TOKYO — Japan’s largest fashion event of the season wrapped on Saturday, bringing to a close six days of shows, installations, exhibitions and related events. It’s been one year since Amazon signed on as the week’s main sponsor, replacing Mercedes-Benz. Both organizers and visitors agreed that the professionalism and organization of the events have improved in recent years.
“I feel like [Tokyo fashion week] is becoming fully developed,” said Nick Wooster, who has been coming to Tokyo the past several seasons as a judge for the Tokyo Fashion Award. “I think everyone is fighting for competition between the phone, between what’s left of publishing; there’s so much noise out there that it’s nice to see a really focused week where we had great international designers like Undercover, Sacai and The Soloist, alongside emerging talent. And I think that that’s been the hallmark of this season.”
Masahiko Miyake, board chairperson of the Japan Fashion Week Organization, said the investment by Amazon has helped to “warm up” fashion week and create more of a buzz around the event.
This season, some of the most talked-about shows were those that fell under Amazon’s At Tokyo program, which aims to get involvement from brands that normally wouldn’t participate in fashion week. There were four At Tokyo shows: TakahiroMiyashita The Soloist, Toga, Black Eye Patch and a joint show by Sacai and Undercover. In an effort to support the fashion community, Amazon invited students from local fashion schools to each of these shows.
“The whole purpose of us doing fashion week as a total and then doing the At Tokyo program and now bringing students into that is really to support the fashion industry as a whole. Consumers benefit from our supporting the fashion industry by having a vibrant fashion community with great designers who bring their products to the people who want to buy them. And giving that atmosphere and everything around it and keeping it as exciting as we possibly can, that’s what we’re trying to achieve,” said James Peters, vice president of Amazon Fashion in Japan. “To get these [students] to actually see what their future looks like and get inspired by that; [to see] what’s happening now with the great designers of today, and then let them take that, innovate and move forward. And so hopefully we’ll just keep working with really great brands and the student community, the designer community and just bringing really cool things to our customers and to Tokyo as a whole.”
The At Tokyo program has received largely positive reviews, as it gives Tokyo’s fashion week an excitement and — this season at least — an international feel that has been lacking in the past.
“This is probably a week that’s geared more for a domestic market than an international one, and so what I still think is that the week has been still able to provide a little bit of both. Obviously something for the local ‘home team,’ let’s say, and as well for those of us who get the opportunity to come and travel, there’s a reason to come,” Wooster said. “And I think there’s always a balancing act, and as fashion changes and let’s say the casualization of where we are today, I do wonder how interesting it will be in the long run because jeans, sneakers and sweatpants are by definition maybe not runway worthy, but our eyes are adjusting and adapting, and I guess we’ll roll with the punches. But that’s what’s so great about this week — there’s always something new and different, a little bit unexpected.”
While Wooster mentioned a shift from tailored styles to more casual fashions, Keiko Shibasaki, a women’s buyer for Hankyu Hanshin Department Stores, said she has noticed a blurring of gender lines among Tokyo fashion brands.
“I think rather than there being a clear separation of men’s and women’s fashion, I’m seeing a lot more brands creating things that can be worn by both sexes simply by expanding the size range. I have the impression that there has been an increase in brands that allow customers to wear things more freely and that give them more choice, Shibasaki said. “Customers now aren’t buying things because they’re made for men or for women, they are just buying things that they like. So for example, women might buy things from men’s brands and on the other hand men might buy things that are presented for women. So I think this style of proposing things for both sexes gives customers much more choice and is therefore a very good thing.”
Shibasaki said that while her budget used to be split pretty much half-half between local and international brands, this season a share of about 60 percent it earmarked for Japanese brands. She said the change was made for business reasons, including the fact that local brands tend to have faster delivery times and are sometimes more trustworthy than international brands. Her section currently stocks brands including Christian Dada, Ujoh, G.V.G.V., and Taro Horiuchi, which she said was one of her favorite collections this season (although not a participant in fashion week).
From spring, Shibasaki said she will be adding Ponti, a brand designed by Nobue Hirata, and Efilevol, which is managed by a team of three designers. Neither brand showed during fashion week.
In recent seasons, organizers have also been working to position Tokyo as a kind of pan-Asian fashion week. This season saw three different group shows, as well as a few individual shows, which presented the work of designers from countries including the Philippines, Thailand and Hong Kong.
“Tokyo is the center of the entire Asian market,” Miyake said. “We believe that it is very important to continue to collaborate with various other Asian countries.”
The Tokyo metropolitan government does its part to support young talent by awarding two prizes — the Tokyo Fashion Award and the newly launched Fashion Prize of Tokyo — both of which give the winning designers the opportunity to show their collections abroad in either fashion shows or show rooms. The winners of the 2018 Tokyo Fashion Award were announced as Shunsuke Aoki of Body Song, Shinichiro Ishibashi of Kuon, Soichiro Ito and Yuki Takagi of Soe, Kohei Nishimura of Digawel, Hideaki Shikama of Children of the Discordance, and Satoshi and Asami Yamane of F/CE. The inaugural Fashion Prize of Tokyo went to Maiko Kurogouchi of Mame.
Chihiro Sekine, a women’s buyer for Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings and one of the judges of the Tokyo Fashion Award, said she was happy to see more younger, smaller brands participating in fashion week this season.
“More and more young brands are starting to do shows, including joint shows, which is allowing more people to participate in fashion week who didn’t participate before, which I thought was really interesting this season,” Sekine said. “I think the hurdles to doing a show have been lowered slightly, which means that more people who didn’t think think of doing shows before are now deciding to take on the challenge at this time of the season. And that in turn is bringing in more young people to watch the shows, because even if they have to stand in the back they want to see them and get the sense of being a part of fashion. So I got the feeling that there was more of a festive feeling to the week than there has been in the past, and I think that’s a really good thing.”
Peters said he and his colleagues at Amazon have so far been very pleased with their involvement in Tokyo fashion week and in the response they’ve gotten about it.
“I can say honestly we’re super happy with what’s going on, and it is exceeding our expectations as to how excited the entire community is getting around it. And we’re just really honored to be a part of the whole thing for our customers,” the executive said.
Asked whether Amazon will be able to continue the momentum it has built up with the At Tokyo program, which this season featured some of Japan’s hottest designers at the moment, Peters was hesitant to provide any clues about what next season may bring.
“I’m happy that it’s evolving the way it is, but I wouldn’t stick At Tokyo in any one box,” he said. “I think that’s the beauty of creativity. With the designers as well as with the program that we’re trying to create, the question is, how do we maintain that innovation and creativity of doing things our own way? And I think that’s one of the things that’s special about Japan, is that a lot of times you think, it’s that but then you look and, oh no, it’s that. And I don’t want to stifle the team and say, we need to keep going this way or, we need to do this. I really want to give them the open creative book to be able to bring in what they think is best for the fashion community as a total.”
From Wooster’s point of view, his advice to designers in Tokyo is the same as it would be to many others.
“I say this to buyers that I work with, I say it to young kids, and I would say it to designers here in Japan: pay attention,” he said. “Look around and see what other brands are doing around the world, and learn from them. Because we have so many tools available basically at our fingertips on the phone, there’s no excuse, there’s no reason to not know what’s going on. And so I just would offer that to any young person: pay attention.”
Not including the four At Tokyo shows, the latest edition of Tokyo fashion week saw a total of 21,800 registered attendees, of which 452 were buyers from within Japan and 357 were international buyers.