By and  on October 26, 2010

TOKYO — Japan Fashion Week closed its five-day run on Friday with its usual mix of styles, but the shows attracted fewer international buyers than past editions.

In terms of attendance, 15,951 people attended the week’s official on-calendar shows and presentations. That figure represents a 4.2 percent increase from last year but a decrease of 10.5 percent from the fall shows in March. JFW organizers blamed the drop from March on the fact that there were nine fewer runway shows this time around. Perhaps more significantly, the number of registered international buyers also took a hit. Only 50 foreign buyers came this season compared with 62 in March and 125 in October.

Nobuyuki Ota, chief of JFW’s collection project committee, said the ongoing political tensions between China and Japan might have had a “little influence” on the event.

“It must be harder than before for the buyers of Chinese select shops to keep carrying Japanese labels because of the students’ political demonstration around the nation,” he said, adding that, on his trips to China so far this year, he’s seen more Japanese brands in Chinese stores than ever. “This political situation will come down. I believe that JFW is able to get more Asian buyers without doubt.”

Ota also gave a second reason for the drop. As foreign buyers become more familiar with the market and the individual brands, they opt out of official registration with JFW and proceed directly to the showroom to place their orders, he said.

Many JFW designers still do the bulk of their business in Japan, a market that has been struggling in recent years as consumers spend less on apparel and accessories in the face of economic stagnation. Textile and apparel exports are still relatively small change compared to Japan’s other industries like cars and electronics, but they have posted growth so far this year. Japan’s apparel exports from January through August rose 5.5 percent to $247.27 million, according to data from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Over the same period, textile exports grew 1.4 percent to $1.69 billion.

Some of JFW’s highlights included:

• Theatre Products’ delicate prints reminiscent of Georges Seurat paintings and long, tiered dresses in tulle.

• Fur Fur’s bizarre show featuring Peanuts characters, padded derrieres, throw pillows and sculptured hair that would make Princess Leia look restrained.

• Bortsprungt’s girly dresses with handkerchief hems and a skirt featuring a print of wrapped candies.

• Phenomenon’s long wrap skirts for men. There was also a jacket with inflatable lapels and some unique takes on military khakis covered in puffy pockets.

• Yoshio Kubo’s edgy takes on men’s suits, nylon jackets, strappy pants and zippered embellishments.

The feedback from buyers was largely positive.

“The scale seems smaller than last time because many big brands didn’t [participate] this season,” said Joe Lee, merchandising director for Hong Kong-based I.T. Group, who added Phenomenon was her favorite this season.

It’s true that some of Tokyo’s more established brands opted to show either before or after the official JFW dates, as was the case with Mint Designs and Dresscamp. Meanwhile, men’s labels John Lawrence Sullivan and N.Hoolywood have since decamped to Paris and New York to present their collections.

Shinji Nakakita, a women’s buyer at Isetan, said he did not attend many shows this season and preferred to do his buying at showroom appointments. He said his budget has increased slightly overall but it is pretty much the same as last season.

“I think [the season] was pretty good. The economy has bounced back a little, and there was a cheerful feeling overall,” he said. “Each designer seemed to take on new challenges, making their own creations. The clothes were less ‘real’ and had more of a story to them.”

Haru Suzuki, women’s fashion merchandiser at Barneys New York Japan, said she only attended two runway shows this season, G.V.G.V. and Matohu, but did some buying through appointments at showrooms. She applauded the overall organization of Rooms Link, a trade show and exhibition space that also served as venue for some of the runway shows.

“Rooms Link is one of the strongest trade shows in Japan right now, so it’s good that they cooperated [with Japan Fashion Week],” she said.

Suzuki said Barneys has increased its budget for Japanese designers significantly over the past few seasons but it’s about the same for spring as it was for fall. She said she liked Yoshio Kubo’s emphasis on patterns and silhouettes in men’s wear.

Miyako Sekimoto, fashion director at Matsuya, said that she felt the overall quality of the collections improved from the previous season but lamented the fact that she can’t allocate more of her budget to Tokyo designers. “We’d like to in the future,” she said, adding that Mint Designs has performed well at the Ginza store.

She also said she was impressed with Beautiful People’s unique presentation, in which models posed at various points around the Tokyo Midtown shopping center, allowing passersby to view the clothes. Sekimoto cited other brands’ attempts to reach final consumers during the week. Liz Lisa and Vanquish, two streetwear labels with accessible price points, packed their venues with customers.

This season was a transitional one for Japan Fashion Week, which is gradually weaning itself off government funding and turning to private sponsors. This summer, IMG Fashion inked a five-year partnership with JFW to handle all sponsorship rights for the event. Peter Levy, senior vice president and managing director of IMG Fashion worldwide, made his first trip to JFW this season and said he was impressed with the talent of the designers as well as with the overall energy level and organization of the shows.

Levy, who declined to give fund-raising targets, said IMG wants to bridge art and commerce in a nonintrusive way and give designers the means to put on high-quality shows by hiring the right models, stylists and other essential players. But he stressed that obtaining sponsors will be a gradual process and it’s too soon to say what the fall shows in March will be like.

“I think you also need to…really figure out how a fashion week anchors a fashionable mind-set in a city at any one time. Everybody — especially in a city like this — should have an awareness that something very magical and something special is happening,” he said.

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