Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
White Mountaineering showed their desirable outdoorsy womenswear… outdoors. Where else?
Just days after announcing their collaboration with Uniqlo, to the delight of fans (our post was one of the most viewed of the month), White Mountaineering showed their womenswear spring/summer 2022 collection during Tokyo’s Rakuten Fashion Week. It’s the brand’s first presentation in their home city in nine years (they’ve been showing in Paris), staged in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden that dates back to the Edo-period, and one of the largest koens (公園) in Tokyo, just 10 minutes from Shinjuku Station. The easy-looking pieces welcomed the outdoor, just as they did in the men’s spring/summer 2022 collection, but rather than having the models navigate a mountain trail, the women scrolled down a garden path that, like remote elevations, had no visitors. Some may think that this is making it easier for the female models, but could White Mountaineering also be saying that their womenswear is better suited for the manicured, rather than the wild outdoors?
Designer Yosuke Aizawa, as we know, has a thing for outdoor wear. Passion would be a better word. But Mr Aizawa is not creating another The North Face. Rather, he is adept at melding different categories, styles, and parts of dress into an unexpected whole. Workwear meets outerwear meets river togs meet mountain gear in a happy, sometimes intriguing mingle. Femininity remain high on the agenda while the focus is on utility and functionality. Mr Aizawa is not opposed, for example, to allow a slit to go thigh-high or for the navel to be clearly seen. He has taken the potential frumpiness out of outdoor wear and given the collection the sexiness of ‘gorpcore’. And in all likelihood, for the women who are enamoured with White Mountaineering—and there are many, these clothes are as comfortable for working in an office as they would be for walking in the park.
Mr Aizawa worked with a lot of black this time, and some army greens. The chromatic darkness (save a fruit tree-printed tank dress, worn over a straight skirt!) does not quite appear to be a cheery collection for warmer days, especially in the garden known for its cherry blossoms, come spring. This is made more so when the layering does not look like a breezy affair, not the just-throw-on-a-cotton-voile-shirt kind. The jackets, also vests, are more for fashion survivalists than climbing enthusiasts. For those familiar with White Mountanineering, this is understandable and a good thing: Mr Aizawa has a way with outerwear, even when he is not designing those for going up-mountain. And it is our understanding that he sells these well, for both men and women. And these hardy-looking outers’ outdoorsy looks are teamed with gathered skirts, roomy trousers, knee-length shorts. The jackets and the like—even with pouch pockets and utilitarian straps (no paracords!)—immediately shed their non-oppidan vibe.
This collection only serves to heighten the anticipation of White Mountaineering’s collaboration with Uniqlo this season. Based on what we have gathered so far (and this may not be totally true yet), the capsule will feature mostly outerwear or, those “created as a common language for everyone”, as White Mountaineering announced last month. Uniqlo, of course, retails some of the handsomest jackets and kindred garb for colder climes, and often at irresistible prices. With White Mountaineering in the picture, some of Uniqlo’s already sophisticated ‘outers’ will get a welcome update. Many of us are possibly not travelling this year, but investing in good protective wear is never a bad idea. And since both brands veer towards the practical and wearable, longevity is on offer too. White Mountainering’s just-shown collection simply provide additional temptation.
Uniqlo X White Mountaineering could be the most exciting collab for both Japanese brands this year
White Mountaineering (WM) has just announced on social media that they will be collaborating with compatriot brand Uniqlo for an autumn/winter 2021 capsule. Fans of Japanese ‘Gorpcore’ would be thrilled (to us, it was in the Land of the Rising Sun that it all began). For us here at SOTD, this would probably be the most exciting Uniqlo collaboration since Undercover in 2012, six years after WM was born. These days, more and more fashion consumers appreciate outdoor styles that can be copped for a trendy and distinctive expression of self. WM’s designer and founder Yosuke Aizawa—a Junya Watanabe alum—will be the first to tell you that his clothes are not entirely suitable for serious mountain climbing. But his love for the outdoors and sports that brings one to higher altitudes is overwhelming, so much so that he saw the possibility of melding the functional and the utilitarian with the fashionable. And he did not see incorrectly. White Mountaineering predated the Gorpcore trend by more than a decade, way before Gucci’s pairing with The North Face.
