JAPAN | Quake, nuclear disaster key themes for designers’ collections

Posted on June 16, 2011

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JAPAN | ASAHI SHIMBUN | 16 June 2011

The Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear crisis are casting a long shadow over new collections from Japan’s leading fashion houses this year.

With the cancellation of Japan Fashion Week in March, many designers chose not to hold shows for their 2011-2012 fall-winter collections, and many of the designs of those that did were clearly quake-influenced.

Designer Mikio Sakabe sent one group of models strutting down the runway dressed in frilly mini-dresses splashed with bright colors, presenting a fanciful vision of the heroines of anime films coming to life for their otaku admirers.

But another group of models, dressed in dark loose fitting dresses carrying surreal motifs, presented a stark contrast. Their slow moving, silhouette-like forms resembled a procession of ghosts. One fabric carried a dead bird motif.

The March 11 quake severely disrupted the fashion industry. Sewing factories have been damaged, distribution systems disrupted, and fears of aftershocks and radiation have sent some foreign models home.

But Sakabe said it was important not to be paralyzed by the disaster.

“Japan has a unique culture that allows people to express both hope and despair, light and dark in the most difficult of times,” Sakabe said. “I believe it is necessary to create a new value (system) based upon that traditional thinking.”

Fashion house Araisara chose a somber setting for its elaborate collection: the Yushima Seido Confucian temple in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward. A string quartet provided the music and natural light was preferred to electric bulbs.

Araisara’s collection featured leather dresses adorned with intricate patterns inspired by hand-drawn Kyo-Yuzen kimono patterns. The choice of colors–bold bright yellow and green patterns on a black background–hinted at a Chinese influence, reflecting the designer Sara Arai’s mixed Japanese-Chinese background.

The outfits were also reminiscent of the lacquered, laced armor worn by samurai warriors. The show’s theme was described as the “beauty of the fearless warrior.”

After the March 11 quake, Arai used an extra layer of gold to the patterns to add a stronger contrast and convey a feeling of strength.

“The shogun always had in their blood a kind of strength that allowed them to stand up against any situation,” Arai said. “I wanted people to feel that strength in Japanese culture.”

The Somarta collection also did away with extravagant lighting and sound effects, choosing instead to stage its show in natural light to live, improvised piano and violin music.

Designer Tamae Hirokawa also chose a natural theme. Skirts were adorned by decorations resembling wilted flowers, and the models wore capes looking like tattered leaves eaten by insects.

“(The disaster) drove me to ask myself anew whether I should be relying on electricity to express myself and what design is all about,” Hirokawa said.

Perhaps the most direct message was delivered by Hisui, which featured a flowing dress with concentric circles marking the sites of nuclear power plants on a map of Japan for its finale.

Hiroko Ito, designer at Hisui, said she wanted to express her hope for a Japan that was not reliant on nuclear power plants.

Yuki Torii had originally planned to throw a giant show drawing about 2,000 guests and featuring popular actresses as models to mark its 50th anniversary, but chose instead to hold a subdued show at the designer’s main office.

Many of the outfits were made of soft materials in warm hues.

“It is at times like this that we must show the warmth and tenderness that is provided by fashion,” Torii said.

Not everybody was riffing on restraint. Keita Maruyama chose a Shibuya district restaurant for a gaudy, brightly colored extravaganza.

The models, all wearing bright red lipstick, flashed radiant smiles at the audience, creating an infectious and happy buzz.

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