A Moment With Yasuhiro Mihara

Miharayasuhiro @ Club 21 Pop Up StoreMiharayasuhiro at Club 21 Pop-Up Store

Contrary to some instigation, good riddance has not come to Japanese fashion. The combination of Tokyo Fashion Week shrinking, K-pop style tide not ebbing, and China’s design stars rising may spell doom for Japanese labels, but the truth is—at least for those unable to tear away from the pull of Tokyo-centric fashion—the distinctive Nihon no sutairu is still very much alive.

While no one can say with certainty that there’s a next wave of Japanese designers after the first ground-breaking group that showed in Paris in the early ’80s, it is undeniable that there are creators today who have not ceased to keep Japanese fashion visible and out of the ordinary. One of the labels that continues to enthrall is Miharayasuhiro. Its designer Yasuhiro Mihara was in Singapore recently to intro his newest collection, currently given the spotlight in Club 21’s latest multi-label mini-emporium, simply named the Pop-Up Store (it temporarily takes over the previous unit in Forum The Shopping Mall that was vacated by Emporio Armani).

Yasuhiro MasakiMr Mihara (left), by accounts of a couple of seasoned Club 21 buyers of Jap labels, is an open and affable man, who, despite his limited spoken English, is eager to communicate with his customers, and he did. He was quick to thank attendees of the quiet launch party last Friday evening for their presence (in some cases, for wearing Miharayasuhiro), and was happy to engage in small talk. An excited PR professional was quick to point out to Mr Mihara a discontinued design of an old hand-carry bag that he loves and wishes to see come back. As soon as the designer was aware what the object of the guy’s desire was, he said apologetically, “Sorry, not that. We can’t do that anymore. Hermès is very big,” referring to the controversial bag that he had designed back in 2011, which was dubbed the “grunge Birkin”, and presumably intolerable to the French brand when so many fans had called it a “statement piece”. Interestingly, shoes can be inspired by the Birkin (yes, Buscemi! And we still have no idea why sneakers would need lock and key), but not bags.

While there was a collective lamentation that the clever and cheeky interpretation should be so quickly halted, the 42-year-old Fukuoka native revealed no regret that he is no longer able to produce the bag in question, pointing out to a new tote (also with the brand’s distinctive raw-edge leather flap) that his audience could consider instead. Good designers, it was seen, do not harp on ideas that can no longer be developed; they simply go on to others. Many Japanese designs, despite their seemingly incomprehensible avant garde output, are really about ideas, particularly how an idea (or ideas) could be used to re-imagine classic designs. Miharayasuhiro is, in fact, a label noted for applying ideas, gleaned from so many sources, onto clothes that are mostly reworkings of well-worn traditional garments.

Miharayasuhiro G1The Miharayasuhiro autumn/winter looks as seen on the brand’s website

His men’s autumn/winter 2014 collection, for instance, is almost based on everyday wear, even when it is inspired by “Tokyo mods” (whether they’re an off-shoot of the London mods, or an urban tribe of their own, we can’t say), but on top of the collection’s recognisable garments (sweatshirts, rider’s jackets, duffel and trench coats—the outerwear has always been especially strong) are details that can be traced to some kind of Japanese artisan’s workshop (the prints, however, appear to be from some poet-as-painter’s studio). The result is a passive-aggressive continuum that has all the cool a Tokyo urbanite who centres his stylish live between Aoyama and Daikanyama could want. And there are many of them.

What’s also characteristic of Miharayasuhiro is the label’s predilection for the twofer, such as this season’s blouson-and-car-coat outer. These two-in-one clothes also reflect the duality of Mr Mihara’s distinctive two-as-one footwear or the half/half shoes. In fact, for so many, Miharayasuhiro is associated with unusual sneakers conceived with Puma, such as the MY-70 series (the front half looks like it is dipped in paint). Despite the successful partnership, which is into its 14th year, few know that Mr Yasuhiro started as a footwear designer. Entirely self-taught, he conceived a shoe line in 1997, even before graduating from Tokyo’s Tama Art Universtity (whose alumni include Issey Miyake and the industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa), where he graduated in textiles. His footwear designs were hybridized versions of classic and athletic forms, and they challenged what was considered urban elegance. This vision caught the attention of Puma, and the rest is cult-status history.

Club 21 Pop Up StoreThe Club 21 Pop-Up Store at Forum The Shopping Mall where the Miharayasuhiro collections for men and women are currently available

The Miharayasuhiro menswear was not launched till 2004, which makes Mr Mihara a relatively late comer in RTW (the women’s line did not materialise till 2010). Belated entry aside, he has consistently been called one of the “most original” designers of his generation. Although each season a thematic approach leads the collection (in fact, usually sallying between rockabilly and punk), the one constant is what the brand calls “collapsing of stereotype”. This is not about dismantling the salaryman wardrobe, but adding value to familiar articles of clothing, no matter where they originate—work wear, street wear, club wear, and bringing them together in unexpected ways that could fit the plurality of urban life.