Nothing very much is revealed (not even a photo) about the collab yet. Nor, date of release. But White Mountaineering did post on Instagram: “Announcing a new collaboration for Fall/Winter 2021. Outerwear created as a common language for everyone—LifeWear simplicity and White Mountaineering style.” To note is the deliberate mention of “outerwear”. Given that the collection is for the fall season and WM is known for their covetable parkas and such, it could be pieces we are unlikely to buy, especially when travel to colder climes this year seems unlikely. If WM’s own autumn/winter collection (or their collaborative output, such as last year’s pairing with Fila) is any indication, expect practical styling with silhouettes that are decidedly contemporary and cool. And yes, utility pockets, unusually placed too. You may not need these clothes this year (or here), but you can always purchase a couple to keep, especially when they would be priced at a fraction of what you’d have to pay for, if considering WM’s main line. Watch this space for more details.
White Mountaineering shows stylish outdoor clothes to live in
In Japan, there are spectacular open outdoor spaces to go to unwind and escape. And they are beautiful, immense and beckoning, too. Just any view, any angle of majestic Mount Fuji will leave you in no doubt the extent of nature’s striking gifts for the island-country. And for all seasons too (the colours!). Unsurprising, therefore, that the Japanese love exploring their stunning outdoors. White Mountaineering too—it is against a verdant hillside (and soundtrack by the uplifting electronic sounds of Yehezkel Raz and Jameson Nathan Jones) that the Japanese label presents their spring/summer 2022 collection, perhaps giving the brand the visual context it has never really needed. O’er vales and hills, to quote Williams Wordsworth, the models (a cast of just 18) walk down meandering tracks and on wooden footpaths over bubbling brooks. This is one of the most refreshing collections of Paris Fashion Week. Nothing arid! There is no desperate hope that after the pandemic eases, we will party like there’s no tomorrow. White Mountaineering has more pastoral pursuits.
‘Gorpcore’, of course, comes to mind. But Yosuke Aizawa is not such an obvious designer and White Mountaineering is not The North Face. Called Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, which, frankly sounds a little camp to us (anything that references the Supremes usually is, even when no Motown sound is heard!), the collection proves that even if the clothes are bound for the hills, they can still have the slickness of the city, and you wouldn’t look like you need to change before going downtown. If you step into White Mountaineering’s Tokyo flagship in Daikanyama, the log-cabin-like fixtures might remind you of ski stores in Niseko, but the merchandise are decidedly urban in their aesthetical bent and stylishness. These are worn by city folks with a holiday home—and somewhere to go—in the mountains.
White Moutaineering often notes that their clothes “blend into daily life”, but this isn’t akin to Uniqlo’s Lifewear. Lines are blurred: Seemingly simple pieces have the technical advantage of performance wear. Even if you need a suit for apres-hike soirees, it comes in such relaxed shapes (and are lapel-less) that they would not be different from wearing a cardigan-and-slacks combo, almost erasing the divide between casual and dressy. Even if there’s the severity of the functional, the collection do bear some semblance of fun. Mr Aizawa is no slouch when it comes to the slouchy that is sleek and designed with some twist of detail. Bomber jackets have the cheeriness of their souvenir cousins, walking shorts come with prints of fruits (some cut into halves—apples, lemon, dragon fruit, pomegranate!) or phoenix-like bird creatures, utility jackets are with front-centre chest pocket, bombers have the pockets of truckers, shirts have the pockets of utility jackets, trousers are half-cargos, half-chinos (pleated!), and we could go on. To be sure, these are not hybridisation in the vernacular of Sacai. Mr Aizawa, a former employee at Comme des Garçons, was a protégé of Junya Watanabe, and it is in the latter’s work that he finds common ground, but in aesthetically different ways.
White Moutaineering is, perhaps, more prescient than the credits accorded them would have us believe. When the brand was launched back in 2006, outdoor clothing was not part of fashion as we know it today. Now, even hip-hop styles cop the garments worn by hikers, after all the vintage track jackets and pants have become limited in their ability to provide deep inspiration (interestingly, Mr Aizawa is a serious hip-hop fan). White Mountaineering was born out of its founder’s love of outdoor sports, particularly snowboarding, and therein lies the brand’s realness and authenticity within what Mr Aizawa likes to refer to as “mode” (French for fashion). After a season of what-to-make-of-them looks, it is refreshing to see this (mountain) runway-to-(city) sidewalk relatability, or what SOTD contributor Ray Zhang calls, with palpable relief, “for the rest of us”.
