You might have seen from my Instagram that Seoul has been treating me well.  Too well.  Stuffed full of kimchi (more varieties here than I ever imagined), fuelled by people's enthusiasm for fashion here and giddy with rando encounters with K-Pop stars, I've been more than a bit distracted.  As Tokyo Fashion Week came to a close last week, I still have much to write about on the week that is probably best summarised in this round-up I did for Business of Fashion.  As I tried to intelligently analyse the ups and downs of a week that is riddled with bureaucratic issues, official vs. off-schedule competition and scattered scheduling, I realise that I may have come off sounding a tad harsh.  My overall point is that Tokyo's fashion scene is indeed a rabbit warren that can't be fully appreciated unless you go there but how many people get that opportunity?  It's a city brimming with creativity but most of it is unfortunately destined never to go "international".  

By the end of the article though, I also realised that I might be writing out of selfish desire.  Maybe Tokyo's fashion designers want to remain an enigma, eschewing mainstream fashion spotlight and preferring to be buried in amongst cultish followers.  I think Jenny Fax had most of her audience scratching their heads a little bit when she presented her S/S 14 collection in a skate park as part of Shibuya Fashion Festival.  Those familiar with Jenny Fang's previous collections will know that she loves to riff a reference point.  She mines it though so that it's barely recognisable in the end result be it Twin Peaks, Clueless or unicorns.  Her collections resonate with a generation that slavishly looks at the nineties with rose-tinted glasses, selectively picking out aspects that fit a world where Leonardo di Caprio was boyish and Shampoo were awesome.  I can't say I'm a hardcore devotee but the whole aesthetic as a generational zeitgeist is fascinating.  

In any case, Fang takes those references to a different place anyway.  For S/S 14, that nineties retrogazing becomes even more specific.  She was thinking of movies like Chinese Ghost Story and other dodgy Hong Kong horror trips where vampires and zombies are dressed up as Qing Dynasty lords and there's always a frightening female ghost in a sexy red robe out to avenge her doomed lover.  Those references are so vivid for me as a child of parents who rented out TVB drama tapes and watched a whole host of pirate VCD's from Hong Kong that so many of the costume drama references such as the ribbons attached to the hands and the butterfly wings enveloping some of the looks and the faces of Chinese starlets printed on t-shirts, were immediately familiar.  As a result, her collection went to a darker place, away from her usual cutesy Kawaii thing – bleached and ripped denim, cobwebby knits, French maid PVC and the grimy look of the models – they're the wronged female protagonists who fall upon misfortune in Hong Kong dramas.  Fang still manages to throw a few curveballs in though as she blends these somewhat sultrier elements, derived from Chinese horror with her own longstanding language of Cabbage Patch kids, Japanese school uniforms and girly bloomers.  It was probably the most intriguing Jenny Fax collection yet.  Overarching weirdness can be annoying but here it's entirely warranted.  

Certain stores get it.  Opening Ceremony have already bought into it and when you see the clothes hanging next season in stores like Macaronic in Harajuku or La Foret's Wall shop, these show images will make a whole lot more sense.  Fang is more canny than her American-Taiwanese-Japanese riff offs and stylised shows let on.  There's a reality to be found in her work that represents an exciting new wave in Tokyo fashion scene, whether it goes international or not.    





































>> State the bleedin’ obvious why don’t you, Susie.  Disco Nail?  Why, it’s a veritable mecca for nail art enthusiasts.  Except I’m slow and wasn’t in the know until this trip to Tokyo that Nagisa Kaneko aka “Nagi” and her Disco Nail salon in Shibuya take nail art to a whole new outer-stratospheric level, that I didn’t even know could exist.  Especially considering that this is gel nail art we’re dealing with – ya know, the stuff that doesn’t chip for weeks (lolz, get me… trying to explain the ins and outs of nail know-how).  It’s a know fact that Japan is the epicentre for nail art trends that will diffuse around the world eventually.  One look at the number of nail art magazines that are published here and you’ll get an idea about the level of elaborate 3-D encrustations that can be applied to your nails.  That’s if you don’t intend on lifting anything in your daily life.

As jaw droppingly intrictae as a lot of those typically kawaii nails are, they are a touch too sacharrine and a tad over-festooned with bows, roses and Hello Kitties.  Not to mention that more often than not, they extend to over 3cm in length on each nail and are obviously out to obstruct daily life.  Enter Nagi’s own distinct sensibility that is world’s apart from all that girly frou frou.  Inspired by her own mash-up of fashion, music, art and culture, Disco Nail’s bulging albums of nail art (of course you can design your own together with Nagi) are filled with twisted spins on pop culture icons, nods to recognisable fashion collections and better yet, a bit of dirt n’ grime that the nail art world in Tokyo, nay the world, needs.  Gore, weirdness and trippiness – all skillfully painted out with consumate dedication.

