Tokyo Fashion Week

Tokyo Fashion Week wrapped over the weekend, marking an end to the first season with Amazon as its headline sponsor. The company chose to use this initial foray as a learning opportunity, not making many changes to how Mercedes-Benz had run things. But many buyers and industry insiders hope to see fresh new designers come into the mix next season, and most expect see-now-buy-now to become a larger component.

Amazon has indicated its interest in this new, faster moving style of fashion.

“We’re ready to do [see-now-buy-now] now. We have absolutely zero barrier right now to be able to do that. So as soon as the designer community is ready, we’re hand in hand, we’re ready to go,” said James Peters, vice president of Amazon Fashion in Japan. “The customer is obviously dictating that there’s some change happening, and the industry is reacting to that in a really cool way. And Amazon will be able to support that because the lights are already on for us. A lot of people are going to have to build that out and there’s a lot of, I think, barriers for everybody. We have the technology, the platform and the people to do that today.”

 As for whether or not see-now-buy-now is actually good for the industry and good for business, most buyers seem to agree that there’s benefits to — and room for — both models.

“I think it’s a good thing. Tokyo brands are actually already doing that,” said Kazuyoshi Minamimagoe, senior creative director of Beams, citing Tokyo Girls Collection, a consumer-centric, in-season fashion event that originated with the concept of see-now-buy-now. “In Tokyo, multibrand shops like ours carry quite a bit of weight, and those kinds of places are already making private labels in a manner that is similar to see-now-buy-now. I think the Japanese market is well suited for that.”

London-based Taiwanese designer Johan Ku is the first Tokyo Fashion Week designer to begin the move toward see-now-buy-now, offering his collection for pre-order on his web site starting Nov. 1, with deliveries being made roughly a month later.

Alex Kasavin, owner of the men’s boutique Idol in Brooklyn, was one of several buyers invited to Tokyo Fashion Week by the Japan External Trade Organization, known as JETRO. He also feels positively about the concept.

“A lot has been talked about see-now-buy-now, so there are clearly two sides,” he said. “I don’t think it would hurt any brand anywhere to do a collection and add spot releases that are available to their stockists. That’s a very Japanese thing that I think the whole industry can learn from, and that way you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

Last season, many buyers felt underwhelmed by the mix of designers presenting during Tokyo Fashion Week, as several of the more directional brands had made the leap to showing internationally. That sentiment continued into spring, although there were some brands that stood out.

“I don’t think the overall quality of Tokyo Fashion Week has improved. From this season, the sponsor changed to Amazon, and everyone had a kind of anticipation about that, but for now even Amazon said that this time it wasn’t changing anything,” Minamimagoe said. “On top of that, last season we saw some big brands leave [Tokyo to show abroad], so [many were] wondering what was going to happen. Actually, the number of international designers increased, which I think is good to show Tokyo as the fashion hub of Asia, but the current Tokyo designers are still very small and subdued. That was the overall impression, but if you look closely, there actually were some quite interesting brands. This is good, but they have their work cut out for them moving forward.”

Minamimagoe said some of his favorite collections this season were Mint Designs, Discovered, Sulvam and Uemulo Munenoli. The latter is designed by Munenori Uemoro, who previously worked as a design assistant at Costume National and Jil Sander. Minamimagoe described the collection as “minimal, but layered in a very cool way.”

Motofumi “Poggy” Kogi, director of United Arrows & Sons, said that while his budget for Japanese brands is down slightly this season, he was very interested in Bed J.W. Ford. He also enjoyed watching Umit Benan’s show, which he said local designers could learn from.

“The venue [for Tokyo Fashion Week] is different from Paris and other places in that it’s indistinct, so all the shows start to look the same,” he said. “So I thought the way they changed that to create the show venue for Umit Benan felt like it was similar to a show done abroad.”

Shogo Terazawa, a women’s buyer at Isetan Mitsukoshi, concurred.

“I think the shows shouldn’t only be held at [one venue],” he said. “I think if the designers expressed themselves more, right from the choice of venue to the way they stage it, more people would come and it would be more fun for international buyers.”

Terazawa’s budget for Tokyo brands has also decreased somewhat this season, as he said international brands are selling better and are also easier to buy at the moment due to a strong yen.

“Overall, I don’t think [the Japanese brands] are very strong,” Terazawa said. “The difference between Japan and other countries is that it has a unique capital city, but the young designers aren’t really incorporating the culture into their work or working hard to create a unique showpiece.”

As with recent seasons, buyers agree that there are more strong men’s brands than women’s brands. Yuji Takahashi, who also works for Isetan Mitsukoshi but as a men’s wear buyer, said his budget for local brands grew slightly this season. Both he and Terazawa are jury members for the Tokyo Fashion Award, which selects six winners each year.

“This time I really thought all the brands that were chosen as winners were the ones I personally liked the best,” Takahashi said. “We were able to get a very close look at many brands, and these ones really stood out.

In particular, Takahashi said he was interested in the men’s brand Doublet, designed by Masayuki Ino, who formerly worked at Mihara Yasuhiro. Takahashi said Doublet is carried by an Isetan store in Kuala Lumpur and has been received well there, so he is considering adding it to his mix in Tokyo as well.

While buyers were less than enthused by the brands showing this season, there is also a consensus that Tokyo has plenty of great design talent. The challenge seems to be getting fashion week to feature some of the more interesting, newer brands.

“Amazon is saying that it wants to help to grow new brands, but actually now there is a change toward see-now-buy-now, so I don’t know if these young Tokyo designers will want to do an orthodox fashion show,” Minamimagoe said.

Umit Benan, who skipped Paris this season and instead showed in Tokyo after being invited by fashion week organizers, also had strong opinions on the matter.

“You have a country where the consumer is the highest; you have a country where the creator is the highest; you have a [country] where the buyer is most creative, almost as [much] as the designer. I think everyone needs to get together to make the Japanese fashion week much better. I think you need a new generation of designers in fashion week in Japan to support the system, because you have the highest level of every single creativity, from every aspect of fashion,” the designer said after his show.

As for what changes can be expected in Tokyo’s fashion week next season, Peters said he couldn’t yet give any specifics.

“I think that every day everything’s evolving and we’re part of that evolution, and we want to do that with fashion week,” the executive said.

This season’s shows drew a total of 21,000 people, slightly more than the last installment in March, but down from a year ago.

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