An unusual two-way carrier from the second White Mountaineering X Fila collaboration
When it comes to bags, athletic brands tend to create those that one can bring to the gym, the court, stadium, or even the poolside. Sportif is key. Uncommon are bags that can be togged along for a day out with friends or a date with the beau. The Fila X White Mountaineering collaboration this season yields a bag shape that isn’t usually seen in stores dedicated to performance wear: the bucket bag. This is so untethered to exercising and to the likes of sweatshirts that it looks almost out of place among Fila’s family of sporting kits and kicks.
And just as uncommon is the shell of the bag: pleated polyurethane (PU) that is subtly sheer. Within, is an inner bag of synthetic fabric in an ethnic print that is rather similar to those White Mountaineering employs in their own collections. The outer has a truly stylish vibe about it. On its own it can be used as a beach bag or, as the collab’s ‘Urban Mountopia’ positioning suggests, for hiking too. The details are pure ‘gorpcore’：apart from a pair of faux leather handles, the bag also comes with two para-cord handles, one short and another long to allow for cross-body use. These are in addition to hardware that’s consistent with mountaineering gear and knots that will make the most ardent boy scout proud.
The inner bag can be used on its own, even without handle or strap. It comes with a drawstring closure. If left inside the PU outer, the pattern can be seen discreetly, enhancing the bag’s striking silhouette. To be sure, this isn’t Fila’s first collaborative bucket bag (we remember one fabric one conceived with BTS, as well as another with 3.1 Philip Lim), but with White Mountaineering, they have created a distinctively fashion-centric carrier that brings the leisure in athleisure firmly to the fore. Fila has had numerous good runs with Japanese labels, such as Maison Miharayasuhiro. With White Mountaineering, they continue to push performance wear in directions that can truly be said to be appealing.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
White Mountaineering X Fila pleated bucket bag, SGD178, is available at Fila, Orchard Central. Photo: Chin Boh Kay
White Mountaineering has largely been, since its inception in 2006, an outdoor-wear sort of brand, but not in a hardcore sense, although, to be fair, designer Yosuke Aizawa has imbued much of his output with what adventure-seeking fashion types might wish to wear, whether hiking on a verdant hillside or a snowy slope, and Helly Hansen—or the like—isn’t calling (or, Gucci X The North Face). For the brand’s autumn/winter video presentation, Mr Aizawa availed a compelling and beautifully-edited video, shot in Hoshino Resorts (including their famed Ice Village) on Mount Tomamu, which sits in the heart of Hokkaido, and modelled by those who appear to be professional snowboarders and snowmobile racers. It is a sleek amalgam of scenes reminiscent of the 2014 documentary The Little Things, interspersed with fashion snaps, featuring those who might actually wear these clothes in a setting that would really require them. Few fashion films unite stunning action photography and runway against a rugged, natural backdrop so seamlessly. One just wishes to rush out to buy a parka and head for the (even if white-out) hills!
The thing is, even with its fashion-forward designs, White Mountaineering is also known for their high-performance wear. Mr Aizawa himself is a recognised and ardent fan of the great outdoors. The name of his label is proof of his mountain-sports leaning, as well as his desire to blend fashionable clothing with the usability of high-altitude gear. Or, using details found in, say, ski wear in city clothing (for serious mountaineering gear, there is the collaboration with French brand Millet Mountain). Fans appreciate the Junya Watanabe alum’s use of unexpected textile pairings as well as touches, such as hardware to create a decidedly forward style (carabiners, a/w 2018!) that straddles rather than distinguishes regions and climates that may be poles apart. Although this autumn/winter collection is shot in sub-zero conditions, the clothes don’t just look like they belong up there, between the powdery slopes and the log cabins; they are as suitable for exploring the towns at the foot of the mountains.
