Deftly Kolor-ed

With his masterful deconstruction, Junichi Abe propels Kolor from strength to strength

Kolor’s Junichi Abe has a way with deconstruction that is beguiling. It isn’t the same as what we have come to know as Japanese deconstructionism—at Comme des Garçons, for example, which can be rather confusing—but something quite different. The parts on the garments he makes are re-arranged, but they are recognisable: a collar, a sleeve, a placate. But the pieces do not appear as they should. More often than not, they seem constituents dismembered from other garments (even old clothes?) and then reassembled, as Victor Frankenstein might a sapient life form, to create necklines (especially), bodices, sleeves that are fetching, not freaky, amalgams of similar garments, rather that the hybridised forms that his wife Chitose Abe prefers for her label Sacai. The Kolor aesthetic is not so much a chromatic blend as a mash-up of parts, and therein lies the label’s irresistible pull.

Mr Abe did not always present Kolor in this manner, but in recent years, he has become more adept at this mixing of parts (not necessarily matching), and it reached quite a high in the spring/summer 2022 collection. He can, for example, fuse polo collars with the V necks of sweaters, and ribbed round-necks can be linked to other ribbed round-necks, all the while providing a comfortable opening for the neck. Graphic designers might recognise the work as cut and paste. But, now matter how many bits are assembled, there is always a balance in the form and silhouette of the garments. No one is going to mistake a sweater for a jogger, a blouson for a skirt, even if they look disjointed at times. In fact, it is the recognisability and wearability of the clothes that fans continue to visit Kolor for their beyond-basics.

This season, Kolor’s show is a digital presentation shared during Paris Fashion Week (whether there would be an IRL reprise in Tokyo later—as in last year—is not known yet). The runway is within a lab-like space with glass walls and ceiling that reflect the models’ images and what they wear, as in a house of mirrors. At some point, the viewer is given a glimpse of the outside of the rectangular tunnel, and it looks like rush hour in a Japanese underground train station, with uniformed men and women rushing to somewhere. And then it’s a return to the calm on the runway (although the soundtrack by Sakanaction offers no clue of this orderliness). Perhaps Mr Abe is saying that no matter how incoherent (rambling?) the externals of his clothing might be, there is an orderliness within, and a structure that is assuring and confidence-boosting?

Many of the pieces could be described as work clothes. But what fantastic work wear they are and how not belonging to any work site! Jackets have a mysterious collar unfurled onto the lapel—on one side; blazers appear to have the tail of an inner garment slipped through a vent, necklines of sweaters look like scarves crisscrossed on the collarbone; sleeves of outers are puffed on one side, as if the sewer did not get that side of the cut pattern; coats reveal portions that are inside-turned-out, and we could go on. There is a lot to see. And unpack, which may not be necessary at all. It is too easy to be pulled into the off-beat world of Kolor and remain within. There is no denying that Junichi Abe is an innovative designer, but perhaps even more appealing, he is one pushing boundary-within-boundary too.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Kolor

In And Out Of Subway Cars

Kolor reprises their spring/summer 2022 show with an IRL presentation in a Tokyo mass rapid train

Tokyo, despite the inner-city madness that it often is, provides likely and unlikely locations for fashion shows. From serene gardens to manic metro lines, they offer context for the clothes that Japanese designers dream up, frame of reference not seen on an indoor, purpose-built runway. Kolor’s repeat showing of their spring/summer 2022 collection for Rakuten Fashion Week is a total opposite of its digital show—a walk-on-the-spot presentation filmed in a studio. In contrast, the IRL version takes place in a working train, with guests seated as passengers. The brand is, of course, known to ardently embrace the city in which it is based. Past marketing campaigns and look books were shot in the heart of the capital, sometimes in the busiest areas, in total oblivion to the daunting pedestrian traffic. This time, models are sent through a Tokyo subway platform and train—unmistakable Nippon transportation settings, except for the absence of body-against-body commuters. Too quiet, in fact, to be even off-peak hours.

