From the lonesome torii gate that is visible if you take that hilarious pirate ship across the Lake Ashi in Hakone to the thousands that line the sprawling network of shrines at Fushimi Inari-taisha in Kyoto, this is the red-drenched counterpart to the previous green-hued and wabi sabi inspired post.  As I moved from Hakone to Kyoto, the colours of autumn were also amplified.  And in a city steeped in tradition – egged on by tourists or entrenched superstition and ritual – vibrant shades of red, coupled with the fall folliage, made for a post, where I get to confront a colour that also runs deep through my own Chinese culture.

As per the first post, I had an outfit companion to blend in with these fiery hues, in the form of this Mount Plaid rucksack by Coach, which is now available on their newly launched e-commerce site in the UK.  Steve was a few paces behind me in our four kilometre “gentle” hike through the thousands and thousands of torii gates at the Fushimi Inari-taisha in Kyoto, so kept on capturing my bum, the appropriately red backpack and a pair of red vintage Brady Bunch-esque flares.

It came along with me to pretty much all the pre-requisite visiting spots in Kyoto.  I did finally understand why people go all gushy and misty-eyed over this city that adheres to their idea of an old Japan (spurred on by Memoirs of a Geisha and the like…) but what I appreciated the most was the way tradition wasn’t faked but instead, felt ingrained into the city.  Away from the tourist-swamped spots like Kinkaku-ji and Kiyomizu-dera, there were still plenty of places where you can have some very still moments.  In the area of Miyagawacho, I loved all the dusty-looking local shops selling prim but proper handbags and geta shoes, geared not for tourists but for residents.   The upper parts of Fushimi Inari are almost ghostly with its secret shrines and kitsune statues looking over you.  Ishibe Alley could be a from a film set with its secret tea houses and restaurants.  Shinbashi in Gion was also deeply cinematic, and definitely preferable to Hanamikoji, where photographers prowl the streets waiting to attack potential legit geishas with their flashbulbs.  And yes, the temples… the many, MANY temples.  Gio-ji in Arashiyama was definitely my favourite with its moss-covered secret grotto.  I didn’t have enough time to get my full-on temple groove on but I definitely have a hit list for the next time I visit Kyoto.

Now back in Tokyo in Shibuya, it’s back to increased levels of volume.  And in a few days time, I’ll be in Hong Kong for an event and then back to London where a mountain of things are happening.  Fashion chat will resume.  Hopefully this out-of-turn two-part respite hasn’t been too disruptive.

0E5A0013Facing the torii that stands at the mouth of the Hakone Shrine in Motohakone

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0E5A0460Before I realised that it was in fact a 4k uphill trek to go through every single one of the torii gates at Fushimi-Inari-taisha – wearing Tigran Avetisayan top, vintage flares, Miu Miu sunglasses, Vans x & Other Stories slip-ons and Coach Mount Plaid rucksack

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0E5A0426Facing the other way in the rabbit warren of torii gates at Fushimi-Inari-taisha

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IMG_9577The many kitsunes (foxes) thought to bring luck to businesses in Japan

IMG_9526Going downhill from the summit of Fushimi-Inari

IMG_9600Fushimi-Inari-taisha at sunset

IMG_9595With so many tourists in Kyoto dressed up in garish floral yukatas, it was nice to see a uniquely geometric one

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0E5A0328In Sengokuhara in Hakone

IMG_7512The traditional trinkets and hanging kitsch of Gyoza Center in Gora, Hakone

IMG_7594Bobbing for apples?IMG_7589Loved the vintage kimono section of Chicago on Teramachi Street in Kyoto

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IMG_7596Kyoto konpeito candy

IMG_9841The astonishingly varied patterns at Morita Washi paper shop

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IMG_7607Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto

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0E5A0670A very good ‘fake’ maiko on the Togetsu-kyo Bridge in Arashimaya – her out-of-season cherry blossom accessories were the tell-tale giveaway sign

IMG_7704Japanese tweens walking in summer-to-autumn transitional coloured kimonos

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IMG_7707The gold of Kinkaku-ji visible through fall folliage

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0E5A0479In the gardens of Tenryu-ji temple in Arashiyama

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0E5A0546In Celine top, Comme des Garcons skirt, MO& CO jumper, Coach Mount Plaid rucksack and Vans x & Other Stories shoes at the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama

IMG_7678Adorned gravestones

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IMG_7635Outside the Minamiza kabuki theatre in Kyoto

IMG_7686In the Gion area of Shinbashi

Whilst everybody in fashion-land has been musing on the seemingly breakneck speed of the industry, the overheating of the red hot spotlight on creative directors and the lack of trust between the money-men and the designers, I’ve been in fact, doing my own bit to try and preserve some sanity in my head.  I wouldn’t even dare to compare what I do with that of say, a designer churning out six or more collections a year.  But sometimes, there comes a point where your head is oversaturated with talk about the meanings of collections, biz-chat of where the “fashion media landscape” is going (a subject that crops up over the dinner table as my partner also works in fashion) and when fashion as an entity and in its conduct, is yes… too much.

