Mercedes Benz Fashion Week A/W 2016: Catching Tokyo’s fashion drift
LIVIN’ AND LOVIN’ - Tetta Ortiz Matera (The Philippine Star) - March 26, 2016 - 10:00am

Tokyo Fashion Week is the last of the bi-annual fashion week series that begins in New York City in February, then moves across continents to the city of London before traversing to Milan, crossing to Paris, and finally heading off to the opposite side of the globe and culminating in Asia’s fashion capital. This autumn/winter 2015-2016 edition, while still somewhat subdued compared to its more boisterous fashion siblings, had the more energetic vibe that it seemed to lack last year. There were definitely more international fashion cognoscenti, led by Vogue Italia’s senior editor Sara Maino, Pitti Immagine’s 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 and 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 mere supporting cast to the main characters, which are the designers. Sure fashionably dressed guests including famous people fill the venues but none ever take away the limelight from the featured designers and their creations.

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 watch the shows of designers I have not previously seen but have been generating buzz for several seasons. I opted to sit out the shows of older brands such as Yukii Torii International, Hiroko Koshino and Hanae Mori (now led by a younger designer named Yu Amatsu) to focus on younger, breakout designers. Takeo Kikuchi, the famous menswear designer from the Eighties, made a fashion comeback with a show and a collaboration with Japanese specialty store pioneer United Arrows. I decided to add to my show roster a few menswear brands, a fashion segment that is huge in Japan but one that does not have its own separate fashion week unlike other fashion capitals. Overall, I was genuinely impressed with the collections except for a few lackluster duds. There were no major Japanese fashion front liners like Chitose Abe of Sacai, Junya Watanabe, Comme Des Garcons or Jun Takahashi of Undercover who all wowed in Paris Fashion Week but there were evidently several shining stars who could very well take over the international fashion stage in the not too distant future. 

5351 Pour Les Hommes Et Les Femmes

This collection of mostly menswear designs 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 wing-tipped shoes especially the two-toned black and white versions were swinging, very dapper in a modern kind of way; the combination of multiple colors, prints and textures such as fluffy wool knit with supple leather were ingeniously refreshing and done with the right amount of finesse. The appearance of the occasional red socks with some of the men’s outfits added a touch of playfulness that gave them a nonchalant yet confident appeal.  Of the few women’s wear designs, I fell in love with the printed poncho-like red, black and white checkered knit top with frills that fell quite perfectly on the mid-thigh paired with a sleek, shortish slim red leather pants. It was fun; it was sexy and very unexpectedly chic at the same time.

Dressedundressed

With the theme “Common Objects,” the Dressedundressed collection parlayed the word common to mean 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 very carefully chosen soft, luscious fabrics in calming, cool-to-the-eyes neutral colors including black fell perfectly well on the models physique, giving the entire collection a very relaxed, fluid finish. I particularly loved the slouchy long-sleeved one-buttoned beige women’s jumpsuit and the men’s white paint-splattered shirt, pants and trench coat ensemble for their “I-will-wear-what-I-want I don’t care attitude” that is all about confident, age-appropriate dressing. The no frills no fuss finish of the entire collection gave credence to an often under utilized, misunderstood fashion motto, “Less is more.”

Factotum

Designer Koji Udo of Factotum considers his brand a fusion of real clothes and he succeeds quite effortlessly in expressing this concept in his collection. One of the six winners of the Tokyo Fashion Award, Factotum presented a collection that struck the ideal balance between everyday clothes and a sense of style that is not intimidating but instead universally appealing. 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-to-hard at all, 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 to a few inches above the ankles, a noticeable big trend for the autumn/winter season.

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,” an award given to up and coming designers, who are given opportunities to show their collections in a Fashion Week venue of their choice for two seasons. Henry Holland the designer, who obviously chose Tokyo, showed this autumn/winter 2015-2016 for the second time. House of Holland has cultivated a loyal following among the stylish 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 but at the same time a “don’t mess with me” attitude. House of Holland clearly loves the female form and celebrates it with dresses and separates that accentuate the body without being overtly sensual. His use of different materials and his clever way of combining textures and prints give each and every piece a fashion life of its own, strong even if paired with other clothing you may already have in your wardrobe. 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 for any style-setter.

