I’m currently in Hong Kong as a judge for the Eco Chic Design Award competition, organised by environmental NGO Redress and diving deep into minimal/zero waste design solutions with the finalists. As a small sideline bonus to that, I’m carrying back at least five kilos worth of Chinese New Year’s related snacks and Asian fashion magazines for “research”. In regular Japanese favourite So-En, I spotted a knit dress by a label I hadn’t heard of previously. Seeing as it took me about half an hour to decipher and translate the katakana characters, I best write something about it here. Akane Utsonomiya, alongside mame, which I’ve written about before and Cleana, which I came across in Dover Street Market Ginza last time I was in Tokyo, represent a triumvirate of a “cleaner” side to the Japanese fashion scene today. I hesitate to use that other c word – the much overused and often misunderstood “chic” but I suppose in comparison to the tired cliches about Japanese fashion – that it’s all kawaii craziness and madcap styling – it’s as good a word as any.
A more accurate way of looking at these labels is that they have aesthetic attributes that enable them to translate to an audience outside of the often inward looking and domestic direction of Japanese fashion. It might mean that some of the designs are likely to chime in with their contemporaries in Europe or USA but nonetheless it makes for a refreshing change to say, conceptual silhouettes or hyper experimentalism (which I’m of course down with as well).
First off – mame‘s S/S 16 collection, which I haven’t had the fortune of seeing in person, up close but from the pictures, it’s clear designer Maiko Kuroguchi has once again used regional Japanese textiles craftsmanship to her full advantage. Her dream-like vision of New Mexico – prompted by Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist and the central protagonist’s search for finding treasure in Egypt – sees Kuroguchi unearthing precious and warmth-imbued textiles. The dusty colour palette of New Mexico gives way to shades like “white-green” – like cactus covered in a white furry sheen. The collection runs a gamut from delicate floral embroideries to rugged blanket capes and layered denim pieces. There are also interesting ways of revealing the flesh like cut-outs on the upper arms or at the side of the chest contrasted with the covered up huipil-esque robes that is right up my summer attire alley. Suddenly I’m being enticed by the thought of driving across an arid desert to Roswell in these exact clothes. Kuroguchi sure knows how to enable her Japanese-grown textiles to travel well.
I’ve talked about the idea of designers doing one thing only and doing it very well. Well, Takuya Tobise has taken it one step further with his brand Cleana revolving around skirts, and only skirts.
CLEANA makes only skirts. If you pick CLEANA’s skirt, It changes your atmosphere, just wearing with your simplest tops.
That’s what it says on the website and so Cleana does exactly what it says it does on the tin. The collection of skirts by itself manages to have a balance between consistency and variety, to keep things interesting. There are pleats. There’s a few A-lines. There’s a ruffled bustle. There’s even a 2-in-1 dual skirt for layering fiends. All you need is indeed a simple top and you’re good to go.
Finally, we have Akane Utsunomiya, whose knit dress with a cut strip skirt caught my eye in the latest issue of So-En. After completing her BA in textiles at Central Saint Martin’s, she notched in a year on the knitwear MA pathway but then decided to start her own knitwear label in 2009. For her S/S 16 collection, she has a go at creating “complexity that looks simple”. In other words, maximal effect with minimal lines. The illlusion of simplicity is created with the cut-strips motif that features in a lot of the knitted dresses, tops and skirts as well as the elongated sleeve that continues that straight vertical line of Utsunomiya’s silhouette. I especially love the proportion of the oversized slubby striped jumper that looks like it has been stretched when pulled over the knees in a curled up foetal position. I’ve yet to come across her work internationally but it’s easy to see the appeal translating beyond Japan.