After the craziness of Seoul Fashion Week, I headed for the hills.  Literally, with a one night pit stop in Tokyo, I then took a train out to Hakone, to absorb Henry Moore sculptures lounging on lush forested land and see quaint little museums for no real purpose other than just to see stuff, to submerge myself in the waters of an onsen and to witness the beginning of the changing of colours.  Fashion’s seasons might be blurring into a cacophony of pre, cruise, mainline and diffusion but in Japan, the seasons are highly distinct and well observed, to the point where people here will audibly gasp at the burnished tones of a maple leaf tree and use their sharpest lenses to capture these autumnal scenes.  Hakone wasn’t in full fall yet, and neither was Kyoto, which was where I have just returned from after a three day first-timer exploration of the ancient Japanese capital.  But the colours are just beginning to change.  As the winds of fashion are ushering in new changes, I thought I’d take the time to observe the passing of a different sort of season in Japan, as this semblance of journeying from Hakone to Kyoto made for the perfect respite, away from fashion natter.

Perhaps it is all only vaguely style related.  But as Raf Simons has concluded in his decision to leave Dior, there is more to life than fashion and to alter what Diana Vreeland once said, the eye has to travel but it needs time in order to do so.  If I’ve zen-ed out on you too much with my quasi-Confuscian like musings, then so be it.  It’s my opportunity to slow things right down so I’ve divied up my pics into a two parter, aptly named after my go-to karaoke Disney song.  The first of which is all about the quiet and still you could feel in most parts of Hakone, in the quieter corners of Kyoto and in the green bamboo shadows of Arashiyama.

Along the way to my road to peace, my trusty companion was a M. Patmos travel suit, that I’ve been road testing as part of my ongoing work with Woolmark.  it’s from the capsule collection that won Marcia Patmos the esteemed International Woolmark Prize earlier in the year, which was inspired by a wardrobe for the modern woman – a traveller, nomad and a businesswoman all in one.  The six piece capsule collection capitalises on Merino wool’s ability to be soft, lightweight, wrinkle-free so that it can be worn without washing for long periods of time.  In neutral tones of cream and grey, where scarves become neck pillows, beanies regulate temperature and capes become blankets, Patmos has approached the collection, with utility and versatility in mind.  The collection just recently launched at Harvey Nichols in-store as well as Saks Fifth Avenue and My Theresa online.

As a frequent traveller, I’ve got to say I was completely swayed by the idea of a “travel suit” – something that puts you at ease when you’re in an artificial environment high up in the air, whilst enabling you to feel like you’ve not just slept walked onto the plane in your PJ’s.  Patmos’ iteration is entirely reversible and has large passport pockets in the trousers with ribbed insets for movement.  And so it is that I’ve basically been wearing this suit to death in transit – from London to Korea, Korea to Tokyo and on the train rides from Tokyo to Hakone and then on the Shinakensen to Kyoto, with varying layers underneath.  It has become almost like a comfort blanket for passing through time zones, lounges, food courts and the tedious process of security and immigration and also proved to be the most appropriate attire to take in all this greenery.

In the wabi sabi principled space of the Gora Hanaougi ryokan, where we stayed in Hakone, I was trying my best to  “Monocle” it up, away from my usual colours, prints and other accoutrements.  Whether it was swaying with the silver-toned pampas grasses of Sengokuhara or skipping around moss-covered rocks in Arashiyama on the edge of Kyoto, it felt good to quieten things down a little.  Cue lots of pics with my eyes closed.  They’re resting up.  Tired out from all the noise.

0E5A0157On the deck of Gora Hanouagi

IMG_9491About as close to Mount Fuji as we could get

0E5A9953Waiting for the “Romancecar”

IMG_7495Inside the lush grounds of the Hakone Open Air Museum, where works by Henry Moore, Niki de Saint Phalle and Antony Gormley are dotted about.  

