal theme” being the soundtrack to the preview exhibition. Instead, it is what initially inspired the idea for Hironobu Sakaguchi, Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. With that in mind, the safe onsen-esque cavern becomes a point of refuge from pollution and mutation, the shapes can be seen as corrupted, dripping forms away from the body, pushing cute to creepy, kawaii to kowai.
That last point is the second important theme of the collection, in that ideas of kawaii (that the English language “cute” cannot hope to express) are thoroughly explored by juxtaposing 80s anime illustrations next to USA imported 90s cute via the aforementioned dog prints, the otaku haven of Nakano Broadway is spelled out in infantile letters, monstrous gothic lolita inspired dresses are taken a step too far into the absurd, united by the juncture of kawaii.
It was a pleasure to hear Mikio openly reference these Harajuku influences in this collection after the show, in the past he has always been quiet about the directness of his influences from the street, but his ability to turn them on their head in order to analyse what they say about fashion, femininity and gender has given him the confidence to acknowledge and discuss those influences. I would never go so far to say that the Harajuku street scene from which he plucked the majority of his models were his muse, but perhaps a legion of collaborators, reacting to and progressing his work symbiotically.
Here you can see the layers of hearts upon hearts, disguising the strong boyish silhouette beneath.
The infantile core of kawaii turns up in the details and manages to keep the edge it had in his last male modeled collection.
The dog items certainly felt uncomfortable, especially when modeled with two arms raised like paws – a confrontation designed to push cute into creepy.
A fantastic showpiece that you could definitely feel Jenny Fax’s hand in.
Only two male models appeared in the collection, one sporting Mikio’s new sharp collar (which we will see more of in the showroom) with an anime t-shirt that undermined the suit,
and the other with a trench inspired by the giant “ohmu” worms from Nausicaa (pop that into google if you don’t get the reference).
For a spring/summer collection, the layering felt very heavy, but as I said before, I think that was to contrast the female sheer elements with heavier shapes underneath.
Vulnerability and awkwardness are all key parts of kawaii that get lost in translation, and I do wonder how this could work abroad?
As the collection progressed the models got tougher and more aggressive to the point where they were staring down the audience.
The idea of kawaii as a “save point”, or more accurately a “safe point”, is something many theorists of Japanese culture have proposed for a while now, but it would be a mistake to deprive that generation of their teeth and power. After all this is a generation that before Mikio made their own world out of re-purposed vintage, bucking trends and escaping the fashion establishment until very recently. Now those corporate forces are trying to skim off the froth at the top and sell it as the real deal both in Japan and abroad, but unless it captures the range of ideas encapsulated above, they are selling an entire generation very short indeed.