Monday August 22 2011
Anime, manga, and games are synonymous with what is cool modern Japanese culture today, but the same is becoming true in fashion as well. Designers who grew up with anime and manga are the darlings of Tokyo Street fashion right now. In recent seasons, we have seen the influence or a taste of Japanese robotic anime in the designers’ collections for European brands, leading one to more firmly believe that the relationship between Japanese “Otaku” culture and fashion is now almost impossible to ignore.
However, with the rapid appreciation of the yen accompanying irregularities in the global economy such as the unstable European economy and the business downturn in the US, the risk that we will see a further business slowdown is increasing. Even most of the not-so-bad numbers on retail floors are irregular, having coming from late, out-of-synch demand from March, the biggest sales month in the spring-summer season, and bridal-related and other “disaster special demand.” It is also said that there is no lack of shelter-dwelling survivors who are spending extravagantly in order to forget their troubles.
Highly structured angular shoulders and arms; exaggerated collars and hoods reminiscent of armour - the clothes designed by Junya Suzuki, born in 1984, for his brand, chloma, have a metallic and robotic feel to them. When asked about his design inspirations, Suzuki does not refer to movies and photo books but instead quickly recites the names of such anime characters as MOBILE SUIT SD GUNDAM 1 about which he confesses to have “loved to the point of obsession” from when he was in primary school.
In addition to his love of anime and manga, he is very passionate about games. “I grew up playing with nothing but super fami-con 2 and GameBoy games since I was young,” says Suzuki. “I did have maybe several occasions a year to go see paintings but anime and games were part of daily life, so my knowledge of them is not shallow. There is no point in chasing trends and designing if you don’t have the knowledge to back up the creations. They would just be superficial. So I decided it is best for me to stake my ground where I am most familiar,” he adds, to explain how he arrived at where he is in his signature designs today.
Suzuki is 27 years old right now. For the generations before his, anime and games carried a rather negative connotation and it was not cool to declare that one loved them. However, Suzuki’s generation has eaten, lived, and breathed those things since the moment they were born and thus, there is no such negativity for them. Rather, their heroes and heroines have always existed in the 2D world and that has become an aesthetic standard for them as well.
BALMUNG is designed by 24-year old Ryuichi Shiroshita, born in 1987. The brand name was taken from the video game, Fire Emblem, which Shiroshita was mad about when he was in primary school. It was much later that he learned that the name itself comes from a sword in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (the Ring of the Nibelung).
As in the case of chloma, Shiroshita’s clothes also have a structured pattern as their signature. The garments sport garish fluorescent fake fur, aluminium heat insulator material, sporty mesh fabric, and combinations of them as accents. They remind one of the costumes worn by the warriors that appear in games, but Shiroshita says that is not what he is aiming for when creating his designs. “But I can understand why people may think the designs that I create through a natural process may remind them of games or anime. It is not just games, but also movies today are full of computer graphics, so even when I am not conscious of it, I must be influenced by such visual expressions,” he says.
Keisuke Nagami, born in 1988, and designer of hatra, clearly stipulates that girls that appear in anime are his muses. Indeed, his design sketches feature beautiful girls that look like famous virtual idol, Miku Hatsune 3. Yet, the clothes he creates do not emphasize femininity or gender and the brand has many male clientele. “Girls in anime are unlike real women in that they don’t have the unpleasant things about women. Because they are created to not have any gender awareness, they are gender neutral. My affinity for such women may sound strange, but when you think about it, the catwalk models are all very skinny and androgynous. In that regard, maybe what I find ideal is not so strange,” says Nagami.
chloma, BALMUNG and hatra all have one thing in common - they cannot be measured just against conventional aesthetics. Yet as anime, manga, and games are now indispensable from both culture and daily life, their designs, originating from such inspirations, are very organic and natural. All three brands are still new and up and coming, but design school students and high school students are core fans.
“The younger the generation, the closer they are to anime, manga, and games as they have a very intense and natural intimacy with them. That may be why it is easier for them to sync with the kind of clothing design we make,” says both Suzuki and Shiroshita. In just a few years from now, what is so new about the way they create apparel may have become more mainstream.