I’m probably not au fait enough with gel nail art but I didn’t even know you could do such intricate designs with UV-activated gel paints.  Watching Nagi work was mesmerising (although Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette on the retro telly was also distracting) as she’d work quickly, in stages, switching from hand to hand, finger to finger to ensure the layers of colours were applied accordingly.  Always on the ball, Nagi had already created a set of Prada S/S 14 inspired nails in her album so I just asked to have more colours and gem stones to reference the razzle dazzle of this what for me was one of the shows of the season.  Word of warning, Nagi’s work doesn’t come cheap nor does it a 10-15 minute quickie.  I stayed the course and watched Kirsten Dunst go from rosy-cheeked debutante Dauphine to gaunt-faced Queen.  Still, nail art on this level deserves patience.  Especially since it’s going to last a month if I’m vaguely careful.  I’m only a wee bit sorry that I wear Prada S/S 14 simultaneously with these nails in a too much/matchy-matchy moment.























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>> I thought it would make sense to segue in from Shibuya 109 over to Harajuku’s Dog as it continues to be all things Tokyo around here.  I’ve still got plenty of the shows to write about but of course, so much of what’s brilliant about Tokyo’s fashion scene isn’t to be found in a sponsor-ridden fashion show venue but walking around on the streets.  It’s the style maven characters that you meet who leave the lasting impression.  In Tokyo, it’s interesting that out of the blue, “normal” girls like shop girls and students, can break through and become veritable style icons on the back of… well, their style, as opposed to well-oiled PR machines, in-the-know connections and behind-the-scenes stylists.  They become almost like recognisable characters on the streets, signifying and representing the constantly shifting style oeuvres of Tokyo and in particular in Harajuku, these local style figures are rife.  Hikari Ikeda is one such character.  I was completely in awe of her presence when we met at her workplace, the Harajuku fashion institution, Dog.  Her Tumblr page is exemplary of the way Hirari likes to teeter on the very very edge of a sharp precipice in fashion.  She goes for it in a way that has little to do with the well-mannered ya-yas of high fashion and everything to do with her own specific tastes.

Dog may well have been the perfect breeding spot for her to express her style as this now infamous store still gets the visual adrenaline pumping as soon as you descend the graffitied staircase.  I love Dog’s second outpost in the equally famed Kita Kore building in in Koenji but given the size of the orignal store in Harajuku, there’s definitely more to get your teeth into here with the pile-ups of Versace vintage, customised denim and leather pieces, heavy-soled trainers and bling-rave jewellery.  Maybe it’s the fact that I only get to go once or twice a year on my trips to Tokyo but I love how I find a different niche to rifle through on every visit – this time it was deadstock motocross trousers and local label patchwork No Jeans! knitwear.  Even if you’re not completely down with the aesthetic, a simple comb through the racks is inspirational fodder for the brain.  You can’t help but commend the tireless dedication to their specific aesthetic, especially when you walk into the store and find three of the shop staff croching over a vintage shirt, examining it as though it were a maths equation and ready to attack it with studs and who knows what else.

20131016_174044Hikari Ikeda… so badass and awesome that even a crappy camera pic of her works a treat


My makeover fairy Natsumi and Hikari colliding Shibuya and Harajuku style together for Nicola Formichetti’s Pop Icon Project at an impromptu shoot in front of Parco on Saturday night.  


















The whisperings, raised eyebrows and knowing looks had started to exchange between Tommy Ton and our unofficial guide slash translator around Tokyo, Sato.  There was apparently a “secret” mission to make me over into a “Shibuya 109” girl at some point during our trip, as an *ahem* earnest endeavour to gain insight into Japanese style culture.  Translation: it was basically an excuse for Tommy to get me to pile on the make-up, don a wig and pull me as far and away from my usual attire as possible, to ensure that it would be a mega LOLZ Insta pop.

Resistance was always going to be futile.  Especially when Sato had specifically arranged for my makeover to be overseen by babelicious Shibuya hottie Natsumi Kunsan – a model and veritable local style icon, who represents the latest incarnation of “gyaru” style (there’s a gyaru Wikia if you want to delve deep into the myriad of sub-sub categories that this infamous and constantly influx Japanese style genre).