The lack of frenzy is possibly due to Kolor’s choice of station—this is not Shinjuku. The start of their commute is not at any that obvious, or an eki on the looped Yamanote Line. Instead, the less-known Keikyu Kamata Station (京急蒲田駅) on the privately-operated Keikyu Line is picked. Situated in Ota (大田区, also Ota City), in the Southeast tip of Tokyo, the station lies in what’s considered the hub of the ward—a stone’s from Haneda Airport—that goes back to Edo times. Although Keikyu Kamata station was not errected back then, it is still considered of advanced years—120! Rebuilt and refurbished a few times, it sits in the heart of a ward known as “the centre of Japanese technology”. It is in this off-beat location, a distance from the typical show venues of the capital’s centre, and considered where one might encounter “the real face” of Tokyo, that Kolor showed its collection, amid true local colour.

The runway comprises of the interior of a chartered four-car Keikyu train and the platform of Keikyu Kamata Station itself, where the line arrived (destination reads “charted”) from Shinagawa (品川区)—the ward to the north of Ota City—with the invitees of the show seated socially-distanced. Students, presumably from fashion schools, line the platform. When the train stops, the doors open as they normally do. But there’s no waiting for the show to begin (or anyone to exit). Hardcore techno beat comes on and models emerging from an escalator onto the above-ground platform—just like commuters—immediately enter the first car and walk down the aisle. There is something more substantive in this presentation than the digital version showed during the Paris calendar in June. This is not make-belief. This is not styled for a runway. This is a real (too real?), everyday setting that is familiar among those who need to commute via public transport daily, on-trend fashion in stride. The models look like Tokyo urbanites already populating the city—in a haste, strikingly turned-out, supremely confident.

The co-ed collection, in many ways, reflects the city too. While Tokyo is not as plural as our island, their fashion consumers are, including those willing to adopt styles that are not too everyday, or slack. In Tokyo, contemporary popular culture may clash with traditional aesthetics, but what designer Junichi Abe creates are not weird clothes worn only by certain fashion tribes; these are amalgamated looks one could easily witness in any of Tokyo’s busy trains and on their teeming platforms. As Mr Abe said, in an interview with show organiser Rakuten, “beautiful things, ugly things, and dirty things are mixed, and even though there is a sense of discomfort and anxiety, they (customers) accept as beautiful”. Additionally, Kolor’s choice of Keikyu Kamata Station augments the city’s reputation for having the best mass rapid public transport in the world. It posits the city itself, with all its chaotic madness and modern precipitancies, as the ideal backdrop for seventeen-year-old Kolor’s splendid urban designs. To underscore—or contrast—its aesthetic strength, they need not show in Tokyo’s equivalent of a kampong.

Screen grabs: by R, Rakuten Fashion

Walking On The Spot

Kolor is on track to delivering some of the coolest clothes, when it’s time to mingle and impress

You can always depend on Kolor to colour what could be turning out to be the pandemic-influenced preference for drabs. Fashion is grappling with loungewear-goes-to-the-street on one hand and ready-to-party-clothes-for-all-occasions on the other. Many designers believe that when things go back to normal (as they surely must), we we will want extraordinary clothes that look like they truly deserve the attention that is now mostly lost to a disease people are sick of. Junichi Abe does not negate the truth that when we’re out of the woods, we’d want comfortable clothes, as well as those that say we’re embracing fashion again. And these could be garments that are the sum of what we have worn before, pre- or, hopefully coming soon, post-pandemic. A happy amalgamation of all those that had brought us joy and comfort, in ways that they had not been able to in the past year, at least visually.

