Editor's note: This is an occasional column "fun! fun! fashion!" by Rei Shito, a Tokyo street-fashion photographer. The original column in Japanese can be read at (http://www.asahi.com/fashion/column/fun/).
Namaste! Hello, this is Rei Shito. I use the Indian greeting because I have just got back from India, where I had the privilege of witnessing a unique experiment: Japan Fashion Week (JFW) in India.
The Delhi Fashion Week was held in mid-February, featuring fashion shows and brand presentations by local designers, but the JFW also got in on the act, staging events featuring Japanese labels in the Indian capital.
Three labels with a global appeal—ANREALAGE, suzuki takayuki and mintdesigns—staged a joint show in India, and brands like e.m., HIROCOLEDGE, carnet, Muji and amadana also held presentations.
Creative director Yu Yamada, who is known for his keen aesthetic sense, picked the brands and went for labels brimming with a contemporary Japanese sensitivity, rather than stereotypical images of Kabuki, samurai and Mount Fuji. I was reminded of what Japan is about.
The project was a part of the Cool Japan strategy. Although we often hear the term, many of you must be wondering what it is all about. Are you familiar with the Cool Britannia movement of the late 1990s? It was basically a policy of the British government to help the country’s music, fashion, publishing, advertising and design companies to build their profile overseas and boost Britain’s brand as a nation.
South Korea now has its own Cool Korea policy, which has formed the backdrop to the remarkable rise of Korean pop music and actors in recent years.
I believe Cool Japan is critical to our country as we aim to meet the demands of the contemporary world, and I think I can best explain that through an extended metaphor.
Let’s imagine Japan as an actress. She has been the pretty and pure type in the past, but younger rivals (i.e. other Asian countries) are starting to challenge her. She has reached an age where she must think of changing her career direction. She has to decide whether to turn to serious acting or become a likable TV entertainer.
Until now, she has stayed in the business without giving her situation much thought, but she has become uncertain about her future and anxious. Japan went through the stagnation of its “lost decade” after the asset-inflated bubble economy burst, and appears not to know what to do next. Emerging nations are nipping at her heels in export sectors, such as electrical appliances and cars, that were once her preserve. Should she compete in the same field or seek chances elsewhere? So far, she has not been able to make up her mind.
Now Japan has had a heart-to-heart with her manager (Cool Japan) and understands that she is getting nowhere as it is. She has to face reality and has agreed on her new direction. She is working hard to move on to the next stage with the help of Cool Japan. The Tokyo Fashion Week in India was just part of that effort.
The event certainly drew a lot of attention, with the joint show by ANREALAGE, suzuki takayuki and mintdesigns attracting a large crowd. The audience seemed to have been amazed by the presentation, which beautifully captured the unique character of each brand.
The brands that took part in the brand presentation also received favorable reviews. It seems Japanese labels are moving from being just novelties to being genuine objects of desire.
But there are some flies in the ointment. The biggest problem is the difference in prices. A necktie can cost more than a person’s starting salary. Inadequate infrastructure and tax issues loom large when people actually think of doing business. The perseverance and flexibility of the Japanese brands in trying to build these new markets is still unproved.
Nevertheless, the JFW initiative in India must be given credit for trying to sow the seeds of Japanese fashion in India. Judging room the reaction the show received, that seed might be germinating.
What counts most is to take on the challenge, to take the first step. If problems crop up, we will just have to rack our brains for a solution and address them.
Staying power will decide there the initiative in India turns out to have been waste of time or not. I hope this particular plant flourishes.
This was Rei Shito. Namaste!
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