Setsuko Araki

As with many industries, information plays a pervasive role within fashion. It is a highly valuable commodity extracted, manipulated and delivered to us daily via webpage and magazine. In an attempt therefore, to attain a less embellished idea of the current state of the domestic fashion scene we looked inside the industry itself, and found the reality vastly different to the airbrushed image created for us by the mass media.
As a result, despite 95% of our readership coming from overseas, this issue will perhaps be of greater interest to domestic fashion designers as we reveal the inner mechanisms of the Japanese fashion industry.
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"At the time, I was attending a fashion contest in Kobe and once again the oft-discussed topic of why Japanese aren't successful overseas came up. It's clear several factors such as the limit of talent, setting of price and so on are involved. In short, they know too little by half. Yet, although I don't mean to be simplistic, I do think there are two main reasons. For designers to achieve success overseas it is vital they first build up a network of connections and seek the advice of many people."

Setsuko Araki

Since beginning her long-standing career working at the press office of Yohji Yamamoto, she has been observing the Japanese fashion scene from the front line. Later she founded the pioneering joint fashion exhibition AMBIANCE in Japan. Currently as organizer of the exhibition she supports young designers.

When considering how to ensure success, first and foremost, if designers don't have plenty of capital when venturing abroad, they will definitely not last long. It's a one-shot deal.
Although they may have considerable talent, it will be of no benefit without sufficient financing.
It's a real shame.
Even if progress is made, it cannot continue without funding.

One more thing I always say is that it's harder to make connections without being in the public eye.

This is especially so with the young generation right now. They're in an endless cycle of coming back and forth from Japan.
Nevertheless, some pioneering Japanese designers have generated a strong base here, then taken their vision abroad along with stability in their products and found success.
One must take things one step at a time, otherwise success is unachievable.
Looking at the present, I believe there are three main designers, along with a few others, who have actually forged ahead and been successful. I believe it's perhaps due to the lack of a sense of purpose that most young designers really haven't lasted.

In terms of "cultivating Japanese fashion", there have been several different movements recently, though I don't yet know whether they're good or bad. For instance, Shibuya's street fashion, including the introduction of "girls collection"; and the anime influenced sub-culture in Harajuku. But these don't seem to accurately reflect what I think of as "Japan".
Japanese fashion is beautiful and its selection zealous. So a greater effort than present is needed to properly propagate it.
Although I don't know what the best method is - the government or a large organization overseeing the shows... but that still doesn't achieve anything significant. In truth, bigger steps are needed in terms of "beyond the sea".

In the past, Japanese imitated Europe but now the opposite is true. Ideas and trends born in Harajuku and Shibuya are being used overseas.
However, since they see and take only a small part of what's out there I feel it loses its overall essence.
Europe has said Tokyo is fast paced, for example in footwear and small accessories. I think this will eventually lead to clothes design as well.

In Japan we don't have a sense for example, right not Harajuku is at the cutting edge, or now it's Shibuya; but whenever I go to Paris, there is always the city's current best place. It's interesting in the meaning of people coming together.
Roppongi is another area that has experienced significant change in racial diversity and image due to the construction of Mid Town. It's not an old topic but that city is important.
JF: Many Japanese high-fashion designers aren't interested in showing at Tokyo Collection, moreover, Tokyo Collection doesn't attract attention from overseas media.

I don't know much about the operations of JFW (Japan Fashion Week Organization), however they do seem quite disorganized as a whole. They began notifying foreign journalists and buyers much too prematurely so it was impossible for anyone to keep track of the actual event. Although the organization is changing little by little, they're still very poorly coordinated. I remember being asked questions such as "is the Tokyo Collection happening?"; "Where is such and such a show?" and so forth. These kind of circumstances definitely have an adverse affect. Tokyo is wonderfully interesting, better than people abroad can even imagine, so it's such a pity.

JF: Since Governmental aid has fallen JFW's budget has been halved.

Half that aid is going to the textile industry amongst others, so I'm not certain how much funding JFW actually receive, but either way they have lost strength. Although I'm looking from the outside, if they do continue into the future, I hope they join together with a number of different organizations, churches and the CFD (Council of Fashion Designers), make improvements that lead to government support, and take leadership.

Whilst they receive grants from the Ministry of International Trade, it is at the cost of creative freedoms.
The exhibition is "ok" but the show is "no good", textile is "fine" but leather is "not allowed"; so there are many controls. I want them to be more flexible.

JF: Since Undercover brought street fashion into pret-a-porter, there haven't been similar designers who have followed.

I haven't seen Mr Takahashi recently but originally he was heavily influenced by street culture, which can present a problem when doing a show.
Not in the sense that street fashion and pret-a-porter have to be separate, but if there isn't a hint of mode then the unique charm of a fashion show is lost.
Fashion shows are a designer's passion.
By doing a show, designer's can reveal original creations among the collection, be experimental and so on, so it's great for the confidence.
If I'm forced to criticize, I would say that it is exclusively the designer's own vision.
Now, it's extremely regrettable if buyers or journalist don't attend and in turn, the designers become deeply dispirited.
Before that however, there are other problems young designers will encounter whilst growing.

