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Autumn Notes on Japanese Fashion

1. I saw an eight year-old kid riding the Inogashira line today in an official red Bape “24-Hour Television” t-shirt and yellow Sesame Street backpack. Nice work, Nigo. The new Shibuya store up near PARCO may make the brand even bigger with the milkbox set.

2. Comme des Garçons had a rather unusual selection of sweaters and sweatshirts at their Aoyama store. By unusual, I mean, “slightly generic and reasonably priced” — like something you would see at Ships. The price tags, however, are printed with an enormous “Made in China / 中国製” stamp. This entire collection seemed like a guilt-instilling honey-trap for less desirable customers: “Yes, you can buy a small piece of our brand, but know that this is made in China, cheapo.” I may have fallen prey the genius art/marketing team of Kawakubo and hubby, but I’ve always been completely sold on the idea that Comme des Garçons has no need for piddling customers who aren’t on the conceptual level. Now with PLAY and these China exports, however, the brand has almost completely removed the serious hurdles to a mass audience and has even stopped feigning reticence.

Interestingly enough, these items are only available at the directly-managed CdG stores — probably because the margins are too thin to make wholesaling possible. (Don’t you love it when I talk business? Rack jobber. You like that?)

3. For all the talk about manufacturing in Japan being so expensive, small clothing labels are still best sticking to Japanese factories — in terms of both quality and price. The problem, however, is that most of these workshops are staffed exclusively by grandpas and grandmas whose kids have long abandoned any interest in taking up their craft. In the next twenty years, we are going to see the complete disintegration of this industry — not necessarily because of being out-priced by globalization, but because sewing and fabric dying did not look particularly sexy in the 1980s when their kids went off to the City to chase dreams. Will the grandkids pick it up? Besides some denim work in Okayama, I doubt it.

4. Do yourself a favor and read every single Japanese fashion magazine one month. The messaging ranges somewhere between monotony and conspiracy. You wouldn’t think that Classy and Glamorous would have much in common, but they’ve both taken the same central directives as their core content. So everyone’s in leather “riding jackets” and leopard print and houndstooth check, and magazines simply find the right way to nestle these new elements into previous subcultural and demographic conventions.

5. The November issue of Vivi has a story called 「噂のめちゃ売れ服」 (“Clothes that are Rumored to be Selling Well”), and get this, the super popular clothes featured in the piece are exactly the trends advocated in the October issue. Seeing that September was muggy and hot and generally August-like, I seriously doubt that the editors of Vivi really had an evidence that these very Autumn styles were selling “like hot cakes” back three weeks ago when they wrote the story and it was 28° C outside and the very idea of wearing a trenchcoat and a sweater dress was pure evil. But the “rumor” angle lets you both get away from actual reporting/objectivity and into legitimizing your fashion advice as a solid slice of social ether / 世間.

6. I am not sure there was a single fashion shoot in October’s Popeye that featured a styled mix of various brands on a specific theme. The magazine is now 60%+ advertorial, with Mr. Sukezane and Co. receiving assignments to work within the box of a single brand. If you wonder why Japanese consumers understand the minor positional differences between brands so well, the advertorial is clearly a big part. Brands are allowed to be buy completely unadulterated pages and present their side of the story — even using the magazine’s star models to maintain maximum plausible deniability. Now, the same first-tier brands buy pages in all of the major magazines, causing some serious overlap and redundancy, but hey, the system works for the big boys and it’s not like magazines make money from readers. The remaining question is whether kids just want manual catalogs or they want editors to give them something original. But think about it: most people drowning in a sea of social pressures would rather have a textbook for SCUBA than critical and artistic musings on marine biology.

7. Color’s back. JJ had six solid pages of every possible type of colored tights, modeled by a legion of amputated legs. Spur regrettably use cringe-inducing self-reference in their main fashion story “We, fashion people, are everything but black” but at least they’re pro-chromo.

8. Strange crossovers on the subcultural kids. Elastic‘s reporting on some weird gyaru-gothloli crossover in Popteen. And I spotted gyaru-cutie hybrids at the Shonen Knife/Kiiiiiii gig (photo courtesy of Suzuki Mio.) I think these particular girls come from the CUTiE side of things, but they’ve picked up some cues from their peers at 109.

W. David MARX
September 29, 2007

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

4 Responses

  1. trevor Says:

    i have no idea what your talking about. pictures mate! pictures!

  2. neogeisha Says:

    the gyaru-cutie crossover marks the start of a Dark Age, as far as i’m concerned. what will the next radical New Look be for j-girls? i’m sick to death of this relentless recycling, endless hybridizations of the same visual cliches.

  3. rachael Says:

    i thought that “gyaru-cutie” look was more concerned with cuteness and 80s (and the shop ‘spank’) than the gyaru side of things. not a tan in sight.

    even the dead somber black look of tokyo bopperers of a couple of seasons ago has been replaced by colour.

  4. W. David MARX Says:

    I felt some gyaru in their hair and attitude, but not in skin color.