After Kenzo and Miyake, Japanese fashion is entering a new era

After Kenzo and Miyake, Japanese fashion is entering a new era

At the Bunka fashion school in Tokyo, in a silence punctuated by the sound of scissors and sewing machines, students dream of Paris and the world fame enjoyed by their glorious elders, now aging or deceased.

The deaths of Kenzo Takada in October 2020 and that of Issey Miyake in August mark the end of an era following the revolution sparked by Japanese fashion designers in France and around the world in the 1970s and 80s.

This raises expectations for a new generation of designers like Takuya Morikawa, a 40-year-old Bunka graduate whose chic, streetwear-inspired garments debuted on the Paris catwalks two years ago.

Before launching his label TAAKK in 2013, he spent eight years at Issey Miyake’s studio, working on the famous Pleats Please line and exploring traditional artisan methods.

Mr. Morikawa was saddened by the death of his mentor. “We must do our best so that the deaths of these designers do not have an impact on the fashion world. If that happens, it means we’re doing our job poorly.”

Another who has taken the torch is Nigo (real name Tomoaki Nagao), who rose to prominence with his streetwear label A Bathing Ape in the 1990s.

A graduate of Bunka, he was appointed Artistic Director of Kenzo last year.

Another internationally successful Japanese fashion brand, Sacai was founded in 1999 by designer Chitose Abe, who notably worked with French couturier Jean Paul Gaultier.

– Commercial competition –

Kenzo and Issey Miyake set out from Paris to conquer the world, as did Japanese haute couture pioneer Hanae Mori, who died in August at the age of 96. Yohji Yamamoto, now 79, and Rei Kawakubo, 80, founder of Comme des Garçons, symbolize this golden generation to this day.

Japanese avant-garde fashion once “shook the world,” according to Bunka President Sachiko Aihara, who recalls seeing her students dress in black after Yohji Yamamoto launched his first monochromatic clothing line.

But “the time when a designer presents a collection that everyone wears is over”. What is in question is the multiplication of the offer “and not a decrease in talent”, estimates Ms. Aihara, for whom it is now also essential to have commercial knowledge before launching a competitive brand.

Designer Mariko Nakayama, who has long worked as a stylist in the fashion world in Tokyo and plans to launch her brand in France, recalls having “goosebumps” the first time she wore Comme des Garçons.

She also feels that the industry is different today.

“When I look at Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton, for example, I feel like we’ve entered an editing era,” she says at her shop in Tokyo’s chic Omotesando district, where designers bring modern twists to classic shapes and patterns to lend .

– “New Values” –

Because working in Paris, London, New York or Milan is still the key to success for Japanese designers, explains Aya Takeshima, 35, who studied at Central Saint Martins in London.

Ms. Takeshima’s recent show at Tokyo Fashion Week for her brand Ayame featured sheer blouses and waffle dresses, while male models wore elegant dresses.

Studying abroad opened up other perspectives for her.

“In Japan we seem to inculcate technique first. Ideas and concepts (…) are secondary,” while in London, according to her, it’s the other way around.

Bunka also recognizes the need for its students to be cosmopolitan and plans to offer a study abroad scholarship as part of next year’s 100th anniversary celebrations.

For Natalia Sato, 21, one of her students, Issey Miyake and the old guard “brought into the world many Japanese and Oriental values,” including techniques inspired by rich and subtle traditional craftsmanship.

“I’m concerned that the foundations they’ve built will be destroyed with their disappearance,” but “at the same time, it’s a watershed moment” that could offer new creative opportunities, she says. “It’s a chance for me to think about how we can create new value.”


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