It is hard, in fact, to pin the pieces down to mere winter-sports wear. We are drawn to, for example, a plaid wool shirt-jacket with practical patch-pockets of different fabrics (but in the same tone), three in a row on each side, worn with trousers with a lighter shade of similar plaid, an ensemble that would not be out of place in Tokyo’s fashion-centric areas, such as Marunouchi or Daikanyama, where the White Mountaineering flagship is situated. Or any of those utility jackets, with the yoke that appears to be extended forward in the front (or is that to give the effect of a trompe l’oeil vest?), so effortlessly smarter than, say, a chore coat. In fact, with the cold-season collections, many pieces of Mr Aizawa’s outerwear, year after year, are as collectible as the other favourite labels for-extreme-weather gear, such as compatriot Eiichiro Homma’s Nanamica.
Japanese designers have, for years, been adept at adapting classic American-style outdoor wear to their own street-tinged (but not necessarily streetwear) looks, just as how they have been able to similarly rejuvenate denim jeans even earlier. They have also the particular skill in striking a balance between the performance ability expected of outdoors clothing and the stylish aspects so needed in the selling of fashionable garments. And if certain technical aspects require professional supervision, they won’t hesitate to collaborate. White Mountaineering, apart from working with Millet Mountain, has also paired with the Italian brand Colmar A.G.E. this autumn/winter season. No matter who Mr Aizawa teams up with, or whether he keeps his brand on the slope or down below, White Mountaineering continues to provide, within the shape of recognisable garments, elements not usually found in menswear destined for mundane city life. And therein lies the mountain-high some of us often happily derive.
Screen grabs (top) and photos: White Mountaineering
Collaborations might still be the way forward, especially in these pandemic-stricken times. But is the Gucci X The North Face (TNF) pairing the stunning collaboration to end the stunned year? Gucci may need to expand its product categories, but I do not see TNF needing to align itself with more designer names. Are they planning to be the next Moncler? These are difficult times for fashion brands, so I won’t hazard a guess. But it seems odd to me that TNF thinks that by associating itself with Gucci, it shall improve its standing among fashion folk. To me, TNF has already been on the right path, doing what they do, pairing with whoever they have hitherto partnered with, but perhaps they didn’t think they’re doing enough. Or perhaps, all their previous collabs have not been sufficiently retro-cool? And that the Gucci tribe is too large—and influential—to ignore?
Have I missed something? Perhaps. Western media has stressed how Gucci and TNF can bring out the best of their respective brands. All I could see is Gucci bringing the best of Gucci. At least visually and chromatically. The collab appears to me a little lopsided. Even if I can see The North Face half-logo (or hybrid logo) and recognize some of the puffers, the collection is still more Gucci than The North Face. I can understand that there are those whose wardrobes are now so Gucci-fied that they would seriously need cold-climate wear, or climbing gear, or alpine togs that bear semblance to the Gucci aesthetics of topsy-turvy aberration, to survive the winter. But will only a Gucci puffer coat do, even if it’s, as the now-out ads, shot in the alps, suggest, warm enough for shorts (a black model even wore a white bikini)? You see, Gucci really wants to go everywhere—into the woods, and up the mountains.
Like every designer doing sneakers to remain on the street-wear roadway, I think Gucci’s Alessandro Michele just wants to try his hand at “Gorpcore”, to borrow a term from The Cut, so as to be able to say, he, too, has jumped onto the outdoor-performance-wear bandwagon. “Gorp” is the acronym for “good ol’ raisins and peanuts,” also known in the US as the “trail mix” (or, in Australia, scroggin), which hikers pack to bring along with them as a lightweight and healthy, protein-packed snack. (Here, they often appear in abundance, rather inexplicably, during Chinese New Year!) The operative words are “trail” and “hike”, and neither sounds particularly urban, or date nights at the movies. Perhaps that’s the point. Like athletic wear, people don’t adopt a particular category of clothing so as to wear them for participating in the activity the category suggests.
That trend report in The Cut appeared in 2017. But as far back as 2013 (if my memory serves me right), I have already observed in Tokyo the emergence of what the Americans called Gorpcore, for which the Japanese, masters of looks and creators of tribes, had no real name. Until, a group of girls—as it’s often the case—became regular and noticeable enough in their get-up, as they traipse into the woods, to be collectively known as yama gyaru (or “mountain girls”). I am not sure if these lasses wore their outdoor wear as a fashion statement or for practical reasons as they embrace shinrin-yoku forest therapy, but for certain, I know the Tokyo boys have been adopting hiking clothes and turning them into fashionable urban wear at least a decade before the Americans enthusiastically wear puffers and hiking boots with their Calvin Klein whatever.
