Ask Donatella

>>I'm fully aware that the H&M x Versace video below where Donatella Versace mentions myself and Bryanboy is fully scripted and that she was probably wondering "Who is this Susie Bubble person that I have to namedrop?"  Still, to hear Donatella even utter the words "Susie Bubble" is worthy of the replay button.  I may even take that one bit on repeat and turn it into a novelty single.  Free MP3 download here fo' sho….

The latest H&M collaboration with Versace  is gaining momentum now with the full lookbook released, ogled, dissected and we're now playing the waiting game.  I'm finding myself drawn to the highest number of pieces thus far in ANY H&M collaboration – who'd have thunk it?  It could well be the few pieces of vintage Versace and Versus in my closet that have spurred on this strange desire…afterall, even the campaign emphasises it's The Very Best of Versace which will save me from hunting down House of Liza, Strut and other vintage haunts for real deal vintage Versace. 

Regardless of whether you dig heart prints and fringing, tropicana bombers or studded leather, everyone can get in on the promotional game as today and tomorrow (25th and 26th October), Donatella Versace will be answering questions via Twitter using the hashtag #askdonatella

I'm pre-posting this in advance of my flight back from Tokyo to London but when I return, the following need answers…

– What heel height is acceptable when working out in the gym – 3 or 5 inches?  Make-up or no make-up?

– Does your loungewear at home involve pastel pink and blue marabou?  I hope so…

– How high should the perfect thigh-high split go?

– Will you ever resurrect your wispy fringe a la 1993?

Heeless

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Noritaka Tatehana probably won't be an unfamiliar name to you, unless you have escaped the clutch of pop culture.  This might look like I'm coming too late to the praise of Tatehana given that since Lady Gaga has acquired no less than eighteen pairs of his shoes, his name has probably popped up in the blogosphere more than most Japanese fashion designers.  Despite my awareness of Tatehana's work, I didn't want to contribute yet-another-post that just marvelled at the freakish quality of the shoes.  Instead, I waited to meet the man himself in Tokyo on this trip to come away with a Tatehana experience, that goes beyond just pointing out his famous clientale and the fact that he's only 26. 

For a start, however 'cray cray' his heeless phantom shoes might seem, they are heavily rooted in Tatehana's degree of learning Japanese dyeing and weaving techniques and in fact, he first began crafting wooden clogs aged 15.  It's actually quite scary to read his 1985 birth year in his bio.  It's easy to see the foundations of his present work in these archive 'pokkuri' and geisha 'geta' platform shoes which he made at university, where strict Japanese classicism is abound.  It's even more interesting to see how extreme we regard his current work, which contrasts so heavily with the traditions that Tatehana strongly abides by.  The complete handcrafted process of his shoes just can't be over emphasised.  When you consider the process of carving out the shoe heel (often made of wood and hollowed out), testing out the angle, securing the balance of the shoe and then hand dying the embossed leather to get the desired effect or fixing on the crystals), it's no wonder that each pair takes three months to make.  In total, Tatehana has made around sixty pairs of shoes ever, which isn't that many by a well-known shoe designer's standards but considering the artisanal process of Tatehana (who only has two assistants), you end up wanting to give him a giant bear hug to say "Bloody hell…. better you than me….!"

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It is these embossed leathers which retain the strongest link to those traditional Japanese clogs that Tatehana made.  Interestingly, his family come from a background of working in the red-light/entertainment district in Tokyo called Kabuki-cho, which might go some way to explaining Tatehana's vision of women's feet as "beautifully tortured".  Tatehana is well aware that he isn't the first male in the world to restrict a woman's footsteps – from China's tradition of binding the feet and the heavy Japanese geta sandals causing women to take babysteps to the vertiginous heels of today's high-end shoe designers.  Instead Tatehana embraces this trajectory, trying to fit himself into this timeline somewhere by creating these shoes as labours of love to the best of his ability.  If you can't see the beauty of the shapes, at the very least you can admire the savoir faire.

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It's therefore a crying a shame that a designer as seemingly obscure as Tatehana is now the victim of poor rip off versions which I suppose is the negative effect of Lady Gaga's patronage.  The shape of Nasty Gal's leopard versions are less extreme (clearly they didn't have the time/energy to perfect the balance of the shoe and took a lazy shortcut instead) but the imitation is quite clear.  There's no getting away from inspired versions of the catwalk but a designer/craftsman like Tatehana is probably the last person I expected to be ripped off.  You can pull the "But they're two different customers…" line all you want but the problem is of course Noritaka Tatehana's name could potentially not be strong enough to fight off the cheapie versions should he wish to expand his shoe line in the future and produce footwear that goes beyond his made-to-order system at present. 

