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 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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Tokyo Won’t Be Added To A “Big Five” Any Time Soon

Despite their best efforts, Tokyo Fashion Week is not quite on par with New York, London, Milan, and Paris (held twice a year in that order), but does it matter when Tokyo itself is still the most exciting city on earth for fashion?

Lithium AW 2017Lithium autumn/winter 2017 show

It’s been a long and somewhat rough journey for Tokyo Fashion Week. The autumn/winter 2017 showing just concluded in the Japanese capital, but it’s not been fodder for media frenzy, viral memes, or ten-trends-to-watch-out-type reports. Most of what has been coming into news feeds have been along the lines of “The Strongest Street Style from Tokyo Fashion Week”. Sidewalk, it seems, was more captivating than catwalk.

Not that they have not tried. It’s been 32 years in the making, yet, somehow, the big league has escaped what has been Asia’s premier and possibly oldest fashion week. Its inability to soar could be the problem with identity. While many insiders refer to it as Tokyo Fashion Week (just as the Big Four have become identified by the city in which the events take place), it, in fact, began life as Japan Fashion Week (JFW), which emerged in 1985, no doubt prompted by the success of the Japanese designers in Paris in the early ’80s. Prior to that, people in Tokyo remember an event called TD6 (or Top Designers 6) emerging in 1977, organized by the show producer and musician Yoshiro Yomo, who has collaborated with Issey Miyake in the latter’s early shows in Paris, where prêt-a-porter, institutionalised in 1973, is precursor to today’s fashion weeks.

Japan Fashion Week remained largely a gathering of a motley group of designers from across the country to show collectively until 2005, when the Council of Fashion Designers restructured it in order to attract the best local names (Japanese designers still preferred to show overseas: Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons have never left Paris since their respective debuts there in 1981). It was also when the Japan Fashion Week Organisation was formed to guide JFW in the direction that will bring about bigger international acclaim, if not lure more international buyers. In 2010, it went into partnership with IMG Fashion to attract big-name corporate sponsorship and in 2011, unsurprisingly, Mercedes-Benz became the title sponsor until last year when, surprisingly, Amazon Fashion came into the picture, branding it—what else?—Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo. Still following?

House CommuneHouse_Commune autumn/winter 2017

It is not yet clear what Amazon can do for a fashion week. Mercedes-Benz is understandable (although Persil or Tide makes more sense), but Amazon Fashion, a recent sub-brand of the e-commerce behemoth, has mostly been associated with merchandise that’s not quite “fashion”. That’s not the only reason why fashion brands are avoiding them; there’s also their pricing strategy (read: not high end). Amazon has been a (discount) book seller for a good part of their existence and then a general merchandise portal. High fashion is not (yet) a major sell although, if you type Louis Vuitton in their search bar, you do get a list of LV bags sold, not by LV, but sellers such as Chic Designer Bags On Sale.

According to the Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo website, which completely replaces the old pages headlined by Mercedes-Benz, the city has already joined the Big Four: “Out of the world’s fashion weeks, those held in Paris, Milan, London, New York and Tokyo are regarded as having the most potential for disseminating information due to their history and the amount of buzz surrounding them. These five fashion weeks are the most known fashion weeks in the world and have much influence of the fashion world.” The reality is a little different. For many of the members of the media, as well as the buying brigade, Paris is, as Refinery 29 wrote, just three weeks ago, “the final stop on the international whirlwind known as Fashion Month”.

To be fair to the Japanese, they did try to get Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo to a quick start. The first show was on 20th March, one day shy of two weeks from the last Paris show. But that is not quick enough for the international pack if you consider that Paris Fashion Week began immediately after Milan. Even if you factor the time difference between Europe and Asia, no one needs thirteen days to recover from jet lag. Once, you’re outside Fashion Month, which is not lacking in grumbles that it’s too long, it’s going to be tough to get people back into another circuit.

AulaAula autumn/winter 2017

Scheduling aside, people know who they are going to see when they go to New York, London, Milan, then Paris, plus a few they don’t know for good measure. Chances are, you don’t really know what you’re in for in Tokyo. All the names that you are familiar with and that you like, you have already checked out in Paris: Anrealage, Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake, Junya Watanabe, Kolor, Noir Kei Ninomiya, Sacai, Toga, Undercover, Yohji Yamamoto. So who will you see in Tokyo?

It may seem a little harsh to say that all the strong ones have left the nest, but it is not immoderate to say that those who show in Tokyo are perhaps not quite ready to take their place alongside the world’s best. Having followed the Tokyo scene regularly for decades, it does appear to us that those who remain in their home turf tend to be too Tokyo, which means, they are markedly Japan-centric. That in itself is not a bad thing since it is known that many Japanese labels are quite happy to cater to the domestic market alone. But for those from the outside looking in and hoping to find more of the Nippon artistry that makes Paris Fashion Week more exciting, they may be unraveling the wrong seam.

