What did the Japanese show in digital Paris Men’s Fashion Week?
The strange camera angles of Kolor. Screen grab: Kolor/YouTube
Like all the designers showing in this season’s digital Paris Men’s Fashion Week (PMFW), the Japanese designers submitted videos, all from Tokyo. One name was conspicuously missing: Comme des Garçons. We are unable to find out why the label has opted out of the digital showing. Designer Rei Kawakubo, as most know, works in mysterious ways. Her brand breaks rules; it does not even have a fully working website, just a landing page (this does not include the sub-brand CDG, whose website is essentially an e-shop). Even the offspring Comme des Garçons SHIRT, usually shown in a small tight space, was out of PMFW. Similarly, the brand under Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe MAN, has gone AWOL. As of now, it is not known what Comme des Garçons and its related brands are up to. Nor, Sacai, whose designer Chisato Abe was supposed to have been the guest designer of Jean Paul Gaultier’s couture collection, but nothing has yet come out of that.
Also not in sight/site was Issey Miyake’s main line. The brand only showed Homme Plissé via a cheery video, called Meet Your New Self, that approximated the optimism typical of its IRL staging. It opened with a model in a sanatorium-like room (there’s a square window that afforded a view of the sky), watering a small plant. A symbol of growth and renewal? Then, eerily, two garments out of a dozen on a rack in a corner started to move untouched. The model was drawn to them, took them down, and danced with them. He then slipped the clothes on and continued dancing. Meanwhile the plant bloomed: two flowers were seen. Spring? Colour? Life? The flowers (more) were later revealed to be made of the house’s signature plissé fabric. This concept of dancing model and freak blooming was repeated through two other models until a last dance, featuring, presumably, the full collection.
A truncated snap of Issey Miyake’s film. Screen grab: isseymiyake.com
The positivity and buoyancy at Issey Miyake was not shared by his compatriots. Japanese designers, often more avant garde (or downright weird) than other designers showing in Paris, seemed more restrained in the digi-sphere. We were hoping that they would be the ones to create the online experience so far eluding us in the fashion weeks thus far. Unusual, boundary-pushing, or even bawdy (as in late-night Japanese TV), we did not see. The designers succumbed to what was expected of them: different. But that was not necessarily engaging.
Strange did appear. Doublet’s Masayuki Ino offered the film Strangest Comfort, hosted by a man dressed as a teddy bear made of knitted patchwork. As stated in the narration, this was “a story of a bear who loves Christmas, birthday, and Valentine”, who, with nothing to do in summer, decided to celebrate “a very happy unbirthday”. As it turned out, this bear is a talented pattern-maker and sewer. The result was a fashion collection. The man-as-bear packed and gift-wrapped the clothes he made, and delivered to some people, who, rather than be shocked by the delivery person in such a get-up, received the gifts gleefully. And every recipient was happy. “Fin.”
The strange man-as-teddy bear of Doublet. Screen grab: Doublet/YouTubeThe puppet show at Mihara Yasuhiro. Screen grab: Maison Mihara Yasuhiro/YouTube
More creatures in the form of puppets were seen at Mihara Yasuhiro who delivered a fashion show, More or Less, attended by rag puppets! All as madcap as the Muppets, they were even unable to resist taking selfies. (Far cuter that the kitschy Barbie and Ken-like dolls at New Yoker Colm Dillane’s jokey KidSuper.) The runway presentation was straightforward enough, with models of the human kind doing their turn, but with head obscured by a square-faced emoticon. In this way, how the models looked was truly immaterial. We could concentrate on the clothes, which remain in the domain of hybrid styles with details that will catch you by surprise.
Odd rather than weird was Teppei Fujita of Sulvam’s show. The video captured a couple posing, if you could call standing around that, in front of his undisclosed atelier, on a road divider, under an elevated highway, with only the hum of the traffic for the soundtrack. This could, of course, be budget constraints turned into alt-art, but if there is one thing the former pattern-maker at Yohji Yamamoto needed for his striking clothes, it is context, not hints of homelessness, especially when he told the viewer, “I have no specific concept for each season”
Auralee’s quiet elegance in an equally quiet setting. Screen grab: Auralee/VimeoFumito Ganryu’s meaningless film. Screen grab: Fumito Ganryu/YouTube
Of course, the lack of concept, or a compelling one, struck the whole PMFW. If conceptual heft cannot be offered (understandable, given the conditions), why not just show the garments? Auralee’s Ryota Iwai did. The clothes on our side of the screen looked good, but the hi-def cameras dwelled lovingly a little too long on the faces and hands of the models. We are sure that followers of Japanese fashion would appreciate looking at details up close rather than at the make-up free models, however lovely they are. One of our favourite brands Junichi Abe’s Kolor showed clothes too, but it isn’t clear why the video’s head-spinning camera-work looked like the result of a toddler inexplicably given a GoPro, all seven-plus minutes long. Although many of us will subsequently look at stills and look-books, it is, nevertheless, annoying that, at first encounter with the collection, we were left wanting more, not to mention with motion sickness.
As we have mentioned before, the digital fashion week is used to augment a brand’s image. But these are no newbies and their brand image have not been vague. Sumito Ganryu, as a label, is fairly new. And his need to make a powerful visual impact is understandable. Unfortunately, Mr Ganryu’s video, like so many others featured during PMFW, was slapped with such a heavy dose of pretentiousness, that the stop button was screaming to be clicked just 10 seconds into the screening. The star of the show is a stack of CRT televisions showing unremarkable scenes. When two models organising a clothes rack and shelf appeared, we started asking ourselves if the one-and-a-half minutes spent on the film were better used watching something more meaningful.
Such as White Mountaineering. Designer Yosuke Aizawa’s simple but striking film married a fashion show to the marvels of digital graphics. Is this what “phygital” looks like? The starting point was simple enough: the pattern block. From here, clever use of CGI allowed the cut fabrics to fly off the table, and fall on the model, emerging from a border-less space. The pieces landed on his body in the correct sequence, and the fashion show, as close to a real one, began. The pattern motif was repeated visually like electric charges, perhaps underscoring the importance of the technical block and the fact that many Japanese designers are master patterners themselves. The presentation was filmed in hi-res, and the close-ups truly allowed us to see the details of the garments. The seam tapes on the underside of jackets were clearly revealed, even the threads on a quilted bomber! Conceived with the Tokyo-based digital design firm Rhizomatiks, the film was possibly the first truly riveting one to watch. Not only was it presented as a runway event that we’re familiar with, it was edited in such a way as to truly allow the viewer to marvel. And, like an IRL fashion show, it has a finale!
That out of the ten Japanese designers who participated in PMFW this season, only one stood out, is as dismal as it is true that all joined as novices. They, like their European counterparts, are newcomers to this digital game. And all, as well as names from the largest luxury conglomerates, stepped out into the digital domain with less confidence and creativity than what we had positively hoped for. We understand it is difficult to create good content during a time as bad as the present. But would a blurry video with no meaning hold anyone’s attention if it were screened in front of an actual audience in, say, an auditorium? To be sure, the physical fashion show has to be on hiatus, but, in the mean time, do we need to watch videos that neither entertain nor enlighten? If designers want to make clothes that people want to wear, why shouldn’t they create videos that people want to watch? Fashion, now, more than ever, deserves better.