The popularity of outdoor performance wear among Tokyoites went back much earlier, and it has something to do with The North Face’s trajectory in the Land of the Rising Sun. In 1978, at the height of TNF’s popularity among climbers and alpinist in the US, the Japanese conglomerate Goldwin, considered the “most important” among producers of technical outerwear, signed a deal with the former to exclusively distribute TNF in the country that would gain the status of the world’s third largest economy. TNF’s subsequent growth in sales and stature in Japan alone is nothing short of staggering. I won’t go into the figures, but one could be worth noting: In Tokyo, on a stretch less than a kilometre, along Meiji-Dori, off Harajuku (towards Shibuya), there is not one, but four TNF stores. These are The North Face (two of them), The North Face Alter, as well as my personal favourite The North Face Standard (all four floors!). This isn’t counting Goldwin’s own store and Arc’teryx on the same street, and TNF Kids, Columbia, and Helly Hansen just behind. And just a little further back, Chums. (There’s also Patagonia, but the store is over at Ura-Harajuku.) Or, the numerous other multi-brand stores that also carry outdoor wear, such as the Japanese version of Kelty. In case you don’t sense the scale, it is massive. This is like Gorpcore’s gravitational centre.
Goldwin’s massive standing is not only among consumers of TNF; it is with Japanese designers as well. One of them deserves singling out: Eiichiro Homma, a veteran designer at Goldwin for a long time. In 2003, the company decided to back probably their most outstanding employee with his own line, also one that has technical performance wear as its core. Nanamica was born, and in no time, The North Face Purple label. Now, these are not to be confused with TNF itself. Mr Homma himself has clarified that TNF Purple Label (the brand is so linked to him that sometimes the label also reads The North Face made possible by Nanamica) is to “adapt for city wear without compromising the core values of the original,” as he told Hypebeast back in the year the Purple Label was born. Despite all the charming quirks and unusual details that Mr Homma has given to both the Purple Label and his own Nanamica, there is, to me, innovation, and, more importantly, an authenticity about the two names under his charge than Gucci could never emulate.
There is also real difference between going to, say, the Tokyo mountaineering/outdoor gear retailer L Breath (or our own Outdoor Life) and buying the real deal and making them look fashionable and going to Gucci, and buying what’s designed to be fashion and wearing them wholesale, head to toe. Once in Tokyo, at Oshman’s—less of a fashion-potential treasure trove than L Breath, I saw a young chap in a Patagonia parka, Danton shirt, Levi’s, Timberland boots, Mystery Ranch tote, and all manner of danglies from Chums that, as I recall now, look like he could have been in the new Gucci campaign, minus the Guccis, and look better. Another time, in Sapporo, at Montbell’s Akarenga Terrace store, I caught sight of a guy with a buzz cut, who was so distinctively kitted—Visvim patchwork yukata coat, a rust-coloured quilted cape (there was a blizzard outside), and a United by Blue roll-top backpack—that he could have just stepped out of some stylish monastery in the Himalayas. These guys could use non-fashion items as fashion items, and that, to me, speaks so much more than wanting to look like one of Gucci goofy models.
The North Face seemed to have been rather judicious when it comes to who they collaborate with. Prior to Gucci, it was with Maison Margiela’s MM6, the street-inflected diffusion. The collection, interestingly, did not look weird. Build primarily on the house’s circle pattern, they have as much TNF’s DNA, and they look like you might actually be able to hike in them, not just frolic on flatlands. I like that both brands seem to share equally billing in the end products. Before MM6, there was Supreme, which requires no description. I don’t see why Supreme needed another collaboration, but I understand why TNF would agree to it. This was, to me, one of the lamest pairings ever. Even without Supreme, MM6 and, certainly, Gucci, TNF could hold nicely on its own with just the Japanese iterations, led so convincingly by Nanamica and The North Face Purple Label. Japan’s TNF, I suppose, is really perched on a different peak.
