In the west, we have an almost mythical relationship with – if not Japanese designers and trends – what we perceive to be a Japanese approach to style. This often has two strands: an appreciation of the historical and the Japanese focus on simplicity, appropriateness and elegance. Somewhat counter to this is our appreciation of a youth-oriented street scene that incorporates cyber-punk and anime and that forms a bridge between couture and the masses that we rarely see elsewhere.
But Japan – despite its separatist leanings during the Sakoku period, and a general conservatism a consequence of this history, character and religious orientation – has always borrowed from the west. Indeed the relationship is reciprocal, no more so than in the world of art and design since the post Sakoku period; we could cite Monet’s absorption of Japanse woodblock prints as an example of an ongoing familiarity between French and Japanese asthetics. Likewise the Japanese cyberpunk scene owes much visually – if not politically – to the punk movement of late seventies England in its apprehension and re-animating of formality.
Ultimately the relationship is a conservative one. Particularly in Japan and even modern Tokyo the sense and confidence to incorporate, even to have fun (in a foreign sense) remains a serious one made possible primarily because of one’s identity as Japanese, of the sense of communal identity and responsibility and the undertanding that where certain (unmentioned) rules abide, the ability to experiment within these rules – and to work extremely hard at it – is what characterises a true creative.
In couture we see a distillation of this sense where Japanese born designers have either moved beyond the domestic market having been educated and trained overseas before working in Europe. Interestingly the work of high-end designers like Mihara Yasuhiro, Hiroki Nakamura and Chitose Abe incorporate rich elements of their Japanese heritage into their design work as though this acknowledgement is central to their brands identity.
In the other direction, the Japanese (perhaps due to its economic strength and/or its artistic sensibilities) are keener connoisseurs of a sense of nationhood than even natives of that country; and while notions like ‘English gentleman’ may be conventionally wayward, they make many Japanese excellent proponents of good taste, as it is branded via foreign designers in multiple luxury department stores.
Years ago Japan was quietly mocked for having a penchant for expensive Swiss watches when it made outstanding timepies of its own. These days, accessories aside, the fashion-conscious individual (and there are a lot in Japan, moreso than in the UK where real fashion only exists within University campuses or a W1 postcode because Japanese women particularly have the purse and figure to wear it, as well as that forementioned artistic slant) will wear Japanese or foreign designers. A key to what they’re looking for can be found in the designs of the following five westerners, all of whom showed at LFW this summer, all of whom stock in Tokyo.
Stocked at Isetan and other Japanese department stores.
Seoul-born Pyo’s collection ‘explores dressing as an everyday phenomenon’ with often dual-layered designs that appear full-bodied but versatile based on a fairly neutered colour scheme. Matt browns and yellows give a sense of endurance that the designer seeks to embrace. A little muted turquoise or mustard emphasize this earthiness but also hint at the possibility of individuation.
Stocked at Beams Japan and other stores.
The Turkish born designers A/W 2019 collection brings to mind the kind of snow-bound mystical animals that would appear to young Japanese (think a tapered-down writtenafterwards). Aksu is more interested in single-colour concepts – long dresses emphasized with a tapered border or strap that hints at youth before retracting into more conventional jackets and knit tops
Stocked at Isetan, Beams and other Japanese stores. I covered designer Yasuko Furuta for the Japan Times in 2009. She has always had something for bold, after-navy blue. There is a masculinity about her creations, as though she’s less interested in the female form (and certainly not in frivolity) but in intentions and futures solidly crafted.
Jamie Wei Huang
Stocked at Beams Tokyo and other stores. The London based designer appears inspired – on first look – by the aforementioned Chitose Abe school of thought – cuts of statement herringbone or tartan and asymmetrical shards of cloth that accentuate the adherence to/break with formality mentioned previously in this article. A/W 2019 emphasized bagginess; a kind of embracing of patchwork qualities that possibly mirror the designer’s approach.
Stocked at GR8 Tokyo. Paradoxically clearly Italian and yet wearing hard core cyberpunk (literally) on its sleeve. Primarily leisure-oriented, the A/W 2019 collection takes an almost reconstructionist slant on the male form before breaking it back down again with minimal shorts and tops.