Malamute RTW Spring 2018

TOKYO — Eagle-eyed buyers at Tokyo Fashion Week discovered some gems beyond the runways — even one that might satisfy despondent Phoebe-philes.

“I think there may be an opportunity for Hyke to gain a bigger following. For people who were fans of Phoebe Philo’s Celine who are now looking elsewhere, Hyke could possibly fill that void,” said Motofumi “Poggy” Kogi, creative director of United Arrows & Sons.

Hyke staged a large-scale show in a rented venue for the first time this season. And while it is already carried by some of the best stores in Japan and across Asia, Kogi believes it may have potential in the West as well.

Tomomi Miyamoto, a men’s wear buyer for Hankyu and Hanshin Department Stores, said she planned to pick up Japanese brand Comoli, which also did not participate in fashion week. “The quality of the materials is unique to Japan, and the designer’s proposal for the way clothes should feel when you wear them is fresh,” Miyamoto said. “I can feel its strength in its conviction to be unshakable by trends.”

Tokyo Fashion Week finished its six-day run on Saturday to largely mixed reviews. After what many considered to be a strong autumn season, the spring 2019 installment generated less buzz among buyers and journalists. And while there were definitely a few bright spots, the highlights were fewer and less pronounced than they were last season, echoing other fashion capitals.

“Just like in Milan, New York, Paris — the seasons go up and down, and I would say that, right now in general, I think the market is maybe course correcting. I know that this has probably not been the world’s favorite season, but I think that out of that, you always learn something, and I think that there will now be some change,” said consultant Nick Wooster, who was invited to Tokyo for the fifth season in a row as one of the judges of the Tokyo Fashion Award. “I think we’re ready for something different.”

This was the fifth season since Amazon took over from Mercedes-Benz as the headline sponsor of Tokyo Fashion Week, and its At Tokyo program has continued to raise the bar for shows and events with high production values. But this season, those theatrical highlights — Anrealage, N.Hoolywood and a joint show by Christian Dada and Bed J.W. Ford — were all brands that previously showed their collections in other cities. So while the events helped to raise the profile of Tokyo Fashion Week and to generate buzz, the potential business benefit for the brands is small.

“Compared with Paris Fashion Week, there’s obviously a different scale and I think the production of the shows is slightly inferior, but I think the production of Tokyo Fashion Week is improving every year,” Miyamoto said.

In a similar vein, many buyers noted that while this season saw many new brands and young designers participating for the first time, none particularly stood out as the next generation of brands that could have potential to succeed both in Japan and overseas.

“A lot of young brands came out, and from the perspective of these brands I think the timing is good for them to share their world view at the main fashion week venue. On the other hand, although there were many young brands, I worry that none of them seem to be ready to follow in the footsteps of Sacai, Toga and Mame as the next star brands,” said Keiko Shibasaki, a women’s buyer for Hankyu and Hanshin Department Stores. “I feel that there are few brands that can strike the balance between the pursuit of originality and commercial items that translate to sales.”

Shibasaki added that her buying budget for Japanese brands has not changed much this season, and that she currently has no plans to add new Tokyo brands to her selection. But she will go to the exhibition for the brand Mister It, which did not do a runway show, and if the collection is strong she plans to order it.

Shibasaki said the best spring collection from a local brand came from The Dallas, which did an off-calendar presentation. “Last season, they did a show at the main fashion week venue, showing the fun side of fashion with a big climax, but this time they took over an entire floor of a hotel for their installation and used each room to create a different story,” she said. “I was able to feel a big evolution from the brand, and I can really empathize with a designer who aims to show how fun fashion can be. I think it was an installation that really communicated the identity of the brand and the collection very well.”

More non-Japanese brands continue to join Tokyo Fashion Week: There were both group shows and individual shows by designers from Austria, the Philippines, Indonesia, the U.K. and more.

“One of the things that you could say is both a good and a bad thing about Japan is that it’s very insulated. And I think that anytime there’s an opportunity for cross-pollination, it’s good for everyone,” Wooster said.

Ksenia Schnaider, a Ukrainian designer who showed in Tokyo for the first time last week, called Japan one of her most important markets and she is trying to grow its presence here even more. She said she was impressed with the organization and attention to detail of the fashion week staff, as well as the atmosphere. “I loved the audience there. Everyone’s style is so personal and authentic. For example, in Paris, people are also stylish, but they seem to be following the same set of rules. In Japan, it looks like each fashionista lives in their own little world,” she said. 

The Fashion Prize of Tokyo, an award supported by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which selects one winner per year to show for two seasons in Paris, announced its 2019 winner during Tokyo Fashion Week: Ryota Iwai of the brand Auralee.

The winners of the 2019 Tokyo Fashion Award were also announced on Saturday. They are Cinoh by Takayuki Chino, Jieda by Hiroyuki Fujita, Anei by Haneishi Yu, Nobuyuki Matsui’s eponymous brand, Postelegant by Yuya Nakata, and Rainmaker by Koichi Watanabe and Ryutaro Kishi.

James Peters, vice president for fashion at Amazon Japan, said the company has enjoyed working with the Japan Fashion Week Organization and pushing it to innovate in new ways, but he stopped short of confirming whether or not the relationship will continue for future seasons.

“Amazon is constantly evaluating where we’re adding value. So we’ll keep looking at this relationship and ensuring that we’re doing what we can do, but we also have a broader consumer segment in place as well, and we have a need to communicate to them as well,” Peters said.

Of the brands that showed their collections only in Tokyo this season, the highlights included:

  • Hyke’s modern takes on classic military shapes and active-inspired pieces created in collaboration with The North Face
  • Shohei’s casual, sporty collection of asymmetrical dresses and separates designed with a European take on Japanese sensibility
  • Mistergentleman’s vibrant, colorful interpretation of street-meets-dandy men’s wear
  • Malamute’s elegant, textured knits mixed with scarf-print sets, sheer pants and loose, relaxed denim
  • Ksenia Schnaider’s fun, slightly kitsch take on resortwear, with frayed denim and sequined, sunset-print T-shirts
  • Jenny Fax’s storybook-like dresses in sweet florals and tablecloth prints, with unique details like oversize hoop pockets and exposed navels that added a touch of humor
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