Contrary to some instigation, good riddance has not come to Japanese fashion. The combination of Tokyo Fashion Week shrinking, K-pop style tide not ebbing, and China’s design stars rising may spell doom for Japanese labels, but the truth is—at least for those unable to tear away from the pull of Tokyo-centric fashion—the distinctive Nihon no sutairu is still very much alive.
While no one can say with certainty that there’s a next wave of Japanese designers after the first ground-breaking group that showed in Paris in the early ’80s, it is undeniable that there are creators today who have not ceased to keep Japanese fashion visible and out of the ordinary. One of the labels that continues to enthrall is Miharayasuhiro. Its designer Yasuhiro Mihara was in Singapore recently to intro his newest collection, currently given the spotlight in Club 21’s latest multi-label mini-emporium, simply named the Pop-Up Store (it temporarily takes over the previous unit in Forum The Shopping Mall that was vacated by Emporio Armani).
Mr Mihara (left), by accounts of a couple of seasoned Club 21 buyers of Jap labels, is an open and affable man, who, despite his limited spoken English, is eager to communicate with his customers, and he did. He was quick to thank attendees of the quiet launch party last Friday evening for their presence (in some cases, for wearing Miharayasuhiro), and was happy to engage in small talk. An excited PR professional was quick to point out to Mr Mihara a discontinued design of an old hand-carry bag that he loves and wishes to see come back. As soon as the designer was aware what the object of the guy’s desire was, he said apologetically, “Sorry, not that. We can’t do that anymore. Hermès is very big,” referring to the controversial bag that he had designed back in 2011, which was dubbed the “grunge Birkin”, and presumably intolerable to the French brand when so many fans had called it a “statement piece”. Interestingly, shoes can be inspired by the Birkin (yes, Buscemi! And we still have no idea why sneakers would need lock and key), but not bags.
While there was a collective lamentation that the clever and cheeky interpretation should be so quickly halted, the 42-year-old Fukuoka native revealed no regret that he is no longer able to produce the bag in question, pointing out to a new tote (also with the brand’s distinctive raw-edge leather flap) that his audience could consider instead. Good designers, it was seen, do not harp on ideas that can no longer be developed; they simply go on to others. Many Japanese designs, despite their seemingly incomprehensible avant garde output, are really about ideas, particularly how an idea (or ideas) could be used to re-imagine classic designs. Miharayasuhiro is, in fact, a label noted for applying ideas, gleaned from so many sources, onto clothes that are mostly reworkings of well-worn traditional garments.
His men’s autumn/winter 2014 collection, for instance, is almost based on everyday wear, even when it is inspired by “Tokyo mods” (whether they’re an off-shoot of the London mods, or an urban tribe of their own, we can’t say), but on top of the collection’s recognisable garments (sweatshirts, rider’s jackets, duffel and trench coats—the outerwear has always been especially strong) are details that can be traced to some kind of Japanese artisan’s workshop (the prints, however, appear to be from some poet-as-painter’s studio). The result is a passive-aggressive continuum that has all the cool a Tokyo urbanite who centres his stylish live between Aoyama and Daikanyama could want. And there are many of them.
What’s also characteristic of Miharayasuhiro is the label’s predilection for the twofer, such as this season’s blouson-and-car-coat outer. These two-in-one clothes also reflect the duality of Mr Mihara’s distinctive two-as-one footwear or the half/half shoes. In fact, for so many, Miharayasuhiro is associated with unusual sneakers conceived with Puma, such as the MY-70 series (the front half looks like it is dipped in paint). Despite the successful partnership, which is into its 14th year, few know that Mr Yasuhiro started as a footwear designer. Entirely self-taught, he conceived a shoe line in 1997, even before graduating from Tokyo’s Tama Art Universtity (whose alumni include Issey Miyake and the industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa), where he graduated in textiles. His footwear designs were hybridized versions of classic and athletic forms, and they challenged what was considered urban elegance. This vision caught the attention of Puma, and the rest is cult-status history.
The Miharayasuhiro menswear was not launched till 2004, which makes Mr Mihara a relatively late comer in RTW (the women’s line did not materialise till 2010). Belated entry aside, he has consistently been called one of the “most original” designers of his generation. Although each season a thematic approach leads the collection (in fact, usually sallying between rockabilly and punk), the one constant is what the brand calls “collapsing of stereotype”. This is not about dismantling the salaryman wardrobe, but adding value to familiar articles of clothing, no matter where they originate—work wear, street wear, club wear, and bringing them together in unexpected ways that could fit the plurality of urban life.
As the cocktail party with generous serving of Japanese finger foods wound down to an end, Mr Mihara moved not to the back of the store, but to the few remaining guests engaged in fashion talk over a tabletop of merchandise, chatting with them courteously, quietly, attentively—unwavering in wanting to know what his customers like. Endearing is the designer who listens.
The Club 21 Pop-Up Store is on L1 and B2, Forum The Shopping Mall