By  on September 10, 2007

TOKYO — Tribal motifs, a relaxed mood and, of course, typical Japanese kawaii, or "cute," were all on display during the runway shows at Japan Fashion Week. The five-day event showcased the latest works for spring 2008 from 38 brands and took place mainly at Tokyo Midtown in the Roppongi district.

The idea behind the shows is "to introduce the nation's talented young designers to the world at the beginning of the world's collection circuit," according to JFW, although some brands decided not to hold shows due to the tight schedule between the nation's summer holidays and the New York collections.

On the first day of the runway shows, called Tokyo Collection Week, Mercibeaucoup showed a new version of Japanese kawaii clothes with a theme of "star in the sky." From huge star-shaped sunglasses installed on the runway came out models with cloud-like star wigs on their heads. The brand's designer Eri Utsugi, aka Tokyo fashion's pop and funky mother, produced border and dotted prints as well as star patterns.

Naoto, a Goth and Lolita punk charisma brand, showed during the official collection schedule for the first time. The brand received more than 10 inquiries from overseas after the show. Naoto, whose fan list includes American musician Marilyn Manson, has been basically sold only in Japan, but "joining the [Tokyo] collection for the first time raised our reputation among a wider range of people in the industries," said company executives.

In Hall A, which had 600 seats and some space for standing, Dresscamp showcased a collection with a Moroccan theme that mixed romanticism with an ethnic motif in floral patterns and lace. Earthy and airy hues were often used instead of its specialty of shiny colors. Designer Toshikazu Iwaya plans to show in Paris in fall 2008.

Ylang Ylang used vivid colors such as lemon yellow, lavender, fuchsia pink and mandarin in dresses under a theme of Surrealism, while the Lyricis brand created a scene from a picnic with light brown, pale orange or green cotton dresses or skirts.

One of the brands generating the most attention was Somarta. In its third show since its debut, designer Tamae Hirokawa showed another version of "the second skin," or body-fitted knitwear with gold capes and black or white dresses. Under a theme of "engraver," she unveiled tattoo-like knit patterns with the models' faces perfectly painted.Some strong brands, such as Mintdesigns, didn't show on the official schedule due to timing or the availability of venues.

Aurilie Paronnaud, a teacher at Es Mode Japon, found some brands are salable in Europe. "Of course the market here is different from Europe, but the quality is excellent," she said.

Maiko Shibata, women's creative merchandiser for Restir, an emerging Japanese specialty chain that is a favorite of the nation's celebrities, said she would continue to buy Somarta for next spring. "I was expecting a more refreshing style from Somarta, just like the brand gave us a jolt in her first collection," said Shibata after the show. "But her style is just being recognized in the market. It is selling well at our stores to a wide range of customers."

Tia Browsh, owner of Los Angeles-based specialty store Jack Henry, liked Somarta's body-fitted knits and Matohu's style, but was dissatisfied with Japanese kawaii brands such as Mercibeaucoup and Ne-net. "I wasn't blown away by those brands," she said. For the store, whose customer list is filled with Hollywood celebrities, they are "academic." But "Dresscamp is very energetic and salable. I felt so when the show started," said Browsh.

This fall, JFW kicked off the world's collection circuit before New York, but most Japanese brands will show at a trade exhibition in October. Therefore, "I cannot say now how much I will buy," said Browsh.

The next JFW will be held March 10 to 16, with the runway shows making up Tokyo Fashion Week held March 11 to 15.

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