Shibuya crossing where thousands of people cross on a daily basis. Just as I'm about to make my way through my normal route to walk to Rag Tag for my first dose of 2nd hand Comme on this trip, a girl comes up to me and tentatively asks "Style Bubble san?" Being recognised anywhere is always awesome but in Japan, it's particularly giddy, because of precisely what happened in the next ten minutes. We started to engage in conversation through her iPhone translation app. She spoke into it in Japanese and it would return with an English translation and I would do so vice versa. 21st century convo right there. The gist was that she liked my blog very much. All the while, she was leading me towards Shibuya's Parco department store. Apparently there was an exhibition I'd be interested in going to. I had no idea what it was but duitfully followed her. This iPhone translation thing was tickling me.
We arrive at Parco Museum and lo and behold, the designer Mikio Sakabe pops out. I had no idea that he and his partner in crime Yoshikazu Yamagata (of the label writtenafterwards), co-founders of a fashion school Coconogacco in Tokyo, had curated this space in Parco and that their own respective S/S 14 presentations were also taking place this weekend. I had to thank this girl profusely for a) such an accidental and awesome encounter in Tokyo and b) for leading me to a fashion occurence that was right up my street. "Zetsumei" was the name of the exhibition and literally, I think it means "Death". Don't be misled by the morbid name though. In fashion's cyclical pattern, whatever comes around must die off eventually. It's a reference to the industry's resurrective ebb and flow. For Sakabe and Yamagata, they're hoping to kill off commerciality for the time being in order to give birth to an unexplored source and process of creativity. That's why they gathered a group of young designers – some of them students, some just getting started – to each express themselves in their own installation at this exhibition.
The first part of the exhibition in the first week of October was one stage of the exhibition – the "Dawn" as it were. When I dropped by, the whole space had already undergone one stage of transformation so that we had arrived at the "Death" stage. No need to worry about the semantics here. The take home point is that just before the official Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Tokyo is about to begin (which is why I'm here in Tokyo), "Zetsumei" represents a very raw rebellion against that organised status quo. The designers here were tasked not to make clothes but to express their sentiment, their state of feeling, their world and their aesthetic through installations. They may have had garments. They may not. The important thing is that they have something to say. They make you intrigued as to what kind of a designer that person may turn out to be. They might go on to other creative fields. Who knows. They're sowing their initially untamed and wild seeds here and it's definitely a mode of expression in fashion teaching that isn't always encouraged. Trust Yamagata and Sakabe, who themselves graduated from Central Saint Martins and the Antwerp Royal Academy respectively, to start these designer younglings on a less than conventional path.
Osa's Secret Garden exhibition was a pile up of duveys and girls with swathes of artificial hair on their legs. Apparently the designer hated having hairy legs and it's an expression of that hirsute embarrassment. Like much of Tokyo's pre-occupations, it was a simultaneously sweet and odd source of inspiration.
Momoku Okusa grew up with brothers who boxed and so built a Day of the Dead-themed enclosed ring to contain her fantasy boxers.
Alicorn expresses hope with Game of Thrones-esque quasi-Medieval gowns and fantastical paintings.
In a reverse of the film Lars and the Real Girl, Bokuto's installation sees a robot boy and a real girl joined in a surreal sauna. Strange love and all that.
Ryota Murakami's installation was particularly sweet as he explained that he went through a period of lack of inspiration and so turned to his mother, who began to sketch away on designs. She's also turned her designs to life with her crochet skills. Murakami's mother is basically some kind of amazing. This is his ode to his mother's mode.
Hikaru Kodama bludgeons innocence with a sledgehammer by taking knife to teddy bears and mixing up ladylike tail coats with black PVC diapers. Another prevailing theme from this Zensutmei exhibition is the feeling of unease in one's childhood and this was definitely one expression of that.
Teenage dirtbag action from Maiko Fukushima where hentai manga, hamster wheels all collide in one messy manic sprawl.
Try and make sense of Natsuki Watanabe's homme/femme on a toilet. Gender bending is another theme as expected from a fasihon culture that celebrates conventional feminine traits in men and vice versa.
I loved Satoshi Kishimoto's painted, layered and graffiti-flecked basketball gear.
As a child Sho Sudo imagined that love motels would be like awesome places to visit. So he set about expressing that.
Noriko Nakazato also played out her childhood fantasies by creating her own shrink wrapped department store, selling doll body parts and other strange paraphernalia.
Sakabe's partner Jenny Fax sets up a corner shop selling all manner of deliberately branded trinkets.
The young designers' thoughts and processes are better seen in the walls of sketches and portfolio pages.
The founding seeds of this exhibition can be seen in the two S/S 14 presentations put on by Mikio Sakabe and writtenafterwards, designed by Yamagata. This was actually the first writtenafterwards presentation I had been to, and having been a fan of all of his previous conceptual shows, I was quite excited. Yamagata had built a wooden spaceship, which sat in the middle of the room. From the darkness emerged a parade of kids trussed up in delicately patchworked kimonos, all displaying the sort of textiles prowess that Japan is renowned for. Leading this circle was a beautiful ghostly woman in a similarly intricate red kimono – patched and repatched, collaged and recollaged. They circled around the spaceship to a steady drumbeat and a random strumming of the guitar. Then she got in and as a light shone down, the implication was that she was fired up into the air. It turns out the installation was based on the old Chinese/Japanese tale the Weaver Girl and the Cowherd, starcrossed lovers that became immortalised as stars in the Milky Way. Yamagata sends his weaver girl up into space in a vastly updated vehicle but in garments that chip away at the past. Like the kimono, the whole experience was layered and complex. This might well be the happiest accident of a fashion show I've ever stumbled into.
The next day, Mikio Sakabe presented his S/S 14 collection. Sakabe specialises in delving deep into the beffudlement of Japanese adolescence. All that nostalgia and subversion doesn't seem to wear thin precisely because his presentations taps into a slightly different facet of Japanese coming of age everytime. This season it was no different as cartoon doggie knits, translucent suggestive organza and late Victorian dollhouse volumes were all thrown into a mix. The girls were muted blonde with a wounded and folorn expression and some wore decorative eye patches. Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind inspired the backdrop. They're a set of dolls, who have been contaminated by a rot under the sea, or more pertinently, the radiation of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, clearly still heavy on most Japanese people's minds. Sweet sadness – that's another Sakabe trait. It will be interesting to see his partner Jenny Fax's presentation on Saturday to see the whole story, as their shows are so often intertwined.