TOKYO — Spring is universally recognized as the season of rebirth, and that concept rings especially true for this city’s designers, who are presenting their collections this week.
The March 11 tsunami disaster forced Tokyo fashion week organizers to cancel the fall-winter edition out of safety concerns and a desire to conserve power amidst an energy shortage. Some brands forged ahead with fashion shows and presentations but many local labels wrote off the season. Now they are staging their comeback and they are doing so as fashion week organizers revamp the event’s format in league with new corporate sponsor Mercedes-Benz.
“I think we’re turning a corner this time,” said Masahiko Miyake, chairman of the fashion week organizers’ board.
With the exception of a couple outlying events over the weekend, including a runway show from Paul Smith, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo kicks off in earnest today and runs through Saturday. In an effort to generate more buzz and forge a stronger connection with consumers, fashion show organizers sold hundreds of tickets to some shows through online retailer Zozotown. Now sold out, they fetched 1,000 yen, or $13, a piece. The proceeds go to the Japanese Red Cross.
Designers have signaled a strong desire to push forward this season and elevate the collective profile of Japan’s fashion scene. But it’s also true that the tragedy has touched their lives and small, growing businesses in different ways.
To wit, Yasutoshi Ezumi, who launched his label with the fall 2010 season, was gearing up for his first fashion show in March. He ended up holding an exhibition for the fall-winter season and received fewer orders than he had expected. This in turn meant less income with which to design, promote and produce his spring collection, made up of beautifully constructed knitwear in 100 percent silk, as well as woven items in cotton and polyester. He will do a runway show this season in tandem with another brand called A Degree Fahrenheit.
“This time I’m really looking forward to showing someone actually wearing the clothes,” said Ezumi, a Central Saint Martins grad with experience working for Alexander McQueen and Aquascutum. “This season is a kind of restart of my brand.”
Shunnoz Fiel and Tekasala Ma’at Nzinga, a pair of designers from Angola who run their own men’s wear label called Projecto Mental, were in Tokyo on March 11, preparing to stage a runway show that was ultimately canceled. Stuck on the 28th floor of the Conrad Hotel, they took in the magnitude of the tragedy. They said it was important for them to return here and present their collection this season, albeit with a presentation rather than a runway show. Their offering for spring-summer includes tailored pieces in bright color-block formations as well as long, smocklike shirts and batik-printed pants.
“For us it means a return and a very desired one. Our dream, our mission was abruptly interrupted last March. Lives have been lost, the tragedy and sadness is still pretty much here. Yes, we could have gone showing our collection anywhere else in the world but we haven’t given up on Japan. Our coming back is our way to say a huge thank you to Japan for supporting and helping us. We could never feel OK with ourselves if we decided to abandon Japan and the Japanese fashion,” the designers wrote in an e-mail.
Bunzo Kadono, who is a staging a presentation for his brand Ambell, said much of his apparel production was located in the tsunami-ravaged region of Tohoku. He had to take swift action to minimize the impact on his business.
“We had factories within 10 kilometers [six miles] of the nuclear power plant and they were all damaged, so we had to move them to other locations,” said Kadono, who worked for Anne Valerie Hash and Véronique Leroy before launching his own brand for fall 2010. “Everyone in Japan was quite negative as a result of the tsunami, but now everyone is gradually becoming more positive.”
Kadono, who focuses on timeless, feminine pieces with a vintage feel, said the floral print on a flouncy skirt represents “a symbol of new life.”
Miyuki Omichi and Ayumi Kita, the designers behind the brand Plumpynuts, also found fresh focus in the aftermath of the disaster.
“It wasn’t as if we were really conscious about it [while designing], but before starting this collection…we concentrated a lot on volunteering,” Omichi said, adding that she and Kita visited the quake-ravaged Tohoku area about 10 times. “We got the feeling that we had to really work hard in Tokyo; if we didn’t try to help the economy pick up in Tokyo, then Tohoku also wouldn’t recover. So there was an indirect effect on what we made.”
The designers launched Plumpynuts in fall 2009. The brand’s name is play off the word peanut, a legume the duo feels represents their symbiotic relationship. For their spring-summer season, they turned out feminine pieces in delicate materials and colorful floral prints.
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