Shibuya 109 is of course famously “gyaru” mecca but the cliches of the type of girls who shop and hang out there and what they look like were tricky to navigate.  Tommy and Sato wanted me to take on the guise of a 109 girl – but the exact aesthetic was hard to articulate.  It involved dyed hair (or a wig in my case), eye-widening contact lenses and exaggerated make-up for sure but what exactly was the look in terms of clothing?  As it turned out Shibuya 109 has changed quite a bit since I last took a brief gander around this maze of a shopping mall two years ago.  The Japan Times published an article a while back written by Misha Janette, who commented on the decline of “gyaru” girls as we know them.  Janette noted that the competition from international high street brands such as H&M, Forever 21 and Zara wading in on 109 territory.  The clothes that we saw when Tommy and Sato were on the hunt for their fantasy 109 outfit for my makeover were not dissimilar from what I’d find in Topshop or ASOS back at home with the exception of a few Lolita-esque and cartoonish comic-inspired shops.  What was interesting were the countless homages to the sort of style that has become globally loved through the power of Instagram.  Rita Ora, Rihanna and Cara Delevigne instantly came to mind as we went from floor to floor in 109, overwhelmed by the onslaught of slogan sweatshirts, bodycon skirts, creeper-esque chunky shoes, beanies and faux-ghetto nineties-nostalgic merch.  It seemed that the traditionally specific and unique niche of Japanese street style tribes haven’t escaped style globalisation.


Still, you can always count on the Japanese though to take a recognisable style genre and spin it until it becomes their own.  The dress and accessories that Tommy, Sato and Phil (he was supposed to get a man version 109 makeover but there wasn’t enough time to go down that rabbit hole) picked out from a shop called Fig & Viper, weren’t what they initially had in mind but apparently a cut-out mini dress a la Julia Roberts in opening scene of Pretty Woman, emblazoned with gemstones and some Versace-inspired bling were sexed up enough to take me out of my style comfort zone.  This ironic blinged out ensemble could well be seen traipsing up and down Kingsland Road in Dalston, cruising around Silverlake in L.A. or falling out of a bar in Williamsburg in New York but in Shibuya Tokyo, on girls like Natsumi, these clothes are pulled out of context.

It’s got to be said, I was quaking over the cut-outs on the dress more than the actual make-up/hair makeover.  I’m no body shape outfit nazi but someone, who consumes as much animal fat, complex carbs and vodka as I do, shouldn’t really be subjecting the public to views of their side haunches.  Especially when you’re attempting to pose next to Natsumi, who’s obviously far slighter.

Body grumble aside, the point though was to embrace this temporary and uncharacteristic transformation.  Sato took the whole makeover “project” quite seriously as after the Shibuya 109 shopping round, we were led up to Natsumi’s modelling agency nearby and in a conference room laid out on the table was an array of rainbow coloured Prichara wigs (the best brand of wigs apparently in Japan), an equally dazzling range of coloured contact lenses and Natsumi’s personal make-up kit.  The whole shebang – spending more than five minutes on making up the face so that my cheeks glowed, my eyes peeped and my lips rouged, applying two sets of false eye lashes, donning a pink wig, blinking into some blue contact lens and adopting the typical sexy cutie posing – was all fascinating to see at every stage.  It was a good thing the contacts I was wearing were non-prescription so that I wouldn’t be transfixed by my utterly unrecognisable reflection in the mirror.  It was mainly the wig and the contacts which completely altered everything I knew about my face but being so scantily clad (well for me anyway…) was also a strange out of body experience.

I may not have had a strictly orthodox Shibuya 109 girl makeover but as I chatted to Natsumi via a translated convo, it seemed there wasn’t necessarily a specific look that summed up the Shibuya “gyaru”.  The distinct style tribes of yester-Shibuya and Harajuku are now scattered and less… well… tribe like… but that seems to have paved the way more for individual interpretations of the imported trends.

So how did I feel after my transformative makeover?  The thrill of part of the look did fuel my day.  I was mostly tickled by the make-up and the wig.  Whilst I had to remove the contact lenses, the wig and the slap stayed on for the rest of my day with my “norma;” clothes, which has had me wondering whether my mop of hair could do with a change – either a chop or a drastic colour change – we’ll see what’s possible once I get back to London.  As for the clothes… sorry to disappoint those that wanted a She’s All That ending to this Tokyo stunt but the physical insight into Shibuya 109 style left me even more assured of what the boundaries of my style are and why it is that I dress the way I do and why Natsumi very much has her own thing going on.  Emphasis on “own”.









Phil Oh chickened out of his makeover but couldn’t resist the lure of a lilac Prichara wig…















IMG_1536After… hello dolly!