Yet, if the spring/summer collection looks a tad similar, it’s because Mr Abe’s design approach this season seems like a version 2.0 of his autumn/winter 2021 collection. Could this be a natural progression of designs started during the lockdowns that struck so many countries and progressed to a time when social restrictions are still very much a part of our lives? Perhaps that could also explain Kolor’s presentation. The space is the neutral confines of, say, a theatrical black box. The models walk on a short treadmill (barely half the length of what you would find in a gym, and operating at a speed that would feel like a stroll). Despite the walk, the models are essentially in the same spot. An observation of how we are all essentially in one position, at the same time, even if the optimists among us think we’re heading towards a better place? And does the pair of flanking robotic arms with cameras attached to them, to zoom in on the walkers—garment parts recognition, too, enabled?—work like contact tracing devices and apps, tracking us and the clothes we wear? How this must delight the fashion police!

Kolor has always been about the compositional. Increasingly, it is more so. Their individual pieces feel like parts of clothes we are familiar with that are taken apart and then reassembled on those we are still familiar with. The less imaginative might think these are scraps or remnants from the sampling room, but upon closer inspection, it can be seen that they are not odd bits and pieces of an upcycling project (if only fashion upcycling is this good-looking). The parts are ‘site-specific’ and are knitted and woven to be placed in those exact spots that they are destined to reside in. Despite the seeming randomness, a collar remains a collar, a yoke stays where it is supposed to be. They come together as a coherent whole, not some fashion Frankenstein (as our description might make them out to be): a jacket still looks like a jacket, a sweater is recognisable; so is a dress. The result maybe off-beat, but they are not weird or require a manual to wear. They may look a tad busy (how do we iron them? Can the parts be dismantled?), and sometimes we do wonder if we need clothes with such extraneous additions, but a closer look at them will excite those who are intrigued by such dressmaking intricacies and improbabilities.

A co-ed collection is shown and, for both men and women, the approach is the same. These are not hybrid clothes; these are clothes with parts, not necessarily from the type of garment on which they appear. The first look for men typifies those to come: a top coat appears to have the top left half of a pique polo shirt, draped over the shoulder of the same side, but the collar seems to be part of the inner garment, the actual polo top, which seems to sport three collars! A simple collar and we’re fixated. But they are hydra-collars! As it turns out, the coat too has a polo collar and the actual polo has a collar and a half (forgive us if you are not following. See the second top photo)! What’s with all those collars? That’s why Kolor is a joy to behold: it does not immediately make sense. These are not quite as much cut and sew than rip and tack. Where do they begin and where does one find the end? Sure, many consumers do not need fashion to challenge the mind. Just make me look good, goes the common plea. But why settle for less—a lot less—when there could be more to play with and to dress the mind?

Screen grabs (top) and photos: Kolor

The Sum Of Its Fascinating Parts

Kolor’s Junichi Abe, the master of category-defying styles, offers a master class in mixing and patching things up

At Kolor, it was a rare IRL presentation for the still mostly digital autumn/winter 2021 Paris season. There is a runway, set in what looks like an outdoor space that, in the darkness, bears some resemblance to the Midtown Garden of Tokyo Midtown during their year-end festive light-up. But, in fact, the show is staged in Happo-En Garden in the affluent residential neighbourhood of Shirokanedai, Minato. There are attendees too, appropriately socially distanced, as can be made out. The models, both men and women, walked the runway in the manner models walked when they are watched: aloof and indifferently, or impossibly cool. It helps that the clothes are able to augment the in-person attitude. And, how they are worn—often with indefinable mash-ups that never leave the effect we still know as elegance. After last season’s on-set, topsy-turvy headache inducer, the runway show allows, once again, Kolor’s riveting patchworks within recognisable wholes to be appreciated without the interference of distracting camera work.

Fans of Kolor and its low-key designer Junichi Abe look out for the season’s “accent” pieces, usually outerwear for autumn/winter. And, they won’t be disappointed. Wearing one of these delightful pieces would continue to invite the inane question from the clueless, “did you they have not have enough fabric to finish the other side?” Case in point: A slouchy blazer looks perfectly normal on the left side, but to its right, there is no corresponding other half of the notched lapel. Instead, you get the button side of a strip of cardigan! Or another: A regular crew-neck sweater that is not so regular when you spot the sleeve of a Harrington jacket on the other arm, and its tab collar on half the neck. We could go on, but detailed description takes the fun out of looking at the clothes and be captivated. Mr Abe not only pulls together disparate elements to complete a garment, he marries genres too. Athletic wear, in particular, is spectacular incorporated into more traditional menswear staples. A vintage-y track top, for example, could magically be worked into a classic bombardier jacket.