Johan Ku Gold Label

This is one of two collections I saw for the second time at MBTFW because I was enthralled by his first one. A London-based designer of Taiwanese descent, Johan Ku is a master of knitwear and he proves his expertise yet again with this collection. Using a technique unique to his brand, Johan 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 quite delicately and comfortably. Inspired by the ‘90s French movie Lovers on a Bridge, Johan Ku brings a hint of romanticism, a dose of tenderness to his autumn/winter designs that will keep the cold at bay and warm the body during a cold, wintry day.

Kidill

The winner of the 8th DHL Design Award, Kidill is a menswear brand that is clearly 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 at the same time serious and playful, formal and casual, purposeful and random, young and old, abstract and real. For example, he takes the idea of a formal jacket complete with velvet lapels and deconstructs them with a loose fit with matching slouchy sleeves in an awkward length. He puts random embossed velvet black prints on what looks like a dinner jacket and pairs it with a 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. The brand has its design aesthetics down to pat and all its designer Hiroaki Sueyasu needs to do now is remain consistent with his vision.

Matohu

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 set-up of the venue with its black walls and floors and dimly lit floor lamps lining the runway conveyed this message quite effectively 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 not the designs of the clothes. Matohu utilized layering quite masterfully, giving her clothes a sense of lightness often lacking in heavyset autumn/winter clothing. While the silhouettes were a bit too plain for my personal taste, there is a Japanese market that appreciates this kind of quiet elegance and clean classic lines.

Motohiro Tanji

The first show I watched during this MBTFW, Motohiro Tanji, set the bar high for the rest of the designers I went to see. His knitwear collection was beyond fabulous, each design was like a living, breathing piece of art that was talking to me telling me to come closer and take a look at its beautiful, intricate, three-dimensional knit patterns. I was transfixed, almost in a trance waiting for the clothes to pass me one by one; I seriously have not seen such gorgeous knits, ever. They all clung to the body gracefully and they all moved with each step fluidly. Not many designers can compete with the knowledge and talent Motohiro Tanji has for knits and that is an understatement. His heavily detailed designs did not compromise in any way the form or function of the clothes and that is a big deal where knit is concerned. If the Japanese fashion industry were to crown a King of Knit, it will have to be Motohiro Tanji.

Ujoh

The other brand that I revisited this MBTFW, Ujoh is the epitome of effortless elegance and modern luxe. The designer Mitsuru Nishizaki’s layered, asymmetrical looks in navy blue, black, off white, iris blue, dark green and grey knit, cotton satin and lace 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 shoulder treatment on an anorak blouson, quilting on a vest and a just bellow the knee hemline that give the whole collection a feminine touch. The double monk strap shoes with Bibram soles provide an edgy but polished finish to the collection. 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.

Vanquish

For me this was the most uninspired of all the collections I saw; it did not help that Yoyogi Arena, the venue for the show was oversized and overpowered the rather ordinary collection. While the show was a breath of fresh air in that they used mostly non-model type Japanese men, the clothes were rather predictable. I must admit like all “Made in Japan” clothes, the Vanquish designs definitely looked well constructed, of very good quality and styled adequately but disappointingly there was nothing on the Vanquish runway that I had not already seen in the streets of Tokyo.

Writtenafterwards

The minute I saw the kids dressed in bright-colored outfits file out 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 a blob of an outsized representation of a globe started making its way to the front of the runway followed by young children and teenagers 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 their excellently crafted, high-quality fantasy casual wear. Quite honestly, I did not see much of the fantasy in the clothes but more in the execution of the show. Sure there were fantastical objects printed on some of the tops like UFO’s but other than that, it was a bit too Benettonesque for me. Perhaps it was the message of healing the world that resonated with the jury; or perhaps it was the happy, candy-colored theme of the collection that got the judges’ attention. Whatever the reason is for their win, it is always a wonderful thing to see positivity, and the generous nature of humanity and hope play out onstage in the world of fashion.

Yoshio Kubo

Maybe it was destiny that my son would make his modeling debut for Yoshio Kubo but I tell you, 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, Yoshio 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, Yoshio 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 grey 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 actually looked darn good. His aesthetic mash-up starting with his choice of models to his preponderance for the shocking designs all climaxed into one heck of a finale that was most powerful and certainly thought provoking. Is Paris Fashion Week next, Mr. Kubo? That certainly would not surprise me.

 

 

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(A very special Thank you to the Japan Fashion Week Organization for providing the runway photos for this feature.)

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Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @tettaortiz

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