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IMG_7504The extraordinary outsider sand art of Yusuke Asai at the Hakone Open Air Museum

0E5A0039On the mossy steps leading to the Hakone Shrine near Motohakone port

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IMG_7532In front of the twee but charming The Museum of Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince 

IMG_7556Yukata-ing it up for dinner at Gora Hanouagi

IMG_9391Seasonal appetisers to our dinner – have eaten a fair amount of pumpkin, chestnuts, tofu and carrots on this trip

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0E5A0187Testing out the waters at Gora Hanouagi’s private bath

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0E5A0322Swaying with the silver pampas grasses of Sengokuhara

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IMG_9408Marquetry from the Hakone region

IMG_9332The autumn produce of the Gyoza Center in Gora, Hakone

0E5A0365Taking the Shinakensen for the first time – and yes, like everyone says – rail travel elsewhere just pales in comparison

IMG_9582At the edges of Funashi-Inari temple in Kyoto

0E5A0576The 8,000 Buddha statues up at Adashina-Nembutsu-ji temple in Arashiyama

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IMG_9710Just around the river bend of Hozugawa twisting and turning… couldn’t resist another Pocahontas reference

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IMG_7619Ceramic nick nacks at Ninen-zaka in Kyoto

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IMG_7670The many tatuki of a ceramics workshop in Arashiyama

IMG_7676A gardener meticulously sweeping up the leaves in the gardens of the Gio-ji temple

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IMG_9650The other less-frequented grove of bamboos in Adashino-Nembutso-ji temple

Imagine a Seamless or a Deliveroo – food delivery services that I use heavily when in New York and London – collaborating with a fashion designer at say, the level of say, Rodarte or J.W. Anderson on a capsule collection.  Sounds weird right?  I was scrambling around with a Korean text recognition app on my phone, trying to decipher the press notes to the Baemin x Kye’s show during Seoul Fashion Week, because after Googling Baemin, I found bowls of rice and plates of fried chicken staring back at me from the website.  I was confused but in Seoul’s cross-field, multi-discplinary world, where telecoms and electronics giants can own many of the most successful Korean fashion labels, and where designers and creatives make up their own rules of this relatively young fashion industry, a food delivery company collaborating with a fashion designer shouldn’t be a surprise.

It turns out the CEO of Baemin (shorthand for Baedal Minjok), Kim Bong-jin is a typography designer, who create a smartphone based food delivery service with a strong graphic identity.  Naturally, Kim wasn’t going to be restricted by his own defined field.  Inspired by the idea of Korean Hangul language being worn in say, Italy or France, Kim got together with Park Seo-Won – chief creative officer of Korea’s leading advertising agency Oricom – to create a fashion “happening” at SFW.  In comes Kathleen Kye, whose work I have followed since her hands-on, witty BA Central Saint Martins collection back in 2011.  Kye’s label has been flourishing in Korea, and beginning to stretch its legs beyond as she now regularly shows her collections in New York.  This so-odd-it-works collaboration gave Kye an opportunity to show something new at Seoul Fashion Week.

The trio worked together to pick out typical Korean road signs and recognisable slogans and apply them to a collection that was weirdly a highlight of SFW.  There’s nothing original about slapping some text about on to some tees and dresses but as Korean pop culture continues to make its presence known internationally, it’s interesting that the physical appearance of its language is still a bit of a mystery to the uninitiated.  Japanese, and perhaps even Chinese might make its way (albeit in garbled form) into an occasional collection or on to the high street.  Korean Hangul however is a rarity.

On Kye’s sportswear-tinged silhouettes, the characters become graphic prints and bands of patterns that to the untrained eye might look like an unusual geometric designs.  Even if you didn’t understand the lingo, there’s an appeal to the collection that made it stand out.  Park said he couldn’t quite believe how much people were into it.  Now they have to figure how to sell it.  It certainly won’t be the last time Baemin dabbles with fashion.  The words are being sung by K-Pop stars but they’re now also being broadcasted on clothing too.  Let the hallyu roll on…

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Kye’s own S/S 16 collection already made its debut at New York Fashion Week, which I didn’t get to see, so I’m catching up on it now.  She flung a few contradictions our way with a very cheery and upbeat spin on the word “Hate”.  It’s certainly a positive outlook on a universally social media environment, where trolls and haters lurk around every corner.  There was almost a deliberate dose of in-yer-face colour combinations and hyper-shine metallic textures as if to bait the fashion police that let their opinions be known online.  All of this won’t matter of course when Kye’s regular roster of K-pop stars and starlets get hold of the collection.  Kye, like many of Korea’s most successful fashion labels, rely on local celeb seeding to boost sales and get the hype machine going.

