In the last few weeks, we have been exploring different topics that are aimed at revealing the true uniqueness that is Japan. While currently visitors who arrive in the country are welcomed by the government’s image of a “Cool Japan,” a teenage boy-band billboard advert exclaiming the virtues of the country, we’ve been exploring areas that we think are the real deal. By uncovering subcultures and more substantial themes, we are proposing a new approach to selling Japan to the West, focusing on industries that are far more iconic in highlighting what it is that is exciting about the country. So far in the series we have unwrapped Japanese product and package design and delved into Japanese architecture. This week we focus on Japanese fashion, looking at the tremendous wealth of talent and the diverse scene that is unlike many other areas of the world.
It is fair to say that walking around any area of Tokyo on any afternoon you are likely to come across a hugely varied amount of styles and fashions. Arguably the world’s largest luxury fashion market, it has been the focus of many designers’ plans for a number of years. Coupled with some of the most critical and demanding consumers in the world, the level of standards needed for brands to succeed in Japan is set particularly high. Whereas new wealth, such as Chinese consumers, look for branded, statement symbols in what they wear, brashly announcing they have finally arrived in an “exclusive luxury fashion club”, Japan is a developed consumer, where stitching, cloth cut, material and attention to the tiniest details are scrutinized. It is precisely the high consumer demands that have been cultivated over the years that has meant that Japanese designers have risen to becoming some of the most respected in the world—not just at luxury level, but increasingly in the world of fast fashion and everything in between.
Alongside Paris, Milan and New York, Tokyo has emerged as a world leader in the fashion industry with this year’s newly sponsored Mercedes Benz Japan Fashion Week, bringing in a long list of international visitors. Designers such as Issey Miyake, Comme Des Garcon’s Rei Kawakubo, or the highly respected Yohji Yamamoto have become some of the most prolific designers out of Japan today. They are now much sought after for collaborations with some of the biggest and long established fashion houses, and their designs have started to influence a generation of new designers around the world. Yamamoto, one of the most influential fashion designers currently working, has long been the focus of the world’s fashion media, and this year a new documentary will be released, giving us a rare glimpse into his world and personal philiosophy. The film looks to be an amazing insight into a cult figure who has shaped the fashion industry in many ways.
Minimalism has been an ongoing theme in the narrative of creative Japan as we have seen in the last posts, and fashion has its own take on clothing design, stripping designs down to the simplest essentials while bringing out the most impressive lines and cuts to the cloth. Issey Miyake, who draws his inspiration from New York, where he began his career in the 1970′s, is a leading example of this refined design. On the other hand, however, there is also a playful, experimental side to Japanese design not found in other disciplines outside of fashion. Designers such as Kansai Yamamoto, known for designing David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust costumes, is particularly famous for his brash and over the top designs, drawing thousands to his fashion performance shows in the 70s.
Outside of high-end fashion world, Japan has also increasingly led the way on the high street. Launched in 2005, the Tokyo Girls Collection is now the world’s largest interactive fashion event, tying in many platforms and tapping into youth culture like no other brand has done. Fast fashion has given rise to Uniqlo, with its lines representing the best of Japan’s attention to detail and being synonymous with high standards. The company opened flagship stores in New York earlier this year, demonstrating how Japanese companies can successfully export brand Japan to the West: by maintaining something that is essentially Japanese while communicating the brand to the West in a clear concise way, a way that “Cool Japan” under the government has so far not been able to do.