Pairing and patching have always been Mr Abe’s particular forte. Through the years since Kolor’s founding in 2004, he has been able to perfect the mixes, which, despite the increasing complexity, never felt contrived. This season, as stated in the show notes, Mr Abe tries to forge, in the light of the world’s present troubles, “a new style of simplicity where complexity also coexists within.” This is not immediately obvious if you allow the complexity that evidently exists to carry you away. Perhaps simplicity comes in the final product, when all the different parts have settled in their respective places to yield their intended effects (such as when elasticised in-seams in this season’s pants settle with regular out-seams). The womenswear, shown alongside the men’s, appears to be more composited—with some pieces, you can’t be sure which is part of the garment, which is accessory. Perhaps it is in bafflement that interest is sustained.

Reaction to Kolor, in fact, borders on the fanatical. It is considered one of the most successful labels in Tokyo, heightened by their collaborations with sports brands such as Adidas and Puma. Like Comme des Garçons, Kolor’s key pieces from past seasons fetch a high price with sellers of the pre-loved. As Junichi Abe continues his deep, deconstructive pulling apart and then bringing together of classic styles and opposing categories of clothing, and applying textures and colours (in order for its name to retain its meaning?) to the results in unexpected ways, there will always be a strong following of his style of simplicity that happily allows complexity to coexist.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Kolor

Big-In-Japan In Paris

What did the Japanese show in digital Paris Men’s Fashion Week?


Kolor SS 2021The 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.

Issey Miyake SS 2021A truncated snap of Issey Miyake’s film. Screen grab:

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.”

Doublet SS 2021The strange man-as-teddy bear of Doublet. Screen grab: Doublet/YouTubeMihara Yasuhiro SS 2021The 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”

20-07-15-17-06-50-198_decoAuralee’s quiet elegance in an equally quiet setting. Screen grab: Auralee/VimeoFumito Ganryu SS 2021Fumito 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.

White Moutaineering SS 2021

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.


One On One


Mao Shan Wang

I always turn to Japanese brands when I want something unexpected, especially in a pair of pants. This, by Kolor, appears, at first, to be a twofer, but is actually a pair of (smaller) cotton chinos split at the crotch and then spliced to a pair of wool slacks, giving the impression of conjoined fraternal twins. Okay, that’s a little OTT, but you get what I am trying to say.

Kolor’s Junichi Abe, one-time pattern maker at Junya Watanabe, has an adroit way with different fabric textures appearing in a singular/one-use garment, as exemplified in this pair of pants. There’s the casualness of the chino half and the dressiness of the Prince of Wales check of the other—odd couple that bed well.

What I especially like is the generous cut or, more precisely, the roominess of the fit, which means it’s likely to be fat-shamed by the jegging and her friends. I have cast aside skin-tight pants since the low-rise lost favour among fans of slacks. Even my jeans are baggy enough to store two chickens in each leg, as my mother would say. In this pair, it is roomy but not ‘hipsy’, which is a definite plus.

This Kolor trousers is partially lined (to the knee), which enhances the comfort factor, since wearing wool in our weather may be pricklier than sleeping in a bag of pine cones. If you are tall enough, the pants is calf-length, but I like it better when it reaches mere centimetres above the ground. Or, just two. Yes, fastidious I am.

Kolor two-panel trousers, SGD960, is available at Club 21, Forum The Shopping Mall. Photo: Farfetch

In The Crowd, It Stands Out

Kolor’s Juniche Abe takes the less-than-ordinary and makes them everyday. And vice-versa. The result are clothes that stay above the humdrum


Kolor SS 2019 P1

Shibuya, Tokyo. Any day.