As the cocktail party with generous serving of Japanese finger foods wound down to an end, Mr Mihara moved not to the back of the store, but to the few remaining guests engaged in fashion talk over a tabletop of merchandise, chatting with them courteously, quietly, attentively—unwavering in wanting to know what his customers like. Endearing is the designer who listens.

The Club 21 Pop-Up Store is on L1 and B2, Forum The Shopping Mall

Quiet Elegance With A Touch Of Whimsy

Anteprima 1The classic elegance of Anteprima’s autumn/winter 2014 headlined by Holly Rose Emery and lensed by Ben Hassett

Tasteful and elegant are often bandied when talking about Anteprima. They’ve held on to the same aesthetic position since the mid-Nineties when the brand emerged in the wake of the rising tide of Italian fashion. More sort-after for their bags than their clothes, Anteprima has, in fact, propelled both to attain global visibility despite consumers’ increasing fondness for brash luxury. This is remarkable when, in today’s social media-led maelstrom that is fashion, so many labels are spotlighting their presence by approaching design as if there are Christmas trees to be decorated.

The reality is, elegance has been redefined by agglomerates of prestigious brands and re-represented by American pop stars with a penchant for extreme stages of undress. Ostentation is the new norm. Yet, Anteprima does not seem concerned by these shifts in a dismally massified society. They continue to produce elegance-infused clothes that are stripped of the voice to shout. These are quiet styles for women whose existence is marked by subtlety and whose wardrobe shuns gregarious colours. It has been pointed out that Anteprima treads the path paved by Italian vanguards of classics such as Max Mara, but the former’s timeless, practical, and versatile clothes have always been tempered by the light-heartedness of their accessories, in particular, the bags.

Anteprima G1Models parading in the latest Anteprima collection at the Paragon store

Unsurprisingly, the bags were the highlight at the opening of the new Anteprima store last Friday. It was recently relocated from the first to the second level of the Paragon, and in time to launch the autumn/winter 2014 collection with a ready-to-wear line that deserves more attention than it is likely to get. As usual, it keeps the under in understatement firmly in place, all the while clearly articulating refinement and superlative tailoring. These are not clothes for fashion peacocks, and fans of the label are happy the exhibitionists show no interest.

Anteprima was founded in 1993 by Japanese Izumi Ogino, a true global nomad even before globalism’s style-shifting role arrived to define 20th century fashion. Conceived in Hong Kong, inspired by Tokyo, and produced in Milan, Anteprima has a cross-cultural aesthetic despite its European leanings. Ms Ogino herself is a walking embodiment of her label’s carefully calibrated chic. Even with early success of its leather goods, it would take its Wirebag to place the brand among luxury good’s biggest names.

Anteprima Wirebag TipoThe ‘Tipo’ Wirebag gets the bling treatment: whimsically bejewelled to wow!

The Wirebag brings to mind Pleats Please’s Bao Bao bag. There are, of course, no aesthetic similarities between the two, but both have yielded expanded product lines based on one original idea. The Wirebag’s genesis can be traced to Anteprima’s parent company, Hong Kong’s Fenix Group, which started as (and still is) a knitwear manufacturer, and now mostly known among locals as the operator of City Super, a high-end provisions supplier. Exploiting Fenix’s knitting know-how, Ms Ogino created a new-look bag by using materials never considered before.

As the story goes, the designer was in Italy when she came across wire cords used for making spectacle straps. Inspiration, as is often noted, can strike when encountering the most unlikely objects. She brought them back to Hong Kong and had the new material knitted into bags, but apparently no one in the company thought them to be attractive. Rather than cast aside the trial pieces, Ms Ogino decided to display them in one of the Anteprima stores for a test sale. In 1998, the Wirebag was born.

WirebagThe earliest Wirebag, still in production, is now available in assorted colours

The fact that it did not die a premature death shows how well received those early ones were. The result was not only surprising; it soon allowed the Wirebag to take a mantel reserved for the iconic. In the beginning, the bags were sold with other Anteprima merchandise under the brand Plastiq (which, as we write this, reminds us of the ’80s Japanese New Wave band The Plastics: fun and irreverent. It’s not unimaginable that lead singer Chica Sato personifies these bags!). Unfortunately, a Plastiq bag has other connotation, and, in 2009, a name change was effected.

Just as with the Bao Bao bag, the Wirebag has evolved beyond its original forms—reticule-like carriers—to a staggering range that now includes totes and handbags with amazingly intricate knit work and unexpected colour play. Although not made of valuable materials, the Wirebag can look precious, and, as with so many things linked to Japanese aesthetic preferences, playful too. Bags in the form of a panda or Hello Kitty may now not be contrivances to sing about, but they do reveal many women’s fondness for outwardly cuteness, rather than containing function.

Anteprima is on level 2, Paragon