Members of the media, buyers, and influencers swoop down on New York for the city’s love of sportswear, (further) takes on the ’70s, First Lady-worthy gowns, and, if they must, joke that is Christian Cowan, with Paris Hilton taking to the runway. Then they cross the Atlantic to London to see the stuff that will advance fashion, and all the Brit-classic redux they can take, while wondering where in the happy mix will be the next Alexander McQueen. After that, they fly into Milan to witness Italian tailoring the umpteenth time, and also take in the good taste, and in recent years, the bad too. Then it’s off to Paris for the refinement left over from haute couture, and, since the Japanese invasion, the avant-garde, and, since John Galliano at Dior, sumptuousness and historicism. If there’s anything left in the overseas budget, it’s off to Tokyo, but what can they hope to find in the land of Cosplay?

Hare AW 2017Hare autumn/winter 2017

What Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo has up against it is not so much the other fashion weeks, but the city itself. Tokyo, as regular visitors and first-timers would attest to, is a veritable catwalk anywhere you go in the city centre, even in the neighbourhoods away from Shinjuku and Shibuya and the triumvirate of Harajuku/Aoyama/Jingumae. The most interesting things are also happening at retail level, and not just among designer labels but across chain stores too. Buyers who are attracted to the wares and wears of Tokyo often go straight to the brands to discuss biz op.

The popular brand Beams, for instance, receive constant inquiries from overseas retailers keen on representing it in their home market. Sometimes it’s the fans that go directly to the brand, such as M.L Trichak Chitrabongs from Bangkok’s Heavy Selection. Mr Chitrabongs, a graphic designer by training, has been an ardent fan of the artisanal denim label Kapital. When he became the design director of Heavy Selection, the shoe-maker-turn-fashion-retailer with 200 plus stores throughout the country, he took the opportunity to go straight to the Kojima-based company to seek the distributorship for Thailand.

Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo as middleman is, therefore, somewhat redundant when so much of the city could be walk-in business potential. The 50-odd labels that participated in the catwalk shows could hardly come to represent the staggering variety that is fashion in Tokyo alone. As showcase, it is unneeded since the city too is a living platform for fashion that is actually being consumed. So many of the participating designers bore aesthetic similar to the merchandise in mega-emporiums such as Marui (also known as 0101), which touts itself as purveyor of “world-acclaimed apparel collection of Tokyo styles”, that it is hard to discern what is truly special at Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo.

EthosensEthosens autumn/wniter 2017

The difficulties facing Tokyo is compounded by competition from fairly nearby cities: Shanghai and Seoul. Sure, fashion week in Tokyo has a longer history, but upstarts are not too concerned with the past of those that came before them. Shanghai Fashion Week (8—16 April) is gaining ground even if interest is aroused only because Chinese designers such as Yin Yiqing and Zhang Huishan are making waves in Europe. Seoul Fashion Week (27 March—1 April, immediately after Tokyo) is on the radar due mainly to the unwavering interest in K-pop and K-drama, but what if both are no longer exciting the indiscriminate young? In some ways, Seoul, too, have a problem similar to Tokyo. Buyers have long been visiting Seoul to source for their stores, but the catwalk has not really been the conduit; the packed wholesale complexes of Dongdaemun operating in the dead of night have.

According to AFP, the Tokyo calendar attracts 50,000 visitors, and that, apparently, is “just a quarter of the total number that attend New York’s two annual fashion weeks, and also lagging behind London, Paris and Milan”. Despite its lack of pull, is Tokyo still the place to see groundbreaking designs?  It has not been a given that you will always get to witness the likes of Junya Watanabe, but given the city’s design culture and history, there are opportunities to view things one have not seen before, even if Japanese avant-garde has become somewhat saturated. Watchable names such as Yu Amatsu’s A Degree Fahrenheit don’t necessarily show on runways, and house brands of stores such as Tomorrowland and United Arrows continue to rack up sales without the benefit of fashion week showing.

There are, of course, some interesting, if not totally compelling, shows in this second installment of Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo. We’re piqued by the designs of Lithium, House_Commune, Aula, Hare, and Ethosens, whose respective designers are making wearable clothes desirable without resorting to craziness or indeed the complex forms of their predecessors who have brought Tokyo to the world’s attention. However, this handful isn’t quite enough to elevate Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo to commanding heights. For now, it would have to be Big Four plus one.

Photos: Jiro Shiratori