The Mame Kurogouchi RTW Fall 2018 show at the new Amazon Fashion studio in Tokyo

TOKYO — Japan’s largest fashion event wrapped its six-day run last Saturday with a full day of shows by the winners of the Tokyo Fashion Award, among others. While buyers were somewhat tepid about the overall quality of the week’s collections, there were bright spots among the emerging brands.

This season saw 59 brands participate in Tokyo Fashion Week, the most ever. It also drew a greater number of registered buyers and media representatives than the previous two seasons. It was the fourth season with Amazon as the title sponsor, and the third for its At Tokyo program, which provides support for brands that wouldn’t normally participate in the week to do so. This season the At Tokyo brands were Mame Kurogouchi, Ambush, TTT_MSW and Neighborhood.

James Peters, vice president of Amazon Fashion in Japan, said he and his colleagues are proud of what the company has done in support of fashion week.

“We really wanted to go deeper into the fashion industry and get to know a lot of the brands and try to do our best to support the overall Japanese fashion scene, especially within Tokyo,” he said. “And I think the creation of At Tokyo helped us go even deeper, by bringing in brands that would normally either not have the wherewithal or didn’t have the interest in showing in the normal venues, and partnering with them has been a super fun change that we’ve gone through as we’ve iterated on this.”

In addition to having bigger budgets than the presentations of smaller brands, the At Tokyo shows draw big crowds, but not all attendees are editors and retailers. Amazon also brings students into the events, an initiative of which Peters said he’s particularly proud. Still, despite the high attendance, the At Tokyo shows were not among the most buzzed about collections of the week, with the exception of Mame Kurogouchi.

In terms of the overall organization of Tokyo Fashion Week this season, reviews were mixed.

“Since Amazon became a sponsor, various marketing measures have drawn increased attention to Tokyo Fashion Week, and this time there were the largest number of participating brands,” said Kazuyoshi Minamimagoe, senior creative director at Beams. “However, Amazon and Japan Fashion Week Organization need to work with each other to better coordinate the schedules for shows and Amazon events.”

Pascaline Smets, fashion and buying director for Smets, her family’s chain of concept stores in Luxembourg and Brussels, said communication is also an issue. This was her third visit to Tokyo Fashion Week, and she said she still finds it very difficult to gather information on the schedule of shows, exhibitions and other events, as well as the locations of showrooms and venues.

Each season sees brands from elsewhere in Asia present their collections, through programs such as Asian Fashion Meets Tokyo, which this time brought over two labels from Indonesia. GQ Japan also supported the South Korean brand Freiknock, designed by Joohyung You, to stage its first show in Tokyo. While Peters said Amazon is more focused on helping Japanese brands, it is supportive of JFWO and other organizations and companies in taking these measures.

Masafumi Suzuki, editor in chief of GQ Japan, said he thinks Tokyo should do more to position itself as a sort of main fashion week for all of Asia, and that as an international publication based in Tokyo, his magazine should do anything in its capacity to help make this happen.

“The main protagonists [of Tokyo fashion week] should be not only Japanese, but also South Korean and Chinese, even Thai, Taiwanese, [from] wherever, so that our designers in Asia can contribute to modern fashion of the world,” Suzuki said.

In terms of the Freiknock collection, Suzuki said its major asset was the youth of the designer, who also happens to be a former professional soccer player.

“The show was quite interesting in terms of that I could sense: the youth and the hopefulness and a keen desire for opening of a freer world for fashion for the young,” the editor said. “I could sense a hint of zeal for getting out of the prison of established fashion. The fashion was not that mature, but that immaturity was the merit of it.”

In terms of his favorite collections of the week, Minamimagoe said he liked those of Akiko Aoki and Perminute — both also young designers — and Support Surface.

“Also worth noting is Mistergentleman’s smart, twisted and humorous collection that seemed powerful enough for a shot at mainstream Western men’s wear, in a league with street-infused Vetements and Supreme,” Minamimagoe said.

Smets said she currently stocks Japanese brands such as Doublet, Ambush, Sacai, and Issey Miyake, and she also mentioned Mistergentleman as one that interested her this time. Others she said showed promise were Liroto and G.V.G.V., and she will start to sell Neighborhood from the fall.

“I know it’s not a new brand for Japan, but I think now my market will be ready to understand the brand. I used to work with Visvim, but that was a little bit too radical in terms of Japanese style for my market. It didn’t work very well,” she said. “Neighborhood is really about the fabric and the quality. It’s very consistent and you can really feel the Japanese inspiration and roots. What impressed me the most is really the quality of the fabric.”

For Keiko Shibasaki, a women’s fashion buyer for Hankyu Hanshin Department Stores, Tokyo didn’t produce many particularly strong collections this season, but there were some that she thought would sell. In particular she thought Auralee, a brand that didn’t participate in fashion week, would fit well in the section she manages, with its simple, comfortable and versatile pieces. She currently carries The Dallas and G.V.G.V., and from fall she will add Soe. She also had positive views on Mame Kurogouchi.

“I get the impression that it’s risen one step above most Japanese brands,” Shibasaki said. “I think it’s gotten to the point where it’s a brand that can follow in the footsteps of Sacai in terms of doing well internationally.”

The market for Japanese brands outside of Japan is a tough one, as they often become quite pricey due to importation fees. Still, buyers such as Smets say that certain customers — namely those who are more curious and interested in fashion in general — are willing to pay a bit more for something unique. This means that there is promise for Tokyo brands, and something to give them hope if they hope to see outside of their home country.

“Honestly, I think the market is still tough for Tokyo’s collection brands, but this fashion week showed the strength of young brands who were influenced by the international success gained by their seniors like Mame and Doublet,” Minamimagoe said. “Global Work, Japan’s equivalent of Topshop in my opinion, has superb styling that is very much capable of doing well internationally.”

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