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Young, breakout designers at Tokyo Fashion Week |

Fashion and Beauty

Young, breakout designers at Tokyo Fashion Week

LIVIN’ AND LOVIN’ - Tetta Ortiz Matera - The Philippine Star

Tokyo Fashion Week autumn/winter 2015-2016, while somewhat subdued compared to New York or Paris Fashion Week, had a more energetic vibe that seemed to be lacking last year. There were definitely more international fashion cognoscenti, led by Vogue Italia’s senior editor Sara Maino, Pitti Immagine marketing development manager Antonio Cristaudo and Colette (Paris) creative director Sarah Andelman. Of course, local fashion media came in full force, joined by popular fashion bloggers and style influencers like Misha Janette, Matsu You and popular luxury online shopping site Gilt’s director for marketing-Japan Jessy Steeg. 

What I love about the Mercedes-Benz Tokyo Fashion Week (MBTFW) is it is first and foremost about the business of fashion. Unlike other fashion weeks where celebrity guests and social media fashion superstars often overshadow and take away the attention from the collections, in Tokyo they are a mere supporting cast to the main characters, who are the designers.

This year, 52 brands participated in MBTFW runway shows, installations and exhibitions including pop-up stores, press and buyer presentations. Since it was physically impossible to cover every designer and event in six days, I chose to focus on younger, breakout designers.

Takeo Kikuchi, the famous menswear designer from the ’80s, made a fashion comeback with a show and collaboration with Japanese specialty store pioneer United Arrows.

Overall, I was genuinely impressed with the collections except for a few lackluster duds. There were no major Japanese front-liners like Chitose Abe of Sacai, Junya Watanabe, Comme des Garçons or Jun Takahashi of Undercover, who all wowed in Paris Fashion Week. But there were several shining stars who could very well take over the international fashion stage in the not-too-distant future.

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Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @tettaortiz.


5351 Pour Les Hommes Et Les Femmes

This collection of mostly menswear was very sharp, polished and elegantly swag. The impeccable woven leather and fur trim detailing on the jackets and coats, the close-to-the-body silhouettes, including the ankle-length slim pants paired with boots and two-toned wing-tipped shoes, were very dapper in a modern kind of way. The combination of multiple colors, prints and textures such as fluffy wool knit with supple leather was refreshing and done with the right amount of finesse. Red socks with some of the men’s outfits added playfulness and nonchalant yet confident appeal.  Of the few women’s-wear designs, I fell in love with the printed poncho-like checkered knit top with frills that fell perfectly on the mid-thigh paired with sleek, shortish slim red leather pants. It was fun, sexy and unexpectedly chic at the same time.


Johan Ku Gold Label

This is one of two collections I saw for the second time at MBTFW because I was enthralled by the first one. A London-based designer of Taiwanese descent, Ku is a master of knitwear and proves his expertise yet again. Using a technique unique to his brand, Ku adeptly mixes six to seven fabrics at a time to create exclusive knitted textiles for one very cohesive and powerful collection. His “cold-be-damned” arm-baring lightweight soft custom knits are dramatic without being over-the-top, wrapping the body delicately and comfortably. Inspired by the ’90s French movie Lovers on a Bridge, Ku brings a romanticism and tenderness to his designs that will warm the body during a cold, wintry day.


House of Holland

The British brand House of Holland, one of only a handful of foreign designers to show in MBTFW, was the Grand Prix winner of “DHL Exported,” given so up-and-coming designers can show their collections at a Fashion Week venue of their choice for two seasons. Designer Henry Holland chose Tokyo and showed for the second time. House of Holland has cultivated a loyal following among the Japanese; his very ’70s London-inspired designs in bold colors and playful prints are flirty, very girly and have a “girls just wanna have fun” vibe, crossed with “don’t mess with me” attitude. HoH loves the female form and celebrates it with dresses and separates that accentuate the body without being overtly sensual. Different materials and a clever way of combining textures and prints give each piece a fashion life of its own. The fluffy faux fur coats, vests and wraps in solid and tri-color plus the thigh-high boots in vivid hues are undeniably the season’s must-haves.


Motohiro Tanji

Motohiro Tanji’s knitwear collection was beyond fabulous: each design was like a living, breathing piece of art that talked to me, telling me to come closer and look at its beautifully intricate 3D patterns. I was transfixed; I seriously have not seen such gorgeous knits, ever. They all clung to the body gracefully and moved with each step fluidly. Not many designers can compete with the knowledge and talent Tanji has for knits and that is an understatement. His heavily detailed designs did not compromise the form or function of the clothes — a big deal where knits are concerned. If the Japanese fashion industry were to crown a King of Knits, it would have to be Motohiro Tanji.



For me this was the most uninspired of all the collections I saw. It did not help that the Yoyogi Arena venue was too large and overpowered the rather ordinary collection. While the use of mostly non-model-type Japanese men was different, the clothes were rather predictable. Like all clothes that are made in Japan, Vanquish’s designs definitely looked well-constructed, of very good quality and were styled adequately, but there was nothing on the Vanquish runway that I had not already seen on the streets of Tokyo.



