Mistergentleman RTW Spring 2020

TOKYO — Japan’s biggest fashion event, Tokyo Fashion Week counted over 40 brands as participants in its latest edition, including a few that have started to see success overseas. And while attendees agreed that overall the season wasn’t one that people would be talking about for years to come, there were still plenty of positive aspects.

The most recent season marked the first with Rakuten as the event’s headlining sponsor. The company took over the position from its biggest competitor, fellow e-commerce giant Amazon. The sponsorship ties in with Rakuten’s re-branding of its fashion business, which was formerly known as Brand Avenue. Now called Rakuten Fashion, it has an updated logo and a simpler, more user-friendly look that is similar to other online shopping sites for fashion items. Rakuten is using its association with Tokyo Fashion Week as a way to increase the profile of the relaunched platform.

But as the sponsorship has only just wrapped its first season, it’s too soon to tell how Rakuten will shape the event overall. Without the big-budget shows of Amazon’s At Tokyo program, which in the past included brands such as Sacai, Undercover and N. Hoolywood, the most recent season had a somewhat subdued feeling to it. Still, there was definite talent to be found, and buyers agreed that many brands continue to show real growth.

“We’re in a time where anyone can make clothes easily — if you don’t care about the quality then even people who have never made clothes before can easily make things and sell them online,” said Yukari Negishi, women’s creative director for Ron Herman in Japan. “But the young designers who are showing during Tokyo Fashion Week and have their sights set on international markets have taken an approach of not just improving their overall aesthetic, but also improving the foundation of their clothes. They’re studying fabrics and learning from the weavers who have been practicing their craft for a long time, and then developing fabrics with them. So rather than just making clothes by intuition, more people really want to make good clothes.”

Negishi said that when Ron Herman first arrived in Japan 10 years ago, Japanese brands accounted for less than 10 percent of its apparel selection. Now, that figure is at 40 percent, and there’s a good possibility it could continue to grow.

Auralee and Mame are two of the local brands that have done very well at Ron Herman’s stores in Japan, Negishi said. The retailer started carrying both from their first seasons, and they have continued to grow. Other brands that she said have improved even more in recent seasons are Sulvam and Bed J.W. Ford.

“They’re not doing things on a large stage, they’re just running their own companies. In a certain sense they’re doing things informally. But they’re learning fast and putting in a lot of hard work, so I feel that their growth is quite fast. They’ve changed a lot in three years,” she said.

Nick Wooster, who serves as one of eight jury members for the Tokyo Fashion Award, said that there were so many strong brands that applied for the prize this season, that it was a more difficult decision than it has been in the past.

“One of the brands that I felt very strongly about which is a Tokyo Fashion Award winner this time is Re:qual, which is completely crazy. And let’s say that there’s so much energy and so much opportunity there; he will be the kind of talent to watch,” Wooster said. “Then you couple that with a brand like Meanswhile, which is just amazing clothes. Those clothes could stand up, in my opinion, in Milan, in Paris, in New York, in London. He could show on any of those platforms. So that’s kind of the perfect blend, in my opinion, of what we’re seeing.”

In addition to Re:qual and Meanswhile, the other winners of the 2020 Tokyo Fashion Award were Yuki Hashimoto, Ihnn, Shoop, and FT Fumie Tanaka. As for the brands that put on runway shows this season, Wooster said two standouts were Mistergentleman and Tomo Koizumi, who had the fashion world abuzz about his frothy, candy-colored tulle creations when he was invited to show them last spring at Marc Jacobs’s Madison Avenue store in Manhattan.

“For me, Tomo Koizumi is an amazing example of the best of what Tokyo has to offer, and it’s so important to have that kind of voice as a part of this week, and that’s been a nice addition to this season,” he said.

In his first show during Tokyo Fashion Week, Koizumi showed his contemporaries that when it comes to quantity, less can definitely be more. He showed only seven looks, but they made such an impression that people were still discussing the show days later.

Yoshimi Nagao, a women’s buyer for Takashimaya, mentioned another designer with overseas experience as one that made an impression on her this season: Kozaburo Akasaka. Born and raised in Tokyo, he is currently based in New York and won the special jury LVMH Prize in 2017. Nagao said his collection was “very cool” in a way that is not often seen from Japan-based brands. She said it was interesting that through his clothes she could sense his international experience.

Nagao said that Japanese brands account for about 60 percent of her selection. This season, she picked up the brand Photocopieu for the first time. It was launched just last season by Misa Takeuchi, who formerly worked with Isabel Marant. She didn’t do a runway show during fashion week, but presented her collection in an exhibition.

“She has a real skill with patterns, and her dresses are like icons. I think she could easily penetrate the market with her dresses, especially among ‘It’ girls,” Nagao said. “She mixes skilled tailoring with these very soft dress patterns, which is something that seems like it would be common but surprisingly isn’t.”

Both Nagao and Negishi also said that Takuya Morikawa has really stepped up his collections recently. His brand Taak won the 2020 Fashion Prize of Tokyo. It was previously lauded with the Tokyo New Designer Fashion Grand Prix in 2014 and the 2017 Tokyo Fashion Award.

Chihiro Sekine, a merchandiser for Isetan’s Shinjuku store in Tokyo, said that she saw a lot of interesting new brands this season, but that it was too soon to say if she would end up buying any of them. Her section is currently made up of between 80 and 90 percent local brands, but things may change slightly when it undergoes a remodel, scheduled for next March.

Organizers of Tokyo Fashion Week said the spring 2020 season attracted some 16,000 attendees to shows by 42 brands. This is not the biggest it’s ever been, but it also isn’t the smallest.

As Wooster said: “I think that it’s been a good season. I don’t think it’s been the most earth-shattering, but I feel like it’s been solid.”

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