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A New Reality—And A New Reality Show—At Tokyo Fashion Week

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There were a couple of reasons why Tiffany Godoy’s launch on Saturday night for the latest issue of her magazine The Reality Show made a perfect full-stop for Tokyo’s fashion week. The most obvious was that the theme of the magazine was a handful of stylish young Japanese women incorporating Chanel couture into their everyday wardrobe (like the one at left)—and the week was dominated by Karl Lagerfeld’s multi-event launch of his latest project, The Little Black Jacket, with Carine Roitfeld styling 120 men, women, and children in one of Chanel’s most iconic pieces of clothing.

But it was actually The Reality Show‘s launch party itself that had more to say about the state of Japanese fashion. There could not have been a more stylish Saturday night crowd anywhere in the world. Not in any forced, self-conscious way, but simply because of the seemingly effortless subtlety with which Tokyo kids incorporate a fashion statement into their everyday wear. It might be ski-derived, or collegiate, or goth, or just plain old denim-based, but it demands a double take every time. If there is something curatorial about it, it’s scarcely academic. To me, it reads like a natural expression of an ongoing fascination with all life’s intricacies, and, in the face of what Japan has been through in the past 12 months, that seems like an optimistic impulse. There were other obvious tokens of upbeat—Kim Jones, in Tokyo for Louis Vuitton, said the menswear collection had sold half a million euros’ worth its first day on the shop floor. The Ferrari shop at the end of main shopping drag Omotesando had a big SOLD OUT sign in its window. And Tokyo is still the greatest city in the world for creative merchandising. The customized fittings in a tiny shop called The Soloist, the latest venture from Number (N)ine’s Takahiro Miyashita, were things of breathtaking beauty. The newly opened Daikanyama branch of book chain Tsutaya is easily the most inspiring bookstore I’ve ever been into.

San Diego native Godoy, who has lived in Tokyo for 14 years, insists that last year’s catastrophic triple whammy—earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown—has had a huge effect on the way the fashion kids dress. She says Harajuku, where the gothic Lolitas would congregate, is much less idiosyncratic than it used to be. The country has united in the face of disaster, and the self-indulgence that a Look suggests is no longer so tolerated. True, the audiences at the shows during fashion week were notably subdued, and the streets were hardly swarming with the Alice in Wonderland or Marilyn Manson lookey-likees you used to see. There was also a thrilling exhibition devoted to the 13-year collaboration between designer Issey Miyake and photographer Irving Penn, which worked as a salutary reminder of how Japan was once at the very forefront of the fashion avant-garde. The we’re-all-in-this-together spirit that last year’s disaster inspired hasn’t been so kind to avant-garderie, but that didn’t mean there weren’t great clothes to be found in the imaginative pioneer spirit of collections as disparate as White Mountaineering and Everlasting Sprout. There was scarcely a name in the fashion calendar that I—or anyone else—recognized, but there was a common theme of cocooning and solidarity which reflected a general societal trend. In its hour of need, Japan has looked inward to its traditional strength: the family. Kids have been moving home as a gesture of cross-generational support. Where else could you imagine this kind of hive-mind cohesiveness?

At one show, I sat next to Françoise Moréchand, a French journalist who moved to Japan in 1955 and later became a major TV personality. Her take was interesting. “The Japanese are mentally exhausted,” she said. “They worked so hard to be number two, and now they’re tired.” What she meant was Japan’s status as number two economic power in the world, right behind its American conquerors. (Poetic justice there.) The three way stations she isolated on the road to worn-out were these: the bursting of Japan’s economic bubble; the subsequent drop to number three in the global economy chart; and last year’s earthquake. But I didn’t see worn-out, I saw regroup. On the fashion front, Fukushima, at the heart of the catastrophe, is in the midst of a menswear boom, as all the workers who have flooded in to help indulge themselves on clothes they would normally have saved for—or deemed too extravagant to begin with. Likewise, the sale of wedding rings is way up, in anticipation of a proposal. Why wait? (It’s men and women who are buying them.) There may be a whiff of carpe diem here, but at the same time, fashion always reflects a society’s intentions, and the pioneer spirit—and the prairie looks—that dominated the Tokyo collections could be seen as the embodiment of a society’s urge to rebuild. True, it was the idealized American frontier such a spirit drew on, but what better model for a country in need of a vision of inspiring optimism?

Photos: Courtesy of The Reality Show

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