19 April 2011

East meets West meets East

Spring/Summer 2011

These days it is possible to buy fashion from all four corners of the world.  Sitting in London, I can wear a pair of trousers designed by a Croatian-born German, living in Paris, made in Portugal, bought from a store in Italy (as I did last week).  Whilst that may just be a European tale, I have also happened to buy from either ends of the map - Hawaii and Australia - which was as simple as clicking a button.  The internet enables us access to fashion, not only in terms of images and information, but actual garments, at an unparalleled level.

Style and fashion as a social being is global, and with this comes the blurring of many traditional forms of categorisation as used in the art world.  Nationality ostensibly becomes meaningless, as the creation of fashion can cross almost any boundary - a Belgian designer, based in Paris, can create an outfit using 19th century British tailoring techniques, inspired by 18th century French aesthetics, using hand-printed Egyptian cotton, and offer that look simultaneously in a shop in both London and Tokyo.  However were that outfit to enter into the realm of the museum, it would most likely have to be classified geographically in some way.  Which classification would be the most accurate, and would it really be necessary?

As such I am fascinated by fashion labels that cater specifically for a domestic market.  Milok is one such label, headed by Shimada Katsunori, which caters exclusively to the Japanese market.  Whilst one could definitely find a proxy for ordering their garments from outside of Japan (the fantastic Sharp Service comes to mind), it is not a label that is interested in expanding its market internationally.  Formed for a domestic market, yet solidly international in its aesthetic and execution, I find it interesting to look at and consider.  Indeed looking at the Spring/Summer 2011 collection one notes Western style clothing inspired by Persian textiles and history.  Of course one could argue that the style of the clothing is no longer expressly Western, however the tailoring and the denim jeans certainly remain as signifiers of traditional Western clothing and fashion.  

One could also argue that the style in which these references are interpreted is expressly Japanese, however I do wonder how well that would stand up were these looks to be placed alongside international examples referencing the same styles.  Take for example a pair of hand-dyed and sewn Japanese denim jeans, placed alongside and pair of traditional handmade Levis jeans, and one realizes that on a purely visual level the lines can blur.  Indeed in the example of jeans, the Japanese have honed their skills of creating replicas of jeans from the American archives in order to create American styles using Japanese techniques. 

Dr. Yuniya Kawamura stated that as societies modernize they tend to embrace Western fashion as a sign of their modernity.  One could look towards India, where wearing jeans is seen as modern and global, whilst a sari holds a traditional and firmly Indian meaning.  She argued that the Japanese (as does the East) still somewhat view Western fashion as a sign of modernity, which can be applied as equally to a desire for traditional Western tailoring, as it can to the embracing and reinvention of traditional Americana workwear.  A parallel can also be applied to the newly expanding Chinese market, which has embraced traditional Parisian high fashion brands as a signifier of their wealth and modernity.  One of the distinctions between clothing and fashion is that clothing serves a utility function, whereas fashion serves a status function. 

Kawamura argued that the avant-garde Japanese designers who showed in Paris, or to put it another way - showed on a global platform, were thoroughly post-modern in their approach, in that they entirely changed and pushed the boundaries of Western tailoring.  One could look at Yohji Yamamoto using Western tailoring in what is seen as a Japanese style, however it is not as simple as that, for in that fusion he creates something entirely new, that is neither simply Western nor Japanese.  Throw into the mix the fact that the Parisians have fully embraced and come to view as their own a multitude of international designers - the boundaries become blurred.  Can we even look at fashion in terms of national boundaries any more? 

In such a way I feel that Milok, and other similar Japan-only labels, have truly entered what Kawamura classifies as post-modern Japanese fashion.  This is because of their fusion of international and historical styles.  In this instance the fact that Milok fuses Western tailoring with Persian influences is indicative of this change, because it is two levels (at a most basic reading) removed from traditional Japanese fashion.  Whilst post-war Japan onwards embraced Western fashion, in the past few decades home-grown designers have used Western tailoring to explore other styles and aesthetics.  Taking inspiration particularly from the colours of traditional Persian carpets, and the historical importance of turquoise, Milok is an interesting fusion of history and international styles.  

As a Japan-only label I do wonder whether one can pick up a solid thread of a Japan-only aesthetic within the collection, however to my eyes it feels as if it could easily be marketed on a global platform.  I could see these clothes stocked alongside other international designers in a boutique in London, as I could see them in boutiques almost anywhere in the world.  Of course where this idea becomes problematic is that fashion exists only within specific cultural and sociological frameworks, so perhaps we have to consider it within a global framework, which is counter to the idea of this collection being created solely for a Japanese consumer.  It is perhaps now dated to talk of post-modern fashion design, however I do think it still holds a relevance and point of interest for fashion today. 



  1. Whats cool there..you have people on the street who will try new things. Here in the mid-area of the states..you have tried a true staples of just good old (slouch at best) and nothing fancy T's. Although, I've been told Lady Gaga..has a boyfriend in Omaha.

    I know someone who looks so much like the lead model, he will at least wear colorful sweaters to work.

  2. While I can see the merits of creating a brand and starting out small, I feel like their Japan-only sales restriction reflects the narrow-mindedness of the Japanese fashion business. In a global market where many of their own citizens live abroad and with the buzz of the internet to create interest in their brand, deliberately marketing yourself to a population of 127 million is like brand suicide. Yes, it may sound noble and nationalistic, but keeping up a label costs significant funds - if they have another business that can funnel money into their label, then that's great, but if they're depending on this brand as their main source of income, that's a huge mistake. I'm really frustrated by a lot of the Japanese brands, because they're so blind as to seeing the merits of globalizing their business. I understand their worries of market oversaturation, but Isabel Marant has proven that you can somewhat satiate global demand without having every single boutique and dept. store carry your label. Besides, what's the point of creating something if only a minuscule portion of the world is going to see it?

    Before I went off on my Japanese market tangent, I wanted to say that I DESPISE when blog posts begin with "Hello lovers." There's one blog in particular that commits this crime (in addition to posting too many "inspiration" posts), and I want to stab my eyes out whenever I see it.

  3. hello sir. i'll never tire of your perfect, perfect writing! it's crazy how brilliant you are about these things. and i want. those fabulous fairisle knit pants.

  4. there is something about a pair of mid-calf length trousers or pants on a man...

  5. I just dunno If I'd see any guy I know who'd roll his pants up..but they love their cargo shorts here. Impressive model.

    I guess..where every you are..you do start out small.

  6. Sometimes it's such a shame that societies embrace western fashions as they "modernize." 50 years from now I don't think ratty shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops would belong in a museum.

    I like the overall styling of this and the choice of a more "manly" looking model. Sometimes, Balenciaga for example, their use of more "boy" looking models doesn't really suit the clothing.

  7. Wow really like the styling for this, as well as the proportions. Thanks for sharing