If you have been to what is repeatedly dubbed as the second busiest mass rapid transit station in the world (after Shinjuku, about 4km away), you’d probably know that moving through the crowd leaves you no space to people watch. If you don’t notice the commuters, chances are, you won’t notice their clothes. This is the part of Tokyo that is a little vexing for fashion watchers. In the hustle and bustle, the moving mass is not quite a collision of individualists.

Yet it is in Shibuya that Juniche Abe chose to film his spring/summer collection. That he chose to present video clips rather than the traditional show that he has been staging in Paris for the past six years is perhaps indication that Mr Abe is making a statement about the street when such a point need not really be made in the present Men’s Fashion Week climate. With the stills evocative of Japanese street style, this could be a declaration that street wear in Tokyo is as valid as street wear in any part of America. For us, it’s better.

Kolor SS 2019 G1

Kolor has always been a label that rejects the tag classic, yet Mr Abe is an adherent of rather classic ways of clothes-making, especially with his fondness for technical outdoor wear. This is not quite the technical of White Mountaineering—fashion that can test the tough conditions of a climb, but Kolor does pull components of technical garments to work into those pieces culled from sportswear and even collegiate clothes (and the occasional preppy blazer). Hybrid would be a lazy description as Kolor is not about amalgamating but enhancing.

Take their outwear. A blouson always looks like a blouson but it’s what Mr Abe adds to or subtracts from it that makes you wonder what to call this garment. A lightweight Harrington jacket from the latest collection, for example, is given a ribboned bib-front and is worn tucked into the trousers like a shirt. So is this a shirt or a jacket? It is not really a hybrid either, is it? Whatever you might wish to call it, the shirt-slash-jacket is not without its charm. And that is why Kolor is always so intriguing.

Kolor SS 2019 G2Kolor SS 2019 G3

Furthermore, there is the colour. For a name that plays on colour (the K predates Kardashian’s vulgar fame), it would be strange that Mr Abe does not have a sharp chromatic sense. He does not use colours the way Raf Simons does, but Mr Abe has a rather keen sense of those that do not owe their brilliance to modern pigments. The hues he uses has almost a retro vibe: the burnt orange, hillbilly green, the rain-wear blue—these and their combinations border on the off-beat, something that will appeal to the fashion geek.

At times, it feels that what Kolor proposes is typical of Japanese labels also walking down this path, such as Sacai and Undercover. We can’t negate the fact that is Japanese aesthetics and motivation: never to quite leave a garment alone and unwilling to reject the desire to create the unexpected from standard forms. The most powerful street wear designer today Virgil Abloh owes much of Off-White’s DNA to the Japanese. Let’s see him deny that.


Girls Gone Good

Good Girls G1Good girls wear long(er) skirts: (from left) Junya Watanabe, Kolor, Comme des Garcons Comme des Garcons

Given how much the posterior pervaded our lives last year, it is a relief that this autumn/winter season, quite a few designers are short on the skimpy. It is not sufficiently clear if it is a Kim K backlash, but it is possible that once the backside appears on the front side of a magazine (see Paper, winter 2014), modesty could be very much missed. Are we then seeing a return to clothes that, well, serve to clothe?

This season, the Japanese designers are leading the way, although it is pertinent to acknowledge that they have never left the path. Junya Watanabe, Junichi Abe of Kolor, and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons—to these purveyors of dress, clothes can be sexy, even a substantial amount of clothes, not the lack of them. The Japanese clearly love cloth, and are adept at manipulating a piece of fabric to cover the body in often unexpected ways. Despite the baffling construction that is worked into a dress, the result is mostly practical silhouettes that can be adapted for the everyday.

We’re partial to the wide, knee-grazing skirts that appeared on the catwalk of the above-mentioned designers. With the continued popularity of severely cut off denim jeans and micro-anything, these skirts could be considered prissy, or, worse, a reminder of the (supposedly) sexually-repressed Victorians. Yet, there’s something elegant, refined, and uninhibited about their shape and length that could provide emancipation from the pressures of expressing sexuality through scantiness. The relationship sexiness has with bare skin can be redefined through the skirt.

