By  on August 24, 2007

TOKYO — The fifth Japan Fashion Week kicks off here Wednesday with 38 brands holding runway shows for their spring collections.

The shows will run through Sept. 5, and other events during this period will include the trade show Rooms, featuring European designers; the 2007 New Designer Fashion Grand Prix Final Selection, and special events for consumers. Tokyo Girls Collection, an emerging fashion event for young consumers that is expected to attract 24,000 visitors, will be held Sept. 2, although this is not an official event of JFW.

The main venue for JFW will be the new landmark building Tokyo Midtown in the Roppongi area, with other locations including Roppongi Academyhills and Harajuku Quest Hall.

Nobuyuki Ota, public relations director of JFW, said there will be a higher quality of design and more excitement at JFW than before. "Inquiries are not limited to the Asian countries, but also from Europe and the U.S.," said Ota. "People in the industries from overseas pay high attention to the collections."

The March shows drew 22,200 visitors, including 160 journalists from overseas countries such as the United States, South Korea, China, Taiwan, England, Italy, France, Spain, Holland, Russia, Australia, Argentina and Israel. Sixty buyers from the U.S., South Korea, Taiwan, China, Russia and Italy also saw the collections. "Higher numbers are expected this time," said Ota.

The Japan External Trade Organization backs up the event by offering information to overseas visitors. "There are more inquiries from overseas than before. Buyers from high-end boutiques in the West Coast, for example," said Ota. "People are now talking about JFW."

The Japanese brand Somarta has gained buzz after attending Tokyo Fashion Week twice. "Thanks to the show at the venue which is free for the selected young designers, I was able to express my design world and expand my business, " said Tamae Hirokawa, designer of the brand. "For the collection this time, I have already received inquiries from overseas."

Japanese punk and Gothic charisma brand h.NAOTO will hold a fashion show on the official schedule. Tokyo's kawaii, or cute, brands such as mercibeaucoups, and Ne-net generally attract foreign buyers, while cool and energetic brands such as Dresscamp and Guts Dynamite Cabaret are expected to generate attention, according to observers.The growing attention being paid to JFW by overseas buyers stems partly from the strength of the euro against the yen, according to retailers and executives at Japanese fashion brands, but Ota said uniqueness of design from Japan is the main factor.

"Price doesn't matter. People buy at any price if they want to buy. European brands are everywhere now, and buyers in the world are looking for something new. The Japanese fashion industry can offer them that," said Ota. "From hand-rolled sushi to movies to manga comics, many cultural things from Japan have been prevailing throughout the world. Just like film director Steven Spielberg learned from the movies of Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa, for example, the new generation in the world started to share same cultural viewpoints with those in Japan."

According to Ota, one of the most exciting events during the week will be an exhibition entitled "New Creators Met Together in Europe," which will be held from Thursday through Sept. 5 at 21_21 Design Sight inside Tokyo Midtown. Featured designers are Hui Hui, Mikiosakabe, Poesie, Stereotypes, Taro Horiuchi and writtenafterwards.

"Some of them have academic backgrounds in St. Martins [in London] or Antwerp [in Belgium], but for designers from overseas, Tokyo has become an important option when selecting the venue," said Ota. "And there is a tendency to show their design works in Tokyo compared with other fashion- and design-oriented cities in the world considering that there are good venues and chances here and also opportunities to do business in Asia."

For those European designers, exhibition space is allocated instead of a slot on the fashion show calendar so more people can see the brands.

JFW has been financially backed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry for the last five chapters, but the funding runs out in March 2008. For the shows after that JFW next spring, "we are making action to gain the budget.

"The Japanese administration started to understand that content industry, including fashion design, has become important just like our steel and electric appliance industries," said Ota. "The soft contents industry in Japan is estimated at about 9 trillion yen [$78.3 billion at current exchange] or as big as the nation's agricultural industries," commented Ota.Ota also is looking for more sponsors from outside the fashion industry. "This is the event to incubate the new generation after Comme des Garçons. Young designers are actually growing. For a bigger and better JFW, more investment will be required," said Ota. "In a time when analysts and shareholders require instant paybacks even from the fashion industries, we have to understand that bringing up fashion designers takes a long time."

Rooms, the fashion joint exhibition, will showcase about 240 brands including independent domestic labels as well as those from the French Prêt-à-Porter Association and the Brazilian Association of Fashion Designers. "Rooms wants to invite more buyers from overseas, and holding the trade show during JFW in the same Roppongi area means a lot," said Mika Sato, director of Rooms. The exhibition will take place at Roppongi Academyhills Wednesday to Aug. 31.

Tokyo Girls Collection will gather 24,000 fashion-conscious young women at the Saitama Super Arena to show the latest looks for fall from domestic brands, said Fumitaro Ohama, chief executive officer and webmaster of Xavel Inc., the company producing the event.

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