With the theme “Common Objects,” “common” means refined, understated luxury. The straightforward take of the designer on very ordinary styles were executed with such exquisite tailoring that they stood out for their stunning simplicity. The soft, luscious fabrics in calming neutrals fell perfectly on the models’ physiques, giving the entire collection a very relaxed, fluid finish. I particularly loved the slouchy long-sleeved beige women’s jumpsuit and the men’s white paint-spattered shirt, pants and trench coat for their “I will wear what I want, I don’t care attitude.” The no-frills, no-fuss finish of the entire collection validated the fashion motto “less is more.”



Designer Koji Udo considers Factotum a fusion of real clothes and mode and he succeeds in expressing this in his collection. One of the six winners of the Tokyo Fashion Award, Factotum’s collection struck the ideal balance between everyday clothes and un-intimidating, universally appealing style. His separates in denim, leather, light-printed wool and hand-woven fabrics (which reminded me of our very own tinalak), did not feel forced or trying-hard, making them relevant and practical at the same time. Hats and beanies rounded off the casual, youthful, solid-on-solid, print-on-print looks that included slim pants cropped above the ankles — a big trend for the autumn/winter season.



Winner of the DHL Design Award, Kidill is a menswear brand to watch out for. Inspired by the contrasting theme “Imperfect Rhyme,” Kidill finds harmony in disarray, order in confusion and translates it to clothes that are serious and playful, formal and casual, purposeful and random, young and old, abstract and real at the same time. For example, he takes a formal jacket with velvet lapels deconstructs it with a loose fit and slouchy sleeves at an awkward length. He puts random embossed velvet black prints on a dinner jacket and pairs it with patchwork cotton pants folded at the bottom, exposing the model’s calves. While his design ideas are clearly out of the box, they do not come across as contrived. All designer Hiroaki Sueyasu needs to do now is remain consistent with his vision.



This collection had the most profound inspiration of all the collections in Honoka, a Japanese term that implies the light that soothes the heart in darkness. The dark setup of the venue with its black walls, floors and dimly lit floor lamps lining the runway conveyed this message and provided the perfect backdrop for a very serene, Zen-like collection that focused more on the subtleties of the prints and textures of the fabrics rather than the clothing designs. Matohu utilized layering quite masterfully, giving her clothes a sense of lightness often lacking in heavyset fall/winter clothing. While the silhouettes were a bit too plain for my taste, there is a Japanese market that appreciates this kind of quiet elegance and clean, classic lines.



The minute I saw brightly dressed kids file onto the edge of the runway, I knew we were in for a feel-good show. When they started to sing Heal the World by Michael Jackson and an outsized globe started making its way to the front of the runway followed by kids and teens wearing cute, colorful knitwear, I realized I was not going to see a standard runway show. Another recipient of the Tokyo Fashion Award, Writtenafterwards is known for its excellently crafted, high-quality fantasy casual wear. Honestly, I did not see much fantasy in the clothes but more in the execution of the show.  Sure, there were UFOs printed on some of the tops but other than that, it was a bit too Benetton for me. Perhaps it was the message of healing the world that resonated with the jury, or the happy, candy-colored theme. Whatever the reason for the win, it is always a wonderful thing to see positivity, generosity and hope play out onstage in the world of fashion.



The other brand that I revisited, Ujoh is the epitome of effortless elegance and modern luxe. Designer Mitsuru Nishizaki’s layered, asymmetrical looks in dark neutrals with the occasional pop of iris blue and green are an ode to the woman who exudes confidence and has nothing to prove; she dresses for herself and not to impress others. Slightly mannish and sporty, the clothes incorporate subtle details like drop shoulders on an anorak blouson, quilting and below-the-knee hemlines that gave the collection a feminine touch. The double monk-strap shoes with Bibram soles provided an edgy but polished finish. The Ujoh woman is an urbanite that knows how to enjoy and celebrate life; these are the clothes that bring her joy and take her everywhere she wants to go.


Yoshio Kubo

Maybe it was destiny that my son would make his modeling debut for Yoshio Kubo but despite that stroke of luck, I certainly would not have wanted to miss this designer’s show. One of the most highly anticipated shows of MBTFW, Kubo rocked the runway with avant-garde, daring, kicky and inventive clothes that set him miles apart from the rest of the menswear pack.  Known for his exclusive, custom-made prints, Kubo showed us how unapologetically cool a guy can look in a dress-like shirt over a pair of tight black pants and a tailored gray jacket with oversized pockets and patches. He sent out his models with blunt hair extensions covering part of their faces in fierce mixed camouflage suits and gaily-printed shawls. He defied menswear norm by transforming ordinary pieces of clothing into contradicting shapes and patterns in unusual combinations of fabrics that looked really good. His aesthetic mash-up, from his choice of models to his preponderance for shocking designs, all climaxed in a finale that was powerful and thought-provoking. Is Paris Fashion Week next, Mr. Kubo? That certainly would not surprise me.






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