We often hear about "development programs" or related organizations such as JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization) and, even though they provide assistance with overseas exhibitions, it amounts to only half the booth charge. Other expenses, such as travel and board are borne by the designer, which I feel is rather meaningless.

What I would really like to see is the making of a star.
Produce a star from Japan. it's the best way.
In schools and conventions all over the world they're probably trying to achieve the same thing, but as yet without success.
If a good creative designer is found, I would really like a lot of money to be invested in their development.
Therefore, not just short-term support in the way of funding half the costs for a salon, but with more forethought for the future.
The most difficult part in the process of making clothes is the exhaustion of funds. There are plenty of such designers.
There are governmental supports and institutions in Europe.
JF: Fast fashion has come.

No one has cared in spite of the SPA talking about it over twenty years ago. I feel this is negligent. It was predicted to come eventually. So some companies had to adapt. As a result, America or Europe made a choice proactively.
But there are many mass sales stores in Japan, so it might be a little different here.

In my opinion, the present age has seen great diversification. For example, purchasing underwear at UNIQLO, then buying items with the spirit of the modern age when one wants to dress up, and spending on more expensive items when one wants to feel good. The market may have to consider in what manner to sell high priced clothes. It is one way of thinking.

Cheaper things are sold in silence. There are certainly plenty of people shopping for less expensive products.

Large maisons are struggling in such an environment.
As a result, their client base comprises mainly of existing customers.
But their customers are also aging.
And If there are no youth, then young consumers don't come.
Company-wide and maison-wide, a huge transformation is needed.

Furthermore, with dwindling customer numbers the department store industry is also in serious decline.
Even if I go from store to store, nothing seems to have changed.
The lack of adaptation is negligent. It's very disappointing.
Just some new ideas, for example, change the sales floor. Perhaps it's a lack of consciousness for changing?
What is the additional value?
They will be disposed of.
Japan is full of department stores but recently they have started loosing their prestige. It's very saddening.

The modern age is not conducive to selling "good products". In fact, sales are difficult unless the products have some additional value, because consumers have been changing.

Truthfully, everyone has to think about it early.
Department stores won't disappear entirely, but they will be subject to natural selection and what remains will reflect the desires of the age.
JF: For designers.

The word recession.
Designers must possess a way of thinking to conquer the feelings evoked by such a word.
Instead of resigning oneself to it, I want designers to see the recession from different viewpoints.
I want also designers to think independently, not to think "we have no choice".

In my salon, some designers feel safe just because they're with the exhibitor. This is a mistake.
Young designers in particular, don't chat to the visitors - perhaps it's shyness, but if they don't talk they won't get customers. There are designers who merely stand waiting at the booth.
There was a time when such reticence was fine but the modern age is not so. Designers nowadays have to be their own press agents and explain their creations whole-heartedly if they want to make sales.

Designers are required by several means.

It is the same even if they open their own shop.
It sets them at ease, but a store is a living space and so if they don't maintain care of it, eventually it will go to waste.
In the past if designers could make and successfully sell different items.
I don't think that will happen from now on.

When I left my previous company, I had so many clothes I thought I wouldn't have to make any new purchases for the next ten years, but such an idea could never last.
The textile was good but silhouettes and lines gradually changed.
It's difficult for that reason alone.

In the past, there was as an expression that the clothing will last ten years if the textile is good, but you don't hear such things these days.

Trend are much faster now.

Previously, there were people who were called "amazing but a little eccentric", but there have been no such characters in recent times.
Today's young generation is really nice, nobody gets angry or somehow they don't feel the heat.
Whenever I watch Rei Kawakubo (COMME des GARCONS), she always looks furious.
Recently, the young generation seems more placid.

I really want young designers to see several things, not only drawing or drafting patterns in silence.
An amateur's viewpoint might be better, or that of the customer's, not the maker's.
Consumers are ahead in any industry, so creator's should change their standpoint slightly.

Some designers are usually making something other than clothes.
In this way, it may be possible to do a couture shop like in the old days.
History repeats itself even in great bearing.

No matter how beautiful, clothes must reflect the image of the modern age and atmosphere. They cannot stand against the tide of the times - although this is not limited to only clothing.
When I watch exhibitions at Ambiance, there are some points I often observe when judging the products.
They are creativity, originality and contemporaneousness. If these are not represented in the clothes, the designers will be left behind.

Since fashion is freshness, out-of-dateness is met with deaf ears.
Designers must be half a step ahead rather than one step ahead. This is just the right amount of impetus. Too quick is bad too, even if there's a great idea.
Half a step ahead than one step ahead.
This much is optimum.

* * *
Having a consistent theme is also an important belief.
The shared recognition is, borrowing words from this morning's newspaper, there are countermeasures but no tactics in Japan.
The reason why the domestic fashion industry is failing to reach agreement is the result of intermittent countermeasures.
And what is important is that individuals, companies and industries must recognize "what's going on".
If thay can do that, thay can go forward.
But it doesn't mean that thay can get back again.

Conspiration: Araki Setsuko & Araki Setsuko Office

Word : Nobuyuki Ohtake
Translation : Ashantha Gankande
Photo : Hiroshige Ichikawa

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