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These crystal encrusted shoes were created for a Dom Perignon event in Le Baron, Tokyo where pole dancers in Somarta catsuits (Tatehana has collaborated with this Tokyo designer on previous occasions) wearing these shoes showed that agile movement is totally possible.  This YouTube video is full proof

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Tatehana insisted I try a pair on even though I turned up wearing the most inappropriate outfit for pairing up with his shoes.  I'm pushing my luck if I think a childish Mexican dress with a funny little embroidered man on my chest is going to do these shoes justice.  Still, I had to seize the one opportunity to walk in a pair of Noritaka Tatehana shoes and walk I did – well, I teetered three metres down the Comme des Garcons Trading Museum store in Gyre where I met Tatehana.  I was petrified at first but once I took a few more steps and got used to Tatehana's clever shaping of the shoe, I can just about see how Daphne Guinness teeters about.  By tilting the degree of the shoe to an extreme angle where the foot is dipped forward, the balance of the person wearing them shifts so that you end up feeling like you're lurching forward and gradually you lose the fear of tilting backwards and falling on your arse.  Once I let go of the walls and stopped grabbing onto the ledges, it felt somewhat empowering to walk on air.  Gaga's consistent orders for Tatehana's shoes could certainly be rooted to a reason beyond aesthetic pleasure.  

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Plump It Up

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I already knew that good lot of designers in Tokyo are oddly not all that keen on making a big song and dance about their collections hence why I've been seeing a lot of showrooms (or what they call 'exhibitions') as opposed to full on shows.  However, I've never interviewed a designer after a show and had them ponder whether it was right to do a show.  Plumpynuts were the one sole womenswear-only designer on the predominantly-menswear focused Versus event schedule, concluding Tokyo Fashion Week.  Designers Miyuki Omichi and Ayumi Kita may have only started their curiously named label Plumpynuts in 2009 but speaking to them, they seemed deadly decided on their focus and that was on 'real clothes'.  Moreover, they felt that their clothes were probably best left to the forum of a shopful of customers as opposed to a fashion week catwalk show.  I did meekly say "But I enjoyed it…!"  Oh well, at least it was a dose of honesty…

With a name like Plumpynuts, you might think that the clothes might go down a more off-beat route but truly, when compared to the other Tokyo Fashion Week womenswear designers, Plumpynuts is decidedly the most 'Western' of the lot.  That is, the aesthetic feels slightly more trend-driven and purposely moves away from the cutesy, loosy and heavily layered looks that Tokyo is adept at putting out.  Fair dos as variety can only help Mercedes Benz Tokyo Fashion Week develop in the long run.  There was no clear umbrella theme of the collection which is probably why Omichi and Kita expressed some post-show doubts as to whether their collections were appropriate for a show.  Yet the clean lines, the choice of embellishment and fabrics as well as the clearly messaged styling made for a refreshingly diverting show at Tokyo Fashion week.  Indeed, pieces came out and there were immediate ticks of 'I want to wear that…' and I would concede there was a fair bit of referencing going on – hints of Stella McCartney, Prada, Celine, Jil Sander etc.  At Plumpynuts' fair prices and a high quality of make though (made in Japan naturally…), it's no wonder their flagship store Showcase by Plumpynuts in Harajuku has built up a local fanbase (there's even a store member/points system…).  Highlights that will probably get the rails buzzing in their store, include a scalloped wiggle dress that is tempered by its simply white tank vest top, the distressed floral suit and a sheer panelled colour block knit. 

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I love that the PR team for Plumpynuts had their Versus t-shirts customised with a sleek drooped waist white skirt, illustrating the duo's design ambitions to see more women in Tokyo embrace the cleaner line…

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Somesing Rike a Peno-Meno

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This isn't really my story to tell but seeing as it never fails to incite smiles, I'll take it upon myself to recap Phil Oh of Street Peeper's anecdote.  I have to thank Phil for starting off what I think will be a regular habit of visiting Tokyo for its shopping joys and culinary delights and it is precisely because he has to visit Tokyo twice a year to get snaps for Street Peeper that this little encounter happened…

Phil took a picture of a dude (the blunt fact according to him is that Tokyo's men are erm… better dressed than the girls) and asked him where he got his jacket from and this happened…

Japanese dude: Peno-meno!