Sure, I can see that Mr Michele and his team has re-proportioned some of TNP’s classic outers, such as reshaping and shortening the sleeves of the women’s jackets. In addition, the breadth of the collection could mean that they’re not putting out some negligible capsule you’ll forget next week. This was conceived to sell, and in larger numbers than the typical collaboration. But that does not mean that stocks for individual items will be plentiful when they launch in January in the coming year. And the ’70s vibe is unmistakable too, in case you have not had enough of their romanticised version: Woodstock in the winter, if the cold is conducive to concerts. And there are backpacks, hats, beanies, and, of course, hiking boots, smacked with a massive logo. And just in case there is anyone seriously thinking of really wearing these clothes to go up the mountain or go down by the rapids, there is a tent too, even a sleeping bag. But will all these really tempt those who have not already adopted Gorpcore? Or, understand it? Will they seduce fashionistas to later consider a TNF not in collaboration mode?
Truth be told, I do subscribe to the Gorpcore aesthetics. But I can’t see myself buying the meaningless Gucci attempt. When in Tokyo, I visit, without fail, The North Face Standard in Harajuku, Nanamica in Daikanyama, And Wander in Marunouchi, White Mountaineering and the sensational Snow Peak flagship in Aoyama. But it isn’t always the high-end that I call on. There’s always the nine-storey L-Breath store in Shinjuku, where I end up buying more bags and such than I will ever need, mountain-bound or not, and, in contrast, a tiny shop smacked in the Tokyu Hands building in Shibuya, Function Junction, where hippies might stop by if they were heading for the hills (they have the most interesting range of carabiners). For all my cold-weather wear, I have always been able to rely on Nanamica and White Mountaineering, while resisting the soft spot I have for the terribly expensive The North Face collaboration with Junya Watanabe. As you can tell, it is in Japan—cities and mountaintops—that I get my Gorpcore wet dreams.
Japan’s White Mountaineering collaborates with Fila. The result is more for track and field than pitch and trail
These days, every designer label worth its salt—or stripes—collaborates with at least one sports label. The Italian brand Fila is rather productive in this respect, and has been able to attract Japanese names to its stable, such as Mihara Yasuhiro. Hot on the heels of that release is the collaboration with White Mountaineering under the line Fila Fusion, which, according to a Fila Facebook post, “targets (the) youth market, incorporating vintage and on trend elements to bringing streetwear into a new level.”
White Moutaineering’s been quite a prolific brand collaborator, having paired with Adidas for quite a few seasons, and more recently, with the Italian outdoor wear label Colmar, the American athletic brand Saucony, as well as Australian footwear Ugg. Designer Yosuke Aizawa would be the guy to bring Fila’s Euro-vintagey sportif style to quite a height, never mind “new”. While WM fans might be hoping for a more up-the-hill aesthetic, Mr Aizawa and his team have remained close to Fila’s athletic roots, including the latter’s colour scheme for its logotype.
White Mountaineering X Fila. From left: (women’s), T-shirt, SGD136, and skirt, SGD208; (men’s) pullover, SGD208, and track pants, SGD 288. Products photo: Fila. Collage: Just So
To the uninitiated (or Fila novices), the blue/red/white combination could be mistaken as those worn by the North American team bound for the Olympics. Truth be told, there’s nothing quite mountaineering about these cheery, potentially nationalistic colours. They are more track than trail, and would really not be out of place on a path of any urban centre or the walkway of a mall. But WM devotees would want something to identify the brand with, and Mr Aizawa offers a hint of WM detailing, such as the brand’s logo bordered by ethnic-looking repeated patterns. In fact, the collection is mostly based on Fila staples, but with WM’s love of details gleaned from military and work wear.
The women’s pieces are quite the standout that many sportswear collaboration are not (except possibly Sacai and Nike). We like the boxier tops and the layered/pleated skirts—rather tennis wear charmingly gone a little off-tangent. As with WM collections, the Fila outers are smashing. Lightweight jackets, some with that ethnic pattern, but mostly with massive pockets (and flaps) are totally consistent with the outdoor look, but city-centric enough to go over any dress that you might be wearing now. If only our climate here isn’t one we wish we didn’t have.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
White Mountaineering X Fila autumn/winter 2020 is available at Fila, Orchard Central. Photo (top): Zhao Xiangji
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.