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After a Fashion

Have you been worried about what unexpected events Y2K might bring? In the midst of worries about water and nuclear accidents, have you given a thought at all to the state of fashion when the new millennium rolls around? We thought not. That's why we roll out the red carpet and take you on a walk through Tokyo's fall/winter collections with Zita Ohe - a dedicated follower of Japanese fashion.

1999-2000 Autumn & Winter Jun Ashida Collection

In less than a few months we start the new millennium. So just how are Tokyo's designers and fashion marketers envisioning clothes that will take us into the first winter of the year 2000? Rippling throughout collections are nods to the past, fashion that effuses romance, nostalgia, glamour, folklore and comfort. Some designers are questioning clothing, society and the future, utilizing materials with functional, hi-tech and protective qualities. Some are choosing luxury, others are embracing the natural.

An encouraging trend can be found among the waves of Japan's culture conscious avant-garde designers who are fusing old and new technologies in creative ways with materials, cut and tailoring. These designers' sensibilities have evolved from being part of Japanese culture - a culture that created origami, folding lanterns and clothing that traditionally folded flat.

Another trend is that some established family-owned Japanese fashion houses are finally bringing globalization home... by giving more creative say to the younger generation of their foreign-born or foreign-trained relatives.

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Classic elegance by Tae Ashida 1999-2000 Autumn & Winter Jun Ashida Collection

The Old Guard
"Nostalgia, a Farewell to the 20th Century" is the theme of Jun Ashida's collection. In this veteran designer's autumn/winter show, held at the Akasaka Prince Hotel, models with tightly upswept hair paraded the runway to classic film scores in traditionally tailored suits, coats and ensembles. Luxury fabrics and styling recalled elegant times from the past decades. Jun Ashida's foreign-trained daughter Tae chose "Transition" as the theme for Miss Ashida. Her concerns are about the world's state of constant flux and how nature, people and fashion can be transformed. She proposes a natural, lean silhouette, classic elegance and urban practicality for day wear and romantic clothes for cocktail, evening and weddings with a Medieval touch.

Hanae Mori is gradually shifting to a more youthful direction with the appointment of American daughter-in-law Pamela as creative director for her ready to wear. Her collection shows a relaxed series of cashmere knits that Pamela helped develop as well as some unorthodox soiree kimonos sashed low on the hips.

In Hiroko Koshino's "Rebirth of Cubism" collection the designer envisions a futuristic new Asian couture using stunning avant-garde fabrics, leather and fur in dark, neutral and earthy colors spiced with vivid and metallic accents.

Chisato Tsumori's theme "On the Earth" explores a sleek folkloric look using simplicity of line, strong color and a modern touch in fabrics. Bulky knits, fake fur, leather, down padding and embroidery reinforce her urban peasant look.

Kosuke Tsumura titles his contemporary collection "Sunrise Tour." In his pre-show handout he says "We are about to leave the twentieth century and embark on a new journey. Just like tourists... we don't need heavy outdoor clothes, but rather things that are light and easy to pack flat, clothes and accessories that will take us on our journey into the new dawn." Tsumura's contemporary collection in his Aoyama boutique features his sporty, lightweight designs that draw from the image of futuristic sixties fashion but with new dimensions of softness, practicality and comfort.

Junya Watanabe's thinking on how to compact winter jackets and coats resulted in his fresh vision that drew standing ovations at the Paris collections. Surprisingly, his short shapely jackets can be folded into bags or muffs. By using bonded nylon twill and tweed plus skillful seaming, Watanabe eliminates the need for tailoring. What looks like a fur collar can fold out to a short jacket, and flat fabric cane shapes fan out to form distinctive ribbed coats and capelets. Long circular skirts and simple chemises complete the look, his ode to womanly femininity and a nod to Dior's postwar "New Look."

Although Rei Kawakubo gave no formal theme for her Comme Des Garcons collection, it is her transformation of familiar fabrics, the colors and draping which stand out. Sequined fabrics are "decolorized" to shades of red, pink, orange or are pure white, over-printed with color. Gold or silver lame threads shimmer through traditional plaid, pinstripe and tweed fabrics. The beauty is in how, using only drape and simple fastenings, Kawakubo makes a rectangle of fabric look complex on the body. She staged her show in silence, in a vintage office building near Tokyo station that once epitomized modernity, a reflection perhaps on just how quickly modern can become dated.