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The surfaces of Kye’s eyeball grabbing work deserve a second look.  It’s easy to replicate and rehash aesthetics in Korea.  Just look at their adoption of American pop and hip hop and putting their own spin on the genres.  There’s a reason though why Kye’s work resonates, whether it’s her collaboration with a food delivery company or her own collections.  It’s a specific point of view on Korean pop culture, which manifests itself in an exhibition, “The Space Collection” that is currently on at the D-Project space, part of Daelim Museum, in artefacts like an instant Korean ramen bowl encrusted with Swarovski or a photograph of a gang of Korean street-savvy style stars.  Kye may be flying the next again, to show in New York, but there’s no way that she has forgotten where her roots lie.

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I’ve been in an Asia-bound disconnect for the past week and have continued my journey from Seoul to Tokyo.  I’m still trickling out my thoughts on Seoul Fashion Week but first up, a revisit of one Seoul label that I have had physical experience of.  I finally got to see a Low Classic show, after admiring them from afar through EMS packages, lookbooks and scant email correspondence.  Since I last wrote about them, the original trio of Lee Myeong Sin, Hwang Hyun Ji and Park Jin Sun, who started Low Classic in 2009, have now divided and conquered, with Myeong Sin now heading up the creative direction of the mainline Low Classic, Hyun Ji handling the diffusion line Locle and Jin Sun departing to study in Germany.  She did come back however to style the S/S 16 show, a far-and-above stand out show of the week.

Inspired by a girl’s discovery of her body and other bodies during puberty, Myeong Sin and her team worked with a local artist Minzo King to create an expressionist print based on the naked form.  They also scoured Google Images to print on to t-shirt graphics and as collages on the brilliantly smocked pieces, layered up with King’s artwork.  Boys, not men, declare some of the shirts.  And boobs.  In a city where one third of women have gone under the knife on a quest for “volumptuous body with a schoolgirl face”, to highlight boobs and boys on a t-shirt feels like a gesture laced with dark humour.  If you look through King’s work, her drawings are mainly themed around the growing pains of Korean teenagehood – some feel universal, some localised.  Low Classic’s collection as a result resonated because of its ability to connect on a wider level, but it also made you want to delve deeper into what growing up specifically Seoul actually entails.  At least, that’s what I’ve been thinking about as I enter the show venue DDP, and seeing scores upon scores of teenage girls welding their smartphones, dressed up in their big-eye contact lenses, cute berets and box pleat skirts.  Skin-deep appearances, as pointed out in this enlightening New Yorker article, are everything in Korea.  What’s beneath it all?

But whilst the ideas felt elevated, if you walk into a Low Classic store (the one in Apgujeong is particularly lovely), you’ll still find prices that hover around the Whistles and COS bracket.  “I want to make clothes for the Seoul women,” said Myeong Sin, when I visited their head office.  That desire to clothe Seoul doesn’t just stop at the amenable pricing but can also be seen in the aesthetic and the spirit of the label, which is summed up in the brand’s bio as thus: “To realistically create a fashion full of Seoul.”  Despite the evident smidges of Celine, Miu Miu and to some extent, Vetements (hasn’t there been a touch of that label everywhere this season?), there is something that inherently roots the clothes to the city.  Seoul’s penchant for an alternative take on preppiness and sportswear silhouettes, without sacrificing any interesting design details, result in clothes that are primed for hanging out in the city’s countless coffee shops, BBQ joints and falling out of the bars of Itaewon (note: Koreans drink A LOT!).  Oversized silk pyjamas, leather jackets tied as jumpers, off-the-shoulder satin bombers and top-stitched jackets with extra long sleeves all feel like heightened takes on familiar dress codes – and precisely what gets the Seoul fashion crowd going it seems.

Moreover, with an in-house production facility and 100% Made in Seoul manufacture, Low Classic are also able to respond to the city’s needs should there be demand for one particular item or if alterations are requested by customer.

Where does that leave Low Classic and its relevance to the world beyond Seoul then?  Unfortunately for us, the e-commerce site still isn’t geared to ship internationally (Meyong Sin said the volume of orders from China alone would be a nightmare to deal with).  Opening Ceremony in the US and I.T. in Hong Kong remain their biggest sole stockists outside of Korea.  Whilst international shipping isn’t on the cards, they are keen to expand on international stockists further down the line.  Interestingly, Low Classic is one of the few independent brands that have refused backing and investment from external companies (LG, Samsung, Kolon etc etc), which is the norm in Korea.  Myeong Sin prefers to retain her independence and have full control over how her brand is run.  Slow and steady wins the race is her mantra.  And therefore, we’ll continue to covet from a distance.

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