The Wrench in the Fashion Cycle

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For the last four years, I have felt that the gears of Japanese fashion cycles have ground to a rusty halt, but now it is spelled out for all to see: the November issue of Vingtaine boasts the headline article 「3年後でもおしゃれな服」”Clothes that will still be fashionable three-years later.” Back when the Japanese economy kept expanding and incomes were high across the board, it was almost a virtue to spend money on things that would be absolutely unusable in one year’s time. 「消費は美徳」(“Consumption is a virtue!”) they used to say — directly mixing national plans for economic growth with Confucian morality. The whole fun of o-share was keeping up perfectly with artificial trends invented by our style superiors.

The misleadingly-titled Vingtaine is actually read by women in their late 30s, although the magazine’s young foreign models make it look a bit younger. If anybody has money to burn in Japan these days, it must be fashionable women in their late 30s, who either have decent jobs or are married to men with decent salaries. But how optimistic about their economic future could they be if they are requesting clothing that is “trendy” yet a middle-term investment.

To a certain extent, trend cycles have become so fast in the 21st century that they have exceeded the threshold of relevancy. But this desire for permanently-chic apparel seems to be a head on the same Hydra that brought us the rationalistic obsession with Louis Vuitton bags — $2000 is not so bad if the leather bags never break, never go out of style, and can be worn daily. If one is to buy fancy things in Japan now, they must not be frivolous purchases for the moment, but a step in building up a base of belongings to be used over a lifetime. Blouses and skirts are pianos, not toothbrushes. Data shows that the Japanese economy is now “in the longest post-war expansion,” but this does not translate into optimism on the Japanese Street.

Update: Vingtaine folded in 2007.

W. David MARX
October 13, 2006

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

15 Responses

  1. nate Says:

    am I wrong, or is equating oshare and “trendy” sort of false?

    I have other problems with the gist here too. That late 30 somethings would want more durable fashion doesn’t point to a downturn in the economy or insecurity near as strongly as the ubiquity of used clothing.
    Might this not suggest something more of an expanding market presence of a group that’s unlikely to invest as much time in their clothes as in their skin? Whose fashion sense is transitioning from “right now” to “timeless”? In the end, it’s always the person in the “timeless” suit or dress that looks better.

  2. ben Says:

    and this one article in one magazine irrefutably proves your grand theories? this magazine is representative of the entire japanese fashion scene?

    back it up more so i can believe.

  3. marxy Says:

    Just kidding, Japan is the future.

  4. trevor Says:

    you know what i really like to do?

    just believe whatever i want! its the best thing. you know why? cause i’m never ever wrong. witch mean. i am alway right.
    witch also means. i am just better then everyone else. cause they are wrong. its great.

  5. Leniny Says:

    Hmm… The fashion world turns from being a furious flaming spinning pinwheel into something more rational and you call it “grinding to a rusty halt”?

    There is something to be said for nostalgia I suppose, but dear Marxy, the bubble ain’t coming back. Your obsession with a brief period in the fashion history of Japan is both curious and short sighted. It is like picking that one brief spring in Japanese history when it was cool to have carp designs on your kimono and whining about how things are so much worse now. Besides everybody knows botan rules.

    I imagine a 90 year old toothless Marxy sitting in his chair babbling to the attendants about bathing ape and the attendants just nodding back politely and wondering if he is trying to tell them he wants a sponge bath even though they just gave him one.

    Think about who has ground to a halt.

  6. 小切手 Says:

    Bubbles burst, buddy. Best be moving on.

  7. marxy Says:

    I find these odd complaints. One side is saying, you are probably over-reacting. (If you want data, by the way, just look at the fact that the import luxury brand market has shrunk every year since 1996, now about 40% of its peak value. I get the impression that the market for domestic brands is even worse, although I have not seen the data.)

    The other side is saying “D”uh. Get over it.” I don’t think it’s that easy. I am talking about behavior that has been accepted as “Japanese” for the last 50 years that we now understand as mostly products of certain economic conditions. I talk about Ape because I know about Ape, and to be frank, nobody ever requests for me to do a long article on the “DC Boom” or Van. I personally find it interesting that the fashion market in Japan is
    changing (contracting and centralizing, mostly) so hey, “get used to it.”

    In the end, it’s always the person in the “timeless” suit or dress that looks better.

    Sure, but I think 「おしゃれ」 means being fashionable in a “trendy” way. If they wanted to sell “timeless” clothes, they would not have mentioned the 3 years, they would have just said “timeless.”

  8. cyril Says:

    hey there ! can you email me please ? i’d like to have a chat with you about something…. thx
    best
    cyril

  9. marxy Says:

    Hi, Cyril. My messages to you at that address keep getting bounced back to me, so write me at marxy [at mark] neomarxisme.com.

    Thanks

  10. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    ‘am I wrong, or is equating oshare and “trendy” sort of false?’

    Yes you are right, but OTOH thats the street usage of the word.

    “I imagine a 90 year old toothless Marxy sitting in his chair babbling to the attendants about bathing ape and the attendants just nodding back politely and wondering if he is trying to tell them he wants a sponge bath even though they just gave him one.”

    OK now THAT was the funniest thing I’ve read this week!

    “behavior that has been accepted as “Japanese” for the last 50 years”

    50? IIRC the bubble ended a decade and a half ago and didnt even last 10 years in total. Anyway, nits having beeen picked far too much already, I see what I think you want to say, but I like others take some issue with how you say it.

    BTW I’m curious if 30 something ladies in other places also have a magazine which advocates similar long term wardrobe purchases?

    BTW2 the new rich you refer to so much lately and which get so much attention from the tabloid press here are quite honestly a very very small market segment as far as I can see from facts on the street.

  11. lauren Says:

    At first glance I thought the magazine was called Vigilante and was thinking “Boy howdy, and what a misleading title it is!” But then I saw my mistake and was much less excited.

  12. P P Says:

    “Clothes that will still be fashionable three-years later.”

    This is a good thing, effective risk-management really. Perhaps one could say post-modernity is a kind of grand discussion about managing risk.

  13. Luke Smith Says:

    Let’s address the elephant on the blog:

    David, HOW WELL CAN YOU READ (ASIAN) FACES? Note: this isn’t a _race_, and nobody wins until everybody does (Mahayana, bitches). I’m just hoping we’re still in the “critical period.”

    CYNICAL BLOGISTAS OF ALL NATIONS, UNITE!

  14. marxy Says:

    I don’t understand.

  15. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    He seems to think you’re an elephant.
    (an Asian elephant.)