Courtesy of Junya Watanabe A/W 90-00 Collections © J. François Jose

Future Threads
It was the younger generation of designers who offered the most refreshing changes. Using unorthodox presentations rather than runway shows, they offered witty and provocative comments on fashion and society.

Instead of a show, Shinchiro Arakawa offered a wearable art exhibition. What looked like flat, partly constructed garments were stretched on individual canvasses hanging like paintings against dark velveted walls. Next to each stood a dress form where an assistant demonstrated its conversion to three-dimensional shape on the body. What appeared to be one thing turned into another; a pant would become a skirt for example, or a jacket a dress.

Maria Virgine's designer Motoki Takahashi turned fashion into performance art, intriguingly reconstructing his sixteen piece collection, titled "Intact," behind a transparent curtain. The clothing was pre-constructed and bonded onto two bolts of fabric from which Takahashi and his assistants snipped the garments free to clothe the models.

Provocative images came from Mixed Up Confusion's Hiroshi Hasada, who had butoh dancers, looking like victims of some unknown tragedy, interact with models to weave a warning tale for our future, making his utilitarian clothing seem a protective necessity.

Hiroyuki Ohya seated faceless white clad mannequins along the walls to the entrance of the Sogetsu Kaikan theatre where he screened his funny experimental film, Restwell - Running, Sitting, Sleeping. Citing our need for rest in this fast-paced world, the practical advantages of his functional urban clothes become apparent: Ohya's coats convert to sleeping bags and his dresses have zip-on seat cushions.

Under Cover's Jun Takahashi handed out an illustrated book, a cartoon version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, at his show. Playing on the concept of duality for his casual designs he presented his "Ambivalence" collection in two identical rooms on twins!

"Dream. What do you want to be today?" said the program notes at No Concept But Good Sense where Yoichi Nagasawa wittily replayed youthful fashion classics backwards from the soulful '70s to wartime Britain. At the finale, a curtain divider behind us suddenly vanished, revealing another audience where the men's collection paraded simultaneously as we watched the women's!

Body Butter's Masako Saso and Yukiko Kurahashi held their collection in four separate rooms of a photography studio where a Benneton-like array of models of different races and nationalities wore upbeat street clothes in tune with the youthful audience in attendance.

Jun Ashida bids farewell to the 20th century 1999-2000 Autumn & Winter Jun Ashida Collection

Go Figure
Two refreshing responses against high technology in fashion came from new collections that closed the show season.

For his debut, Naiyma designer Takeshi Yanagida evoked a pastoral image which was both lovely and strong. Using rustic leather, fur, and winter cottons, his fresh proportioning owed as much to Oriental as to Elizabethan references.

In their presentation Yab Yum's designers Mami Yoshida and Patrick Ryan envisioned a village of unknown Eurasian origins where people strolled the streets in warm earthy-colored attire and natural fabrics. "(Our clothes) are intended for a lifestyle where the wearer has a strong sense of contemporary individuality and sense of non-conformist freedom in their style. Our style is not avant-guardist in the conventional sense; it doesn't scream, it suggests. We only hope to suggest a world where there is an element of the human experience with its flaws and imperfections... seemingly forgotten in the rush towards the new age," state the designers.

But where will fashion be going for the average person on the street in Tokyo?

"In general Japanese youth are looking for smaller brands, something that no one else has," says a young market director for a well-known American designer label here in Japan. That may account for the recent surge in numbers of new names debuting shows in the Tokyo Collections. The director also noted that many young Japanese still look to Europe rather than America for something new in design.

While the pursuit of something different or trendy in fashion is such an intense game for many style-conscious young Japanese, who for the past two decades have been the typical customers for trendy fashion and designer labels, usually after the reality of children, married life and mortgages sets in, the amount of disposable income these former fashion addicts spend on clothing drastically wanes.

If the current winter collections can be any indication of what's awaiting us next, there are some promising trends: The emergence of more lifestyle choice in clothing, a generational shift among established fashion labels, and playful cultural twists from the younger waves of fashion rebels. Some of these, as well as lesser-known foreign labels will soon become established as those even yet unknown names waiting in the wings emerge in the twenty-first century.

A note on name order: Some Japanese designers are identified, both here and abroad, by their names in Western order, i.e., personal name followed by surname. In the interest of consistency, all names in this article use the Western order.

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295: Just Do It!
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293: Vegging out in Tokyo
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292: Multiplicity
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291: After a Fashion
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290: Used and Abused
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289: Microbrew - a mini guide
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286: Are you quaking?
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