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Mar 23, 2017
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Going off grid: putting Tokyo fashion week on the map

Mar 23, 2017

(AFP) - For years headquartered in dull but convenient shopping malls, Tokyo Fashion Week has always been a poor cousin to the artistry of Paris or the commercial dynamism of New York.

But this season a growing number of designers are branching out in search of new pastures, consciously or sub-consciously taking tips from the more seasoned fashion weeks where location can be everything.

When Alexander Wang made the international fashion glitterati decamp from Manhattan to Brooklyn on a cold February night in 2014, it was considered not only daringly innovative but drove headlines for days.

Likewise when Hedi Slimane brought a full-blown Saint Laurent runway show to Los Angeles in 2016, or Raf Simons covered walls in more than a million flowers for his Christian Dior debut in 2012.

While not scaling such dizzying heights of extravagance, designers in Tokyo are starting to cotton onto the concept that the architectural wealth of their capital could be a more atmospheric backdrop to their style offerings than the ninth floor of Shibuya's Hikarie mall.

With that in mind, one label -- support surface -- invited hundreds of guests to a new indoor running stadium, built as a training ground ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Toyosu, an area of reclaimed land in southern Tokyo.

Designer Norio Surikabe said he chose the site for the aesthetics of its curved, mesh-effect ceiling and wooden beams, and its novelty value in having only recently become available for hire.

"I just felt intuitively that this place would be nice," he said. "I thought doing the show somewhere not urban like Shibuya with a wide sky could be good for refreshing the mind."

- 'More stylish' -

To invigorate the audience of buyers, fashion press and fashionistas, live musicians performed original zen-like music and a lighting expert was selected to bathe the runway in bright light.

It was a beautiful collection, deploying Japanese techniques to present a loose, minimal look for the professional woman with floral silks, blue leather and dusky rose shearling that bobbed like clouds.

But there was one drawback: the early Spring chill that permeated the cavernous structure left guests shivering in coats and models deserving a prize for gliding obliviously down the runway.

"It's quite far, but the show was really good so I'm fine with it now," said one elderly male guest after what was a 50-minute ride one-way on public transport from Shibuya.

"It was also cold, but I think that it made the show more stylish!"

The weather put more of a dampener on matohu's show at a Buddhist temple, where the original hope was that a 16th century gate and Tokyo's iconic telecommunications tower would illuminate the runway for a meditation on the symbiosis between past and present aesthetics.

Tokyo's famed cherry blossom season may have officially kicked off that morning, but it poured with rain and the audience was forced to sit under a concrete walkway, view obscured.

- Keeping it fresh -

It was left to free-flowing sake, dry ice and space heaters to conjure up an atmosphere more esoteric than the sobriety and near silence of the ninth floor of the Hikarie mall.

"When we came here... we passed through the gate, we saw its black silhouette and Tokyo Tower and it was like the confluence of the past and the future," said Hiroyuki Horihata, one of matohu's two designers.

"We felt transported through time," he explained.

Name. followed with a runway show at Earth Studio -- a huge recording complex underneath Tokyo Tower, a self-supported steel communications structure and local landmark modelled after the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Designer Noriyuki Shimizu sent his models down a raised catwalk, chest-high to a standing audience invited to sip beer and Red Bull in a room that evoked more nightclub than staid runway.

Shimizu said he wanted somewhere new for his sporty, urban collection that was all layers, skirts for men and corn rows entitled "delirious odyssey" and "an exploration of youth culture from various countries."

"I thought that the way you came to Tokyo Tower was connected to my theme somehow," he explained.

"No other brand has had a show here and I hope there's also an element of keeping it fresh."

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