The fact that the Japanese’s stay on the side of modesty draws no attention attests to the insidiousness of barely-there dressing. The Italians, however, have always had a sophisticated view. In the Baz Luhrmann-directed video for the Metropolitan Museum’s Spring 2012 Costume Institute exhibition, Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations, Muccia Prada said, “Instinctively, I refuse the usual conviction that you have to be beautiful from the waist up… so many things are happening from the waist down…” Yet, Ms Prada has never played up the role of the skirt by drastically reducing its length or deliberately minimising its opacity. The Prada skirts, 100 of them so magnificently displayed at the 2004 travelling exhibition Waist Down, validate the old belief that short is not always sexy.

It would also take Gucci to push forward the idea of prim-as-desirable. Designer Alessandro Michele (before his appointment last year, a relative unknown) has been lauded for making the brand “cool again”. It is odd—but, perhaps, a relief for the show-no-ass lass—that it would take new Gucci’s geeky looks rather than the entrenched sexy-to-the-max aesthetic, first delineated by Tom Ford, to revive the house. Whether looking like a librarian or school teacher, perhaps, in the end, women just want clothes that allow them to get on with their lives, rather than be too sexy for their skirt.

Close Look: Japanese Take On Athleisure

Kolor X Adidas AW 2015

Hot on the heels of Sacai’s collaboration with NikeLab is Kolor’s partnership with Adidas. Sacai’s Chitose Abe is the wife of Kolor’s Junichi Abe, so it is interesting to see how these pairings turn out. Of course, the hype is nothing compared to Pharell William’s re-interpretation of the Stan Smith and Superstar, but Junichi Abe is expected to bring something only the Japanese can with performance wear. Look at Jun Takahashi of Undercover’s on-going collaboration with Nike, the immensely wearable and intriguing Gyakusou collection.

Launched globally on 25 September, Adidas X Kolor was released in Singapore at Club 21B with no fanfare. Our contributor Shu Xie, unaware that the Club 21 Group had exclusive distribution rights to the line, had gone to the adidas Orignals store at Pacific Plaza, thinking it would be available there, only to be greeted by staff who knew nothing of the collaboration.

Perhaps it isn’t quite accurate to describe what Junichi Abe has done as ‘athleisure’—that rapidly rising sub-category of sports performance wear made popular and highly visible by brands such as Lululemon, H&M, and, to a certain extent, Alexander Wang. Or the consequence of too many ‘elevated’ jogging pants seen in bars and clubs. Mr Abe’s treatment show immense respect to what these garments would be used for: athletics and training. It is doubtful that he would have designed with a club setting and strobe lights in mind, even when the high-shine technical fabrics used wouldn’t be out of place in the likes of Zouk. Like compatriot, JunTakahashi—himself an avid runner, Mr Abe has assembled a neat little collection destined for the track and field, and the gym.

Indeed, we were immediately enticed by the somewhat futuristic treatment of the 21 pieces. If there’s a running track inside the International Space Station, it is highly possible that NASA’s astronauts would want to wear these outfits to keep fit. The fabrics, many based on the tech Adidas has conceived (such as Climaheat and Climachill, and Boost for the footwear), are mostly synthetic, yet are of such pleasurable tactile quality that it really could be performance-enhancing. In a word (or two): super soft. Comfort alone could see them being worn in the gym and outside.

Is Adidas X Kolor better than NikeLab X Sacai? It’s hard to compare. The first is essentially menswear, while the other is targeted at women. Yet, there’s a sense of the avant garde that is evocative of what both do. There’s also the layering, an approach to dispel the belief that one-piece garments work better for sports. Husband and wife clearly approach athletic-wear with a ready-to-wear sensibility, and both have not sacrificed style to performance.

Adidas X Kolor is available at Club 21B, Forum Galleria.