Phil: I'm sorry…what?  Peno-what? 

Japanese dude: PENOO….MENO…

Phil: Errr…..

Japanese dude: You know…rike the song…. "Some-sing rike a peno-meno…. some-sing rike a peno-meno!"

That's 'Something Like a Phenomenon' just in case reading my poor interpretation of Japanese-accented English is challenging.  Apparenly Phil and the guy just stood there laughing for a while at hilarity of the situation.  I can't help but recall this little exchange on the final day of Tokyo Fashion Week, when there was PLENTY of Phenomenon on display.  One of the coolest stores we saw last time I was here in Tokyo, The Contemporary Fix and its owner Yuichi Yoshi, took it upon himself to curate the last day of Tokyo Fashion Week by lining up a ton of menswear heavyweight brands such as Facetasm, SASQUATCHfabrix, Discovered, Whiz Kids and Phenomenon in an event entitled Versus.  A day packed full of shows and installations where public participation is encouraged (tickets to see the shows are sold to the public to raise money for the earthquake and tsunami recovery fun) made for a shit ton of snapping.  Some womenswear edged in too (more about that later) but it was largely menswear heavy and whilst I generally leave it up to Steve to report on all interesting menswear proceedings, I can hardly ignore the final day of Tokyo Fashion Week as well as one of the overall week's strongest brands in the shape of Phenomenon.

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The power of 'peno-meno' could be seen in the standing queue of kids snaking out of the hall and into the Midtown centre.  You saw flashes of it everywhere on the guys and and in some instances, the girls too and in reality, the layers of Phenomenon clothing seemed to effortless weave in with each person's individual style even if we are talking about brave pieces such as a gorilla armed faux fur bolero or a calf-length sheer dress shirt. 

Designer Takeshi Osumi has come a long way as a designer, from his rapper persona "Big-O" and his streetwear credentials of designing the brand Swagger.  Phenomenon was conceived as a personal bridge from those streetwear beginnings into fashion and looking at the trajectory of the past few collections, Osumi seems to have carved out a defiant niche in menswear that is streetstyle-and-music-inspired, directional, daring, at-times unisex and pleasingly deets-heavy. 

S/S 12 follows this trajectory and goes a step further into preppier and wearable territory which might sound like the Phenomenon edge has dulled but instead, the simpler layering and silhouettes only serves to highlight the craft of the clothes.  Osumi looked to traditonal Japanese textiles and in particular the laborious process of creating oshima tsumugi silk (it involves 20 steps of dying as well as a glue made out of seaweed… ) as well as taking certain Japanese-isms like the mon crest of a yukata robe and applying it to a sports jacket.  The Japanese origin of the pieces isn't immediately apparent and I suppose that was Osumi's intention to create a seamless balance between traditional craftsmanship and contemporary clothing. 

In effect, this is probably Osumi's most accessible collection to date but it still had some of the Phenomenal statement pieces that the brand has come to be known for – sequinned sleeves and leggings, leather jumpsuits, candy-crusted beading that was derived from Japanese ceramics, lace-up socks and blazers in a juicy shade of turquoise, a jacket with degrade zipper sleeves – all will produce a headturning reaction. 

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Subtler pieces in the collection include lace-up sweaters, a colour blocked trenchcoat, shorts with a subtle layer of cotton netting underneath, a shirt with a faded Japanese illustration on it as well as the slightly nautical-inspired striped pieces.

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For a men's show, it was properly heavy with bags – rucksacks, M-lutches, little leather pouches and a strange hybrid bag combining a canvas tote with a leather satchel.

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I harp on about Phenomenon not only because it has had such a rapid growth in popularity and hype in such a short period of time but also because as a menswear brand, it is ripe for picking from the fair sex.  A quick look at Phenomenon's ever-useful blog of products that drop week by week into stores and it's hard to believe that a menswear A/W 11-12 collection containing pink fleecy trousers, a lilac bomber jacket and a puffa jacket kilt is going to have an exclusively male audience.  It looks like from S/S 12, there are already some clear contenders for getting my peno-meno on…

Phenomenon