Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo: Nine Notables

These may not be names we get to see and buy here, but follow them we sure can

If the Japanese can organise the Tokyo Olympics in the middle of a raging pandemic, while the capital was (and still is) in a state of emergency, it would not be unreasonable to assume that they could put together a Tokyo Fashion Week (TFW). And they did. But the annual event no longer goes by that name. The old TFW had been struggling to stay on its feet, until Rakuten came along as official title sponsor in August 2019. The Japanese “e-commerce giant” Rakuten pulled out of Singapore in 2016, just after two years of operations here, and retrenching staff on the fifth day of the Lunar New Year—one ill-advised HR move that startled the industry. Known as “the Amazon of Japan”, it lost the accolade that year (website closures also included Indonesia and Malaysia, and in Europe) to, yes, Amazon. Rakuten Group’s business has become varied since, and now includes telecommunications. Still, its e-commerce connection is not severed, and, with the company’s motto “Shopping is Entertainment”, remains a huge part of Japan’s online shopping culture and hive.

To bring more heft to mere sponsorship, Rakuten also created the sibling “by R” project to “support the fashion shows” of Japanese designers (both new and established), “with the goal of broadening the horizons of talented young designers in Japan and showcasing the country’s designer fashion to the world”, according to a company statement. It does not say what the criteria of selection are. Only two are picked. Recipient of the support at the inaugural “by R” shows last year were Undercover and Beautiful People, both labels benefitted from “planning assistance and event management for the fashion shows”, as well as the “stream(ing) of videos of both shows on the Rakuten Fashion online fashion shopping website for free, with the goal of helping to further raise awareness of the brands”. This season, two awareness-not-quite-required names were selected for Rakuten to “power”: White Mountaineering and Kolor.

White Mountaineering in a garden

Kolor in a subway train

Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo this year, which began on 30 August and ended last Saturday, surprised many industry watchers as it did not take place in the more traditional month of October. The orgainisers moved it to be even ahead of New York Fashion Week, which begins tomorrow. Two weeks before the shows started, The Japan Times called the new dates the “shock of the month” and reported that media and buyers were “caught off guard”. Some observers thought that the new dates were to better accommodate those brands that offer menswear, usually shown earlier than women’s. It is, however, unclear how this will affect international buyers’ timetable (are they still travelling?), but with the sudden rescheduling, the Tokyo shows seem to target the domestic market, which has always been sizeable, and continues to be encouraging. According to a Reuters report, published on the first day of the shows, “Japan’s retail sales rose for a fifth straight month in July (a rise of 2.45% from the same month a year earlier), beating expectations”. That was clearly off to a good start.

Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo’s 48 brands offer a varied mix of IRL shows (with or without audience) and video-films, some more compelling than others. For many designers, a physical presentation is still the more desirable option, even when not all could present to an audience. As Yosio Kubo said through a video presentation, “There was a tendency that digital announcements were enough due to the corona, but there are still many things that cannot be done. After all, I think that the physical fashion show will continue. You can see it from various angles and smell it. I feel it and realize the importance of the parts that cannot be covered digitally. That is why I think that the fashion show will not end even though it is an old system.” Digital-only fashion weeks may be seeing the last of their heydays.

All of the following brands featured are not, as far as we are aware, available here. We have been following them in our annual visit to Tokyo, which unfortunately had to come to a halt in 2020, but this does not mean that we cannot continue to enjoy their creative output. We hope you’d take pleasure in them too.

De_Caffeine Homme

The Bunka Fashion College-educated, Seoul-based designer Avizmo Jo is a proponent of “New Normcore”, based on the big-in-Japan fashion movement Neo-Dadism—essentially the meeting of what is considered art and the minutiae of everyday life. The designer’s post-graduation label De_Caffeine Homme, conceived in 2018, offers “trendy style(s) that you can enjoy freely in your life, like decaffeinated coffee”, according to their communication material. It is not entirely certain if Avizmo Jo is a real name since it does not sound Korean (some members of the Japanese media refer to the moniker as a brand, even framing it with inverted commas), but his designs marry the realness of what men increasingly want—nothing too formal or business-y—with details that are often surprising, such as this season’s multiple collars/collarless treatment on a single shirt. Almost-traditional tailoring is strong with masculine silhouettes that are relaxed by not exaggerated.

Hare

Hare is part of the Tokyo-based fashion retail company Adastria’s stable of more than 25 mid-priced-to-affordable brands, such as Rage Blue, Lowrys Farm (that exited Singapore in 2015 just after three years here), and Niko and… (currently wildly popular). Regular visitors to Tokyo would be familiar with Adastria brands although they may not know which company is behind them. Hare is one such label, often seen in teen hotspots such as Lumine Est in Shinjuku. Established in 2003, the label, categorised as a “mode brand” in Japan, is put together by a team of in-house designers who translates the key trends of the season into looks that straddle fashion-school-graduation excesses and high-street salability. This season, oversized shapes dominate, with a welcome dose of technical fabrics and rich prints. The layering suggests a far more sophisticated leaning than what the brand is noted for in stores.

Hyke

Hyke was launched during the 2013 autumn/winter season, but designers Hideaki Yoshihara and Yukiko Ode—married to each other—have worked together since 1998. Their eight-year-old label is very much followed in their homeland, where could be consider the Luke and Lucie Meier of Japan. Winners of the 35th Mainichi Fashion Grand Prix in 2017, the designing duo is known for their strong tailoring with feminine touches. For spring/summer 2022, their strength in pattern making and modern fabrication are again evident. Menswear styles are tempered with puff-sleeved dresses, sometimes paired with unlikely accessories such as a helmet bag. Just as striking are the strong but simple tops, teamed with waist-gathered skirts that are cut from shinny, technical fabrics. A collection that truly stands out for its grown-up, intelligent attitude.

F/CE

Although the brand has a clothing line, F/CE is popularly known for their bags, including serious camping backpacks that could rival The North Face. And, their cool retail space in Shibuya called Root General Store. Founded in 2010 by Satoshi Yamane (with Asami Yamane designing the womenswear), F/CE is a go-to RTW label among those in the know. Mr Yamane has quite an impressive CV: a former designer at Men’s Bigi and, later, sales and marketing manager for Crocs Japan before moving up to become the shoe brand’s chief designer. Like quite a few of his fellow Tokyo creatives, Mr Satoshi is also a musician, playing the bass guitar with his post-rock band, cheekily named Toe (there are three studio albums to boot). Perhaps, it is this background in commercial footwear and indie, guitar-based music that Mr Yamane is able to lace F/CE with a considerable dose of edgy cool: utilitarian styles paired with outdoor wear and holiday garb, and the brand’s wearable and desirable bags.

Irenisa

Yohji Yamamoto alums Yu Kobayashi and Yuji Abe used to be the revered 77-year-old designer’s pattern maker and product development specialist respectively. Launched during the autumn/winter 2020 season, Irenisa is a menswear label that does not quite look back at the co-founders’ fashion pedigree. Instead, both men have forged forward with an aesthetic that they called “chic with sarcasm”. It is not certain that the sarcasm is immediately discernible, but Irenisa do not shy away from the elegant, and the the seemingly basic. Upon closer examination, one sees the three-dimensionality of the cuts and how they allow the comfortably-fitted separates to envelope the body without excess and without confining it. A jacket looks like a jacket, a shirt looks like a shirt—no needless deviation.

Rainmaker

In Tokyo, Rainmaker is unusual in that it is based in Kyoto, the cultural and historical heart of Japan. Although one does not associate the city with fashion, it is considered a textile hub, especially for kimono silks (the best are still hand-woven and hand-dyed). It is in this artisanal environment that Rainmaker was conceived in 2013 by Kohichi Watanabe and Ryutaro Kishi. The duo’s aesthetic for both the men’s and women’s lines have always been heavy on crafting that tends to characterise those brands not operating out of Tokyo. From traditional fabrics to dyeing techniques to the relaxed silhouettes, there is something refreshingly retro-urban about Rainmaker’s looks. This season, blue in all its glorious subtle shadings—indigo naturally not to be omitted—determines the collection’s Japanese-ness, if it can be so described. Set apart, the clothes will not stump the adventurous pattern maker, but when worn, these pieces feel like the best pieces of a mature wardrobe.

Sartograph

One of the newest labels of the season, Sartograph was launched only last year, yet designer Shinsuke Nakano’s collection is so confidently put together that the clothes feel like the work of much more seasoned hands. A Central Saint Martins graduate, who benefited from winning Alexander McQueen’s Sarabande Scholarship, Mr Nakano completed his PhD at CSM. Sartograph, although only into its second season, offers no lack of technical finesse. Mr Nakano has been described as a minimalist designer, but it isn’t the minimalism of say, the ’90s. Within the discipline of the traditional tailoring, utilitarian workwear details—sometimes in the form of wearable accessories—are incorporated, almost like graphic design. The result is unmistakably contemporary, without traipsing into the much trampled grounds of streetwear.

Sise

Seishin Matsui’s Sise is a Tokyo Fashion Week regular. Conceived in 2010, Sise came into prominence after securing a place as a finalist at the 2015 Woolmark Prize. The line is often described by Japanese media as “minimalistic”, but, increasingly, Mr Matsui explores more complex cuts and styling that are reminiscent of the ’90s Japanese avant-garde, seen, perhaps, through European lenses. Colours are mostly kept muted to better reveal the subtlest of details and silhouettes—still body-respecting that they avoid leaning on exaggeration. Although Sise offers menswear, it is the women’s collection that is presented at Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo, and like the other stronger looks shown this season, Sise’s sits comfortably on the side of androgyny without jumbling too much the male/female sartorial divide.

Yoshio Kubo

Yoshio Kubo showed his modestly-staged IRL collection in his office/atelier in Nakameguro, Tokyo’s hotbed of edgy labels, marking a welcome return to the Tokyo calendar after showing in Milan and Paris for the past five years. Among the names in this list here, Yoshio Kubo is possibly the most internationally-recognised. In Asia, the line was sold in Bangkok and Hong Kong, and here at Club 21. Although Nr Kubo’s clothes are not considered so subtle as to escape the curious mind, he does hope to encourage consumers to “think about the design and details of clothes again”, presumably as opposed to the thoughtless consumption of fast fashion. A graduate of Philadelphia University’s school of Textile & Science and a former assistant with American couture designer Robert Dane of The Danes for four years, Mr Kubo’s work is not separated from impeccable refinement, even when the final looks—as in this season’s curved lines within relaxed tailoring—tend to place him among the leading Japanese avant-gardists.

Photos and screen grabs: Